Johnny Rocca Incensed by IHRA; Heads for Canada

LEESBURG, Va. (June 30, 2000) – Pro Modified team and racetrack owner, Johnny Rocca, one of drag racing's most respected and popular campaigners, couldn't have picked a better time to literally leave the country. It's been a week...

LEESBURG, Va. (June 30, 2000) – Pro Modified team and racetrack owner, Johnny Rocca, one of drag racing's most respected and popular campaigners, couldn't have picked a better time to literally leave the country. It's been a week that the 40-plus year veteran driver-turned crew chief will not soon forget. In fact, you might say the Hoosier tires under his USA Racing Team's record- setting '49 Mercury "Ironhorse" won't be the only hides "smoldering" trackside during this weekend's Canadian Drag Racing Series (CDRS) event, the second of a five-race Canada-based schedule, to be held at Earlton-Temiskaming Motorsport Dragway, near Cobalt, Ontario. Rocca is incensed as a result of two major decisions handed down by the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA), of Norwalk, Oh, which sanctions his South Carolina-based Darlington International Dragway, and is the governing body of its hallmark Pro Modified division, of which his team, with Australian-born driver, Troy Critchley, is one of it's most devout competitors. The first major blow for Rocca was received at mid-week, when informed that his racetrack, the long established home of the IHRA Winter Nationals, will no longer host the traditional and season-opening event. Instead, the race will be moved, possibly to recently-acquired and former-NHRA event site, Virginia Motorsports Park, near Richmond. On Thursday, the IHRA dealt another low blow when it released a multi-pronged class ruling which, according to Rocca, literally renders his team's supercharged and crowd-favorite Pro Modified entry into a non-competitive entity. An IHRA press statement, released on their website, which began with, "An immediate rule change to insure parity for now, and hopefully the balance of 2000," went on to deliver the news that, as of July 13th; supercharged cars are limited to a 4.57 rear end gear ratio, 3-speed transmission (Rocca's is the only car in the class utilizing a 4- speed), and must weigh a minimum of 2700 lbs. Rival nitrous competitors in the class will be allowed to weigh 2400 lbs. The release further stated that, "IHRA/Pro Mod testing in July, August and September to determine a long-term cure that will allow Pro Modified racing to become the fastest and quickest cars on the planet – with reasonable cost constraints." One puzzling aspect is the fact that just three supercharged Pro Modified vehicles qualified for the most recent 16-car IHRA national event, held in Cordova, Ill., which was won by current points leader and supercharged racecar driver, Fred Hahn. Both Rocca's and Carl Spierling's supercharged machines fell out of competition partway through elimination rounds. "There's no way I can qualify with that combination (set forth by IHRA). I've tried that for years," said an obviously dejected Rocca, whose car is a former-IHRA world record-holder in elapsed time at 6.227-seconds. "I'm just going to fall out of the top-10 in points at the next race. It just won't run fast enough," he continued. Rocca's driver, 28 year-old Critchley, currently resides 6th in the 12-race IHRA/Summit Drag Racing Series points chase. The next race on the tour is the CARQUEST Empire Nationals, in Leicester, NY, scheduled for the weekend of July 14- 16, the first race under the new rules structure. At the same time, the loss of his and former IHRA veteran Pro Stock racer, Carlton Phillips' annual national event at Darlington brought a to-the-point response from Rocca. "It's a matter of economics," he said in reference to the event, which has always been a popular and record-setting venue, although sometimes hampered by seasonal weather, plus a more recent ticket price structure set by the IHRA. "It's still a great racetrack." Back to the present, Rocca wastes no time in pondering his team's chances in Canada during this weekend's event, being held from June 30 through July 2. "I'm going to be one Hell of a competitor in the Canadian Drag Racing Series this weekend," he began, "because there's no way I can any longer compete competitively in IHRA. "At this point in time, the prospects for me continuing on the IHRA tour look very dim." Once again, his voice raised with emotion in recounting the many pleasures that the fraternity of drag racing has brought to his efforts over more than four decades, while fielding everything from blown gas coupes, nitro-burning Fuel Altereds, alcohol-burning dragsters, a string of unique and chopped-top "Tin Indian" Willys, and current state-of- the-art "Ironhorse" '49 Mercury Pro Modified entries. "I'm sorry. I love it. I love the fans. I love the competition. I've worked hard to get where I'm at. But, I cannot afford to be the whipping boy for IHRA and their nitrous contingent, whether the other blown boys consider themselves whipping boys, or not. "I know that I've paid my dues. I've worked long, and I've worked hard to get to where I'm at. But, when I'm offered a set of rules, which I have already run these combinations that I know they won't work in my racecar, there is no sense in me continuing on to not only my great disappointment, but to the disappointment of our many sponsors - and especially the fans around the country. "I just do not have the where-with-all and the patience to continue this on. "If it's even possible that I can master this combination, they're just going to do it again. "How many times do you need to flog yourself before it gets to the point where the pain is unbearable?" While much discussion and chatter within the drag racing mainstream is certainly building in response to the IHRA's recent decisions, consider it ironic that Rocca is leaving the U.S. for a few days, choosing to get away from it all at, of all places, a dragstrip. Equally interesting will be his return, with time to ponder his future, which might be rekindled with a win in Canada. A return, by the way, that will be just in time for the month of July, Count on lots of fireworks.

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Drag
Drivers Fred Hahn , Johnny Rocca , Troy Critchley