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The March 2, 2017 online issue of HOT ROD Magazine contains an excellent article by Al Rogers on the current restoration status of the Rossi Engineering 1969 Dodge Daytona.  Bill Rossi, son of legendary car owner & mechanic Mario Rossi, purchased the car in 2013.  The Dodge Daytona was the last winged car to compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Its final race was the 1971 Daytona 500, contested on  February 14, 1971.   After completion of the 1970 season, NASCAR president Bill France decided to end the dominance of the specially constructed “aero cars” by limiting their engine size to 305 cubic inches.  Rossi and his driver, Porterville, California native Dick Brooks, were the only team that fielded an “aero car” for the race, as the other teams opted for the ability to run the larger engines. While the other Dodge and Plymouth cars at Daytona were powered by the proven 426 cubic inch Hemi engine, Rossi’s 1969 Dodge Daytona was equipped with a relatively small 305 cubic inch engine built by Californian drag racer Keith Black.  Brooks would lead 5 laps in the event and finish in 7th position, after losing two laps due to a collision with Pete Hamilton’s Plymouth.


Bill Rossi will debut the restored Dodge Daytona on October 13, 2017.  The car will be on display at the Wellborn Muscle Car Museum in Alexander City, Alabama, located fifty miles south of Talladega Superspeedway.


Mario Rossi, the hardworking son born of Italian immigrants, operated a high-performance automotive shop in his hometown of Trenton, New Jersey, before joining the NASCAR Grand National series in 1955.  In his first Grand National appearance, Rossi finished an impressive ninth in a 250 mile event held at Pennsylvania’s Langhorne Speedway.  In the late fifties, he would move south and work as a mechanic for various NASCAR legends such as Tom Pistone, Smokey Yunick and Bud Moore.

 

In 1968, Rossi began fielding his own cars for NASCAR Grand National competition with financial support coming from Chrysler Corporation. In the Spartanburg, South Carolina-based Rossi Engineering team’s first race, veteran driver Darel Deringer piloted their 1968 Plymouth Roadrunner to a 23rd place finish in the 1968 Motor Trend 500 at Riverside, California.  Deringer and the team competed in 18 races during the 1968 season with 5 top-five and 8 top-ten finishes. Deringer would wind up 21st in the NASCAR Grand National driver point standings for 1968.

For the 1969 season, fan favorite Bobby Allison would join forces with Rossi Engineering for the Grand National series. The team would switch to the 1969 Dodge Charger 500 body style for NASCAR competition. During the season, Allison would record 23 starts for the team and collect victories at Bristol, North Wilkesboro, Richmond and Macon. He would also compete in three races for Rossi Engineering in the aerodynamic Dodge Daytona, beginning with Charlotte’s National 500 in October.  During the season, Allison would amass 12 top-five and 13 top-ten finishes en route to a 20th place finish in the 1969 series standings. 

The start of the 1970 season would find Allison and the Rossi Engineering team building on the successes of the 1969 season as they recorded a 3rd place finish in the Daytona 500 in the Dodge Daytona.  Allison and the Daytona would go on to capture the Atlanta 500 by a narrow margin over Cale Yarborough in the Wood Brother’s Mercury.  The Rossi Engineering team would also claim the Union 76 Pit Crew title as Mario Rossi introduced the now standard procedure of gluing the lug nuts onto the wheels to enable quicker tire changes while the car is in the pits.  Allison would pilot the Rossi Engineering Dodges to 13 top-five and 14 top-ten finishes.  He would also drive his own Dodge Charger in selected events as the Rossi Engineering team only concentrated on the higher paying events conducted on larger tracks.  Allison would finish 2nd in the NASCAR Grand National points standings by a slim 51 (3,911 to 3,860) point margin to champion Bobby Isaac. Unfortunately, Allison would leave the Rossi Engineering team at the end of the 1970 season to begin building his own team for the 1971 season.

Perhaps Rossi’s most notable accomplishment during the sport came the 1971 Daytona 500, when he campaigned a heavily horsepower-restricted Dodge Daytona in the event.  After completion of the 1970 season, NASCAR president Bill France decided to end the dominance of the specially constructed “aero cars” by limiting their engine size to 305 cubic inches.  Rossi and his driver, Porterville, California native Dick Brooks, were the only team that fielded an “aero car” for the race, as the other teams opted for the ability to run the larger engines. While the other Dodge and Plymouth cars at Daytona were powered by the proven 426 cubic inch Hemi engine, Rossi’s 1969 Dodge Daytona was equipped with a relatively small 305 cubic inch engine built by Californian drag racer Keith Black.  Brooks would lead 5 laps in the event and finish in 7th position, after losing two laps due to a collision with Pete Hamilton’s Plymouth.  This would be the last appearance of an “aero car” in NASCAR competition as the Rossi Engineering Dodge Daytona would be parked after the race.  Brooks and the team would go on to record 9 top-five and 12 top-ten finishes during the remainder of the season.

At the completion of the 1971 NASCAR Grand National season, Rossi closed up his shop. He sold both his equipment and race cars as the tough Italian had became disenchanted with the direction NASCAR was taking.  He did make a comeback of sorts in 1973, as he went to work for the heavily financed DiGard Racing organization as team manager.  After well-publicized run-ins with team driver Darrell Waltrip, Rossi left both DiGard and NASCAR in 1976. He would make one more Grand National start, that coming in the 1976 Dixie 500, working as crew chief for driver Ford driver Richie Panch. After completion of the race, one of the greatest innovators, mechanics and crew-chiefs in NASCAR history called it quits.

Rossi settled in south Florida after leaving the world of NASCAR Grand National racing.  He came home in December 1982, to spend Christmas with the family in Trenton.  By all accounts the Rossi family had a wonderful time together and enjoyed all the usual holiday festivities.  His sister drove him to the Philadelphia Airport on December 30th and dropped him off at the terminal door.  Rossi waved to her as he headed into the terminal to board his plane.  That would be the last time he would be seen by the family.  Rossi’s sister received a mysterious call from an unidentified party on January 2, 1983, stating that her brother was dead. 

To this date the disappearance of Mario Rossi remains unsolved…..

 

HOT ROD Magazine Article