By now you’ve learned a lot about Paul Rossi as a drag racer, innovator and champion for driver safety. Not just the guy with that cool, wheel standing orange and white Challenger we told you about in our first installment, but an NHRA Super Stock World Champion runner up, the successful cultivator of the 440 engine for drag racing, a multi time IMSA road racing champion, conqueror of Pikes Peak, and a recipient of the elusive and almighty “factory deal.” Racers wait their whole lives hoping to one day get “the deal” – free cars, factory support and a chance at a National Event win. Paul Rossi got four such once-in-a-lifetime deals, driving for Mercury, Dodge, Eagle and Ford. Ford? Wait, what?
Well, there’s more to our story – so much more that we have enough to fill an entire book and we’re currently working on just that. But for now, we’ll wrap up this series with one last taste of the character that is Paul Rossi.
By 1992, Rossi was finalizing his Chrysler involvement by campaigning the new Dodge Stealth Twin Turbo R/T in the International Motor Sport Association endurance series with astounding results, after which a short break from racing was in order. This enabled him to focus on the customers of his successful engine building business in southern California, one of which was Ford Motor Company who had an innovative engineering request. As we’ve previously learned, car companies don’t make parts, they make cars. Car companies also don’t have time or resources to develop concepts for limited markets. That’s where companies like Shelby American, Hurst, Creative Industries, Cars and Concepts, and yes, Paul Rossi Performance Engineering come in.
At the time, the U.S. Government was beginning to introduce legislation that would require auto makers to utilize alternative fuels sooner rather than later. Ford was interested in introducing Compressed Natural Gas to its vehicles as a mainstream automotive fuel and marketing the concept through an innovative, highly publicized racing series to prove that the cars were safe. Ford’s Special Vehicle Team had just introduced the Mustang SVT Cobra as a last hurrah for the legendary Fox body and chose this particular model to be the signature vehicle for a “Cobra Cup” celebrity challenge. Rossi was given the contract to covert the cars and make the racing series a reality. Jr Thompson had money it didn’t know where to spend.
In order to encourage development there was not only plenty of government funding available, but the American Gas Association (AGA) jumped in with engineers and one million dollars and other sponsors soon followed. In the fall of 1994, the first car was debuted during Ford’s 30thanniversary celebration of the Mustang at Charlotte Motor Speedway and was introduced to the public by none other than President Bill Clinton. Rossi introduced several marketing campaigns including “Earth Wins and Fords” and “Our Hotcakes Are Selling Like Mustangs,” with the traveling display named the Earth Wins Tour accompanied by a matching twenty foot tall inflatable CNG Mustang Cobra.
Meanwhile union lobbyists were giving plenty of money to states whose economies were dependent on the oil and gas industries, which is pretty much everyone. After only three CNG race cars were constructed and before any production CNG vehicles could be sold off to government agencies so the car companies could meet the requirements, the alternative fuel requirement was rescinded and the series scrapped. Screwed by the Man, Part X and counting. Clean air set back 20 years.
Down, but not out, Ford still had a plan for Rossi. They had also intended to race the 5.0 liter Mustang in IMSA which was begun by Jack Roush, but he declined to continue as his plate was pretty full with NASCAR. Rossi took over. Designed prototype for assembly line to copy. Neil Ressler? at ford. The plan was to convert 400 Mustangs to SVT trim, but for 1995 the Cobra R moniker was used, this time with an all-new platform and a more-powerful 5.8-liter Windsor V8. Just 250 examples were produced with ownership only open to those with a valid racing license. Afraid they wouldn’t sell. Forced them on dealers. Rossi continued to lend technical and engineering support through the 1996 season. Rossi got 1st car, only black one.
Soon afterwards, Jim Goolay? the president of IMSA came calling with yet another exciting opportunity – this time on the other side of the fence. It was looking for a national tech director for a new Speedvision street stock formerly firehawk. sponsored series – three categories, eighteen car fields each, $10,000 to win each category, with up to ninety licensed teams in the series. After years as a driver and team owner, Rossi was now a Special Vehicle Consultant for FIA as well as with NHRA. The Federation Internationale de Automobile is a worldwide association established in 1904 to represent the interests of motoring. To the general public, the FIA is mostly known as the governing body for many racing series, which decides on rules and regulations for everything from karting to Formula One. It’s a pretty big deal, as Paul Rossi is one of only a handful of FIA Tech Directors in the United States.
Street stock – Motorola cup was international series. Ford wanted to buy series. As expected, Speedvision pulled its sponsorship before Rossi could even start packing for his new home base in Tampa, Florida. Screwed by the Man, Part XI. Oh well, sounds like a good time to retire…or does he?
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