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Folks Of Interest Sad day, Johnny Rocca has left the shop.

Discussion in 'The Hokey Ass Message Board' started by oj, Nov 19, 2019.

  1. oj
    Joined: Jul 27, 2008
    Posts: 6,321


    Johnny Rocca passed away this morning, I'm sad to say. He was a true friend of hot rods in all forms and one of the early pioneers in the preservation of hot rodding and drag racing. He is well known as World Champion proMod drag racer but he & KS Pitman recreated the Gasser Wars doing exhibition passes at NHRA events back in the 90's, Johnny had restored both the KS car (he since donated it to the Garlits museum) and a version of the Stone, Woods & Cook Swindler A Willys that sits beside his Iron Indian ProMod in his shop. One of his fondest hot rod memories was back in the 70's he was sent to the Worlds Fair representing the Agricultural Dept and he took his '32 roadster with him (it was in France or Germany) and American hot Rods were unheard of then. He said the Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gregarian saw that car and had Johnny drive him all over in it with the secret services of both governments trying to keep up. He said they had a ball, 2 guys on a lark with open pipes, pissed a lot of people off but they didn't care.
    RIP Johnny.
  2. 0ldracer
    Joined: Oct 27, 2008
    Posts: 605


    Rest In Peace My Friend...
    Stogy, 61cad, Ron Funkhouser and 4 others like this.
  3. 0ldracer
    Joined: Oct 27, 2008
    Posts: 605


    Several years ago at a car show in Washington DC. Johnny Rocca on the right in the black jacket. Godspeed
    kidcampbell71, Stogy, wraymen and 7 others like this.
  4. oj
    Joined: Jul 27, 2008
    Posts: 6,321


    How about sharing a memory, something printable anyway?

  5. Sad news indeed, but what a great story about having his '32 Roadster in Europe. He must have had a blast. Imagine what it must mean to have a guy that's been into space enjoy such a fun time in your Hot Rod like that. ....How very cool. God speed to you Sir.
    brady1929, Stogy, wraymen and 7 others like this.
  6. Didn't know him personally, but saw almost all of his gasser war battles. He did much to bring back the Willys as an Icon in the Gasser Class. Those of us who love the Willys, thank you for your tremendous effort. g-willys
    Thor1, Stogy, wraymen and 3 others like this.
  7. oj
    Joined: Jul 27, 2008
    Posts: 6,321


  8. Marty Strode
    Joined: Apr 28, 2011
    Posts: 7,006

    Marty Strode

    OJ, Johnny put together the A/GS cars and match races, shortly after I stepped away from Nostalgia racing, so I didn't have the pleasure of meeting him. It was nice to see K.S. back in a car again, thanks to Johnny. Before he had that opportunity, he spent time with us running the Ron Bizio truck, and made a point to be at the starting line, squirting the injector for Tom Willford. You could see he really wanted to get back behind the wheel ! Thank You Johnny, R.I.P.
  9. fsteddie
    Joined: Feb 10, 2010
    Posts: 26

    from Pa

    I had the privilege to travel with KS back in the late sixties, my brother was his pitcrew for two summers right at the height of the Gasser Wars and that gave me a front row (starting line view) of all the famous Gassers and the best of the glory days of Drag Racing. Through that friendship I also met Johnny and later on ran into both KS and Johnny when they were running the exhibition Gassers in the nineties. Also got to see him run the Tin Indian and the Iron Horse. Two fast and incredible race cars. Johnny was a great driver and a wonderful human being.
    Gods Speed.
  10. Jeff Norwell
    Joined: Aug 20, 2003
    Posts: 14,105

    Jeff Norwell
    Staff Member

    oj..I knew a fellow name Aaron Pilalatzski(sp?).... who crewed on some big cars..And I may be wrong....but he may have worked for Johnny Rocca.... does that name ring a bell?
    Sorry for your loss.
  11. Jalopy Joker
    Joined: Sep 3, 2006
    Posts: 29,150

    Jalopy Joker

    sincere sympathy goes out to his Family & friends & fans
    Stogy, Ron Funkhouser and loudbang like this.
  12. 33HEMI
    Joined: Jan 16, 2007
    Posts: 457


  13. quick85
    Joined: Feb 23, 2014
    Posts: 3,053


    Johnny had a smile a mile wide.

    Willys 5.JPG

  14. I'm so sad to here of Johns passing. I knew John back in the 70's and 80's. Back then he was just a crazy Hot Rodder, like the rest of us young hooligans. We had a car club { The Weekend Warriors } with a $1. lifetime membership. John would invite us, the { Warriors } to his farm in Leesburg Va. So many great memories and fun times. The stories I could tell. So here's just one. We were at the Colonial Williamsburg Rod run 77?, and a kid asked John if he could sit in his 32. John says sure, but would you like a ride? Knowing John, I knew this was gonna be good! I followed them to the street. John launched the Deuce in a cloud of smoke went about an 1/8 mi. Then did a doughnut, and did the same thing on his return trip. When they pulled back into the Motel. The kid got out, jumping and screaming. I'm guessing that was the best time of his life, and that he still talks about it. The host club didn't like it much though, and made John, and Frank leave.{ ya think?} lol The last time I talked to John was when he and K.S. was at Indy. John borrowed some of my Halibrand wheels when he was doing the Gasser wars. Than life got in the way, and I haven't seen John since the 90's, I know that he loved life, and had one of the greatest personalitys. I sure that he'll be missed by his family and friends. I'm so glad to have known John. I never called him Johnny back then. R.I.P. friend.:( I hope there's Hot Rods in heaven.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2019
    D-Russ, Truckdoctor Andy, 392 and 8 others like this.
  15. oj
    Joined: Jul 27, 2008
    Posts: 6,321


    Johnny let the Tin Indian (it was & is my favorite) go to some of the guys that used to work on it and drive it, he said they totally rebuilt it (new chassis I believe), he went out to give them a hand doing the shakedown runs and it ran low 6's maybe the high 5's. thats getting the job done for sure.
    You're right, I never saw him without that huge smile and a cigar!
    I remember once at Old Dominion he was doing passes with the Tin Indian, after belting him into the car the he'd pass his cigar to his girlfiend and proceed to do a full track burn out, Gary Gore said Johnny was the only guy he knew that would launch on one side of the tree and trip the clocks in the other lane - he needed the WHOLE track and his girlfriend and crew would chase after him going down the track in the golfcart, it took both hands to manage the cart so she'd stuck that cigar - they were big as a broom handle and black as coal - in her mouth and off they'd go in search of Johnny.
    Dino 64, kidcampbell71, 392 and 8 others like this.
  16. Stogy
    Joined: Feb 10, 2007
    Posts: 23,982


    Condolences to the Rocca Family and friends on the passing of Johnny...never easy...thanks for sharing his passing with us @oj and to all that are helping share some of who he was with us...
    brady1929, oj and Ron Funkhouser like this.
  17. I remember Johnny's Great Lakes Dragway incident, and always felt bad for him as it was just a really bad deal. Don't know if he ever fully got over it. RIP Johnny Rocca.
    oj, Ron Funkhouser and Stogy like this.
  18. Incredible cars and a personality to match. He often took over the mic during nostalgia events at MIR. Sad to see him go.
  19. 392
    Joined: Feb 27, 2007
    Posts: 1,207


    The little side stories that make a thread worth reading. Sympathy from the Lou
    oj and Ron Funkhouser like this.
  20. oj
    Joined: Jul 27, 2008
    Posts: 6,321


    Summer before last he & I went to Virginia Motorsports to meet with Jim Oddy at the PDRA event, wherever we went he was given the highest respect and treated like royalty, word got out and they sent a guy to gather him up and took him to the announcers booth for an interview. We really had a hard time leaving, all the ProMod teams insisted that he join them for steaks on the grill after the racing - and you know how they can lay out the food!
    It was quite a day and a few unrepeatable stories were shared.
  21. sololobo
    Joined: Aug 23, 2006
    Posts: 8,314


    nice tribute thread with some great stories. I saw some of the gasser war races and they will always be some of my fave racing memories. Big smile from a big time hot rodder, rest easy Sir!
    Ron Funkhouser and oj like this.
  22. Joe Troilo
    Joined: Oct 3, 2007
    Posts: 313

    Joe Troilo

    Spent some time with Johnny at a Leesburg, VA car show. He was always good for a gasser or pro mod story. Great guy. He will be missed. RIP
  23. 47ragtop
    Joined: Feb 8, 2007
    Posts: 664


    1 of my 2 favorite tees. I got this at Good Guys in Indy probably 1990. Remember the stripes on the sleeves. Enjoyed talking to Rocco and KS and also had KS autograph my hat. Almost 30 years ago , seems like yesterday. Later Bill

    Attached Files:

  24. Another racing legend gone. I swear that I'm in the wrong decade. Our sympathy to his family. You know if there's a track up there, he's already making passes. drag-world-finals-2001-team-owner-johnny-rocca-helps-paul-athey-stage.jpeg

    Sent from my Pixel 3a XL using The H.A.M.B. mobile app
  25. 33 fuel
    Joined: Jan 9, 2012
    Posts: 31

    33 fuel

    Just came upon the post on here,It's been a few months since His passing ,But id like to add a few personal stories
    My name is Aaron Pilatzke ,from Ontario Canada,
    Johnny was a good friend of mine ,One of my best friends actually .Spent alot of time with him when he lived in leesburg .
    Endless cool memories .One of my all time favorite times was cruising in his street Merc from Leesburg to Mount Jackson , Through the back roads of Virginia .Took us most of the afternoon .Beautiful sunny fall day there and back with lots of stops along the way . Best cruise ever .
    I owned and restored the Tin Indian Mcamis built car. The one Johnny raced in Australia , And I restored the Dark horse Merc into the Iron Horse .So we had lots of cool times touring around with both cars . Johnny was the grand marshal at Alot of events we went to. Like the Old dominion 50th anniversary race the fellow mentioned earlier in Manassas Va. We couldn't get the Iron horse to start so he jumped into the "Indian " to do a pass down the track. Johnny was busy waving to every one in the crowed and wasn't paying attn. when I was pulling him up in the stagging lanes with the golf cart . I was trying to flag him that I was stopping with the golf cart , He didn't see my hand signal and ran into the back of me lmao!!! Seth his son brought him into the water box . the car completely disappeared in smoke during the crazy ass burn out . We couldn't see it lol He backed the car up in the other lane So we ran the car there .No one was beside him anyways . Only Johnny lol.

    At John's Funeral , One of his Radio friends gave a eulogy that went something like this .
    John was a larger than life character ,The Drag racing world has just lost one of its greats .
    When Johnny was doing an interview with me, I never knew if I was interviewing Him or he was Interviewing me .
    He was a promoters dream at an event . Johnny would sell more in tee shirts and merchandise ,then the race would pay to win . My Condolences to his family and friends ,
    John Force

    Rip Johnny
    loudbang, oj, quick85 and 1 other person like this.
  26. Big AL Neenyo
    Joined: Feb 27, 2020
    Posts: 39

    Big AL Neenyo

    Rest in peace brother.
    loudbang and chryslerfan55 like this.

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