Rocky Pirrone…More than a RACER!
Rocky Pirrone, President/Owner of Joe Pirrone Transmissions in Philadelphia, Pa., may have had pretty humble beginnings, but he’s come a long way, driven by a passion for racing and the ability to handle all of life’s curveballs. He went from sweeping floors and re-building transmissions at age 13 with his father, to opening his own shop at the age of 18, to running the Pirrone & Ellershaw race team today.
Rocky's dad Joe Pirrone Jr. was a long time drag racer and was inducted into the East Coast Drag Times Hall of Fame for his development of the Racing Automatic Transmissions. Rocky and Joe built and raced numerous cars in the 1980's and 1990's racing with the Wild Bunch and Hot Rod from Hells. Rocky acquired his NHRA license in 1981 and upgraded his license to include ADV-ET and Special Fuel (Nitro) in 1999. Rocky was one of the first to achieve his Nostalgia Fuel License on the East Coast.
Rocky had no idea how far his passion for racing would take him. The re-build of the Big Time Memories AA/GS in 1997 was the just the beginning of the Pirrone/Ellershaw race team. It was during this first endeavor that he lost his father to a very short battle of throat cancer. The devastating loss served as even more motivation for Rocky.
Family never took a backseat to racing. Rocky was blessed with a daughter in 1999 who, coincidentally, was born while drag racing was being televised! With three sons already involved in school sports, Rocky decided to take a step back from racing for awhile and share his love of football with his kids. And Rocky has some first-hand experience as George Washington High School’s All Public Running back. He became the head football coach for the Bensalem Ramblers Youth Football Program with his boys. When they entered junior high, he became a side line coach.
In 2002, a long-time plan of Rocky’s came to fruition, which would serve as a rolling tribute to his father. He had the opportunity to recreate his father’s Boss Hydro 33 Willys AA/GS. The original car was built and raced in 1967 and ran against some of the top names in the sport such as K.S. Pittman, Jr. Thompson and Big John Mazmanian. Going out to the garage became a family outing, filled with laughter, love, and even work. (Or handing Daddy the tools and pretending to work!)
Life has its many challenges but Rocky always tackled each one, always leading with family being his first priority. In 2003, Rocky's wife Donna, who has loved drag racing since she was a teen, headed to Atco. She never thought the day would eventually come when her husband said, "I want to drive a Nitro Funny Car.” Donna knew there was an enormous difference between watching racers and watching her husband behind the wheel of a car that would run deep in the six second zone at over 220 mph!
But knowing that Rocky has always made safety a main priority, and that he had a natural talent for driving, the decision was easy. So in 2003, Rocky built the "Nitro Charger" funny car. With the help of his amazing crew that Includes Bill Ellershaw, Tom Fox and a host of others, the “Nitro Charger” became the first of many funny cars for Rocky.
Today, Rocky heads the Pirrone & Ellershaw race team which team runs seven supercharged race cars in various classes. The Big Time Memories is a 7.50 second 1941 Willys coupe. Boss Hydro, K.S. Pittman and Big John Mazmanian tribute cars all run in the tough "Classical AA/GS Group". The Screamin Eagle is one of the fastest and winnings E.T. Nostalgia Alcohol Funny cars in the world. The Soul Survivor is a 1967 era Don Long Competition coupe that is used as a cackle car and the Frantic Ford is a tribute to Jimmy Fox, Ron Rivero and the late Dodger Glenn. It’s a charter member of the "Classical Nitro AA/FC Group".
The team has many major event wins including:
-Three NHRA Hot Rod Reunion Victories.
-A 2012 NHRA US Nationals win.
-Victory in the Nostalgia Nitro Funny Car class at the Funny Car Reunion at Englishtown NJ.
-Multiple victories in the Alcohol Nostalgia Class at the Maple Grove "Geezers" events.
-Multiple victories at the Funny Car Reunion in the Alcohol Funny Car class.
-Winner of the Jim Oddy AA/GS Shootout at Lancaster Raceway.
-Multiple victories at the Thompson Ohio "Gasser Reunion" in the AA/GS class.
-Multiple victories in the AA/GS class at the "Pa. Gasser Nationals" in Beaver Springs, PA.
-Above list is only a partial list and doesn't include the team’s countless match races and open shows.
Over the years, Rocky has not only built and driven dozens of supercharged race cars, he has also helped many others achieve their dreams of a chance to be crew members. He’s even helped a few talented folks to earn their NHRA drivers license. The team has had some of the top drivers in drag racing wheel Rocky’s cars. US Nationals winner and Drag Racing Hall of Fame driver Bones Balog drives the Big John Mazmanian at national events. US Nationals Winner Fred Bear wheels the K.S. Pittman 33 Willys at National Events.
In addition, Rocky is actively involved in the Nostalgia Drag Racing movement, booking and promoting racing events. He is also a leader in drag racing organizations with him heading both the "Classical AA/GS Group" and "Classical Nitro AA/FC Group".