Johnny Rocca, best known for his exploits in Gasser racing and later Pro Modified, died on November 19, 2019, following an extended illness.
Rocca, 77, passed away peacefully at his Winchester, Va., home, surrounded by his family.
Most recently, Rocca was known for his popular Pro Modifieds; first, the “Tin Indian” ’33 Willy and later the “Ironhorse” ’49 Mercury.
Rocca as a team owner scored one IHRA national event win with Troy Critchley.
His colorfulness and showmanship in Pro Modified was an attribute many remember. Particularly in 1997 when IHRA was overrun with 1963 Corvettes Rocca once called the tech department to inquire, “I’m thinking of building a 1963 Corvette, and wanted to know what colors are available.”
During the 2001 NHRA Pro Modified exhibition event in Gainesville, Fla., the first time the volatile doorslammers had raced NHRA, Rocca’s 1949 Mercury, then driven by Paul Athey, crossed the centerline on a burnout and impacted Ronnie Hood in the other lane. Rocca, who was dressed in full Indian attire, watched as Athey returned to his lane. Rocca then backed him up as if nothing had happened. It was the inspiration for Top Alcohol frontrunner Jay Payne to go Pro Modified racing citing, “they crash into each other and have people dressed like Indians. I have to get me one of those.”
“He touched a lot of people,” Seth Rocca said. “Drag racing meant everything to my father up until the point when he got home. It was one of the very first loves of his life. We were listening to one of his Xtreme Machines CDs last night, where he talked about his first love of drag racing. If he could have raced up until his last day, he would have. It was something near and dear to his heart. He cherished.
“When he was at the track it was his happy place. he always had a smile from ear to ear. Other than his family, there was nothing he loved more. He lived and breathed drag racing.”
Rocca leaves behind daughter Jessica and Seth and is survived by siblings Annie, Bill, Frankie, and Marcia.