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Mon, Nov 9, 06:43 AM

Automotive Entrepreneur Dick Moroso Succumbs to Cancer
Courtesy of Dave Densmore

GUILFORD, Conn. -- Richard D. "Dick" Moroso, an American automotive entrepreneur and performance parts manufacturer whose company name has appeared on hundreds of thousands of race cars and street vehicles, lost a year-long battle to brain cancer on Saturday. He was 59.

Moroso, who had undergone four surgeries and radiation treatment since a brain tumor first was diagnosed Oct. 3, 1997, succumbed to complications after being admitted to a Connecticut hospice on Saturday.

The founder of Moroso Performance Products, Inc., Moroso was active in all forms of motor racing. His resume included stints as a driver, car owner and sponsor, but he was best known for the aftermarket parts he manufactured for use in vehicles of every shape, size, and description. They included valve covers, custom-designed oil pans, and Blue Max spark plug wires.

Moroso also was the owner of Moroso Motorsports Park in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, a multi-use facility featuring a quarter mile dragstrip and a 2.2-mile road course. Before his health began to fail, he had commissioned plans that would have added a 3/8-mile oval to the complex.

Inducted last March into the Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame, Moroso was a charter member of the Hot Rod Magazine Motorsports Hall of Fame and was honored as both "Man of the Year" and as a winner of the "Ollie Award" for career contributions to the sport of drag racing by Car Craft Magazine.

He is survived by a son, Rick, the President of Moroso Performance Products since 1997; a daughter, Susan Moroso Strecker; and a grandson, Mathew, born last March 6, 1998 to Rick and wife Lori. His children said Sunday that they will continue to operate both Moroso Performance and Moroso Motorsports Park.

Moroso began his competitive career in drag racing where, as a driver, he was a class winner at the 1962 U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., and the Street Eliminator runner-up at the same event in 1966. However, he was better know as the owner of a number of vehicles which raced competitively in NASCAR Winston Cup and Busch Grand National events.

Prominent among them were the Oldsmobiles driven by son Robbie, a Grand National series champion who had been projected as a future Winston Cup star. The younger Moroso died of injuries suffered in a 1990 highway accident just as he had signed a lucrative, multi-year sponsorship agreement to drive in NASCAR's premier racing series.

In addition to his racing activities, which most recently included fielding a Fina Petroleum-backed team for Randy LaJoie, Moroso had a passion for custom sport fishing boats to which he had access from the home he maintained on Singer Island in West Palm Beach, Fla.

Born in New Rochelle, NY, Moroso started his parts business in the basement of his parents' Connecticut home but, because of his age and inexperience, found that many within the industry refused to take him seriously.

In an effort to provide at least the illusion of long-term stability, Moroso and a friend snuck down to a local car dealership before business hours one morning, hung a "Speed Associates" sign over that of the dealer's logo, and took publicity photos which they distributed to the naysayers, many of whom immediately returned orders for Moroso-designed parts, thus paving the way for the development of Moroso Performance Products, Inc., into a multi-million dollar company.

One of the few drag racing events with which Moroso remained personally associated until his death was the annual Five-Day Bracket Race contested at his Florida track. The first of the big money bracket races, the Five-Day was created by Moroso in 1982 as a showcase for the graassroots racer. It remains the most significant bracket race in the country.

"It's a race in which Dick was personally involved up to the end," said Laura South, Marketing/PR Director for Moroso Motorsports Park. "He loved the bracket racers, one because they were the people who bought his parts, and, two, because he considered them among the most talented racers in the sport. Plus, I think they reminded him of what drag racing was like when he was growing up. He created the Five-Day as a fun experience and I know that he was looking forward to this year's event maybe more than at any time before."

Connecticut services for Moroso are pending but are expected to be held later in the week. Memorial services also will be held in Florida, perhaps in conjunction with the Five Day Bracket Race.

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