I first met Vince Rossi at the
drag races at Lions in 1963 when I moved to California from my
native New Orleans. But he was not a stranger to me. Quite the
contrary, I followed his exploits in the various magazines that
I was able to buy or have sent to me by my California connection,
Vince's, partner Tommy Lisa and
driver Kenny Arnold campaigned a '34 Ford three-window equipped
with a very strong flathead at places like Saugus, Santa Ana,
and Paradise Mesa. Like most of us, he liked to win races, but
for some reason known only to him, he relished getting "fast
time". Understand that in the early days of drag racing
there were no e.t. clocks, just speed traps. Fast time meant
that you had the fastest car at the track. Also, everyone knew
that in order to go fast you had to have horsepower
and lots of horsepower. Also, in those early days, actually getting
a pair of racecars off the line at close to the same time was
a rare occurrence. So the days winner would not necessarily be
the fastest car. Driver error, axle breaking, missed shifts,
bogging off the line, cheating the flagman, were all part of
the early drag racing experience. Fast time on the other hand
could not be denied. Often the topic of conversation on Monday
morning was not who won on Sunday but who had fast time. Vince
and his bunch of spaghetti benders had more than their share.
The coupe was fast - very fast
When slingshots started to dominate,
Vince joined in with Lou Baney and the rest of the gang to run
the Yeakel Cadillac powered rail job built Scotty Fenn and his
fledgling Chassis Research Company. Fast times and winning race
meets came often. Later it was sold to Emery Cook. With a new
roll cage and a big unblown Chrysler, driver Cook set a world
record of 166 mph.
A series of dragsters followed,
with various partners: The Spaghetti Benders, with Jack Chrisman
at the wheel and engine by Art Chrisman, The Rossi, Baney, Rapp,
Lisa "purple car" with Jim Ward, The Yeakel Plymouth
Special with Tom McEwen as the driver, the RRM "Purple Gang"
fueler of Rossi, Rapp, and Maldonado, with Gary Gabelich at the
wheel, and the last top fuel dragster was the "Wedge"
rear-engined car with partner Tommy Lisa and driven by "Captain"
It was with the wedge car that
Vince experienced his most satisfying, but frustrating milestone.
One Wednesday night at a test session at Lions, Tidwell driving
the Rossi and Lisa machine ran 5.95 e.t
the first run in
the 5 second bracket ever-anywhere. Vince prepared an ad thanking
his sponsors and laying claim to be the first to make a run under
six seconds anywhere. The times were certified by the ever-accurate
Lions drag strip dual lane timing, and strip manager, Steve Evans.
He provided verification that the 'Wedge" had in fact become
the first dragster to record a sub six second run.
For whatever reason, National
Dragster refused to run the ad. This infuriated Rossi and the
whole incident left him with a bad feeling. A feeling that he
had been denied his rightful place in the record book. But in
November of 1972, Vince entered that record book with a vengeance.
Driver Danny Ongais registered a run of 243.42 mph. Fast time
at the fastest track (Ontario) in the presence of all the fast
guys at the NHRA World Finals. Vince just grinned that incredible
Vince Rossi died suddenly this
past April. He will be missed by his friends and family.
Editors Note: Vince's memory
is being kept alive by his sons Paul and Jimmy along with Frank
and Tyler Baney and Chuck Goebel in the form of the restored
Yeakel Plymouth Special AA/FD. More at: Yeakel
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