Vince Rossi, Racer 1926-1999

By Don Prieto

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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, "Lefty" Mudersbach.

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…lots 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" Billy Tidwell.

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 grin.

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 on Cacklefest.com

 

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