TORRENCE RELIES ON HOGAN’S GARLITS’ CONNECTION
Texan Among Favorites in 45th annual NHRA Amalie Gatornationals
March 10, 2014 -- This week’s return of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series to Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville constitutes something of a homecoming for crew chief Richard Hogan and owner/driver Steve Torrence hopes that such familiarity breeds Top Fuel success for his team in Sunday’s 45th annual NHRA Gatornationals.
Hogan grew up in St. Petersburg and one of his earliest influences, apart from his racing father, Charlie “the King” Hogan, was “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, the man selected by vote as the No. 1 racer during NHRA’s first 50 seasons.
While Hogan re-connects this weekend with his one-time mentor, Torrence hopes to finally get his Capco Contractors dragster back into the winners’ circle after a pair of frustrating semifinal setbacks.
For the 30-year-old Texan, the bad news is that he hasn’t won since last June 19 at Bristol, Tenn. The good news is that he starts the third race of the new season trailing points leader Doug Kalitta by a scant 36 points – essentially two competitive rounds.
Hogan is a big reason for the season-opening surge that allowed Torrence to qualify third and sixth, record career best numbers for 1,000 foot time (3.758 seconds) and speed (329.02 miles per hour) and establish himself as a legitimate Mello Yello title contender just as he was when last the two collaborated in 2012.
The difference this time is a supporting cast that includes both Bobby Lagana, who stepped in last season to keep the Torrence operation viable, and Donnie Bender. Hogan, though, is the one with all the experience including Top Fuel championships in 1997 and 1998 with Alan Johnson and driver Gary Scelzi.
“I’ve known Don Garlits since I was a kid,” Hogan said, “and I ended up going to work for him as a crew member in the 1980s. We ran very well in those early years. I learned a lot from him. I didn’t go to races all the time but I went to a big percentage of them.”
Over the years, Hogan has tuned and consulted on some of the most successful cars in the history of the sport and worked with many of the top talents including Garlits, Johnson, Dale Armstrong, John Mitchell, Jim Brissett, Larry Frazier, Bob Noice, Terry Major, Wes Cerny and Walt Austin.
“In the old days, we said, ‘well, we’ll just put some more nitro in it and make it run,’” Hogan said of the nitromethane fuel used by vehicles capable of accelerating from zero-to-100 mph in less than a second. “Now you really have to pay more attention to be competitive.”
Torrence boasts imposing credentials of his own, not the least of which is the fact that after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 17, he battled back and won a Lucas Oil World Championship in the Top Alcohol Dragster class in 2005.
Since forming his own Top Fuel team in 2011, he’s won four times and established himself as a perennial contender.
Although Hogan was dismissed last April after the team struggled to start the 2013 campaign, he and Torrence remained friends and hunting buddies and that paved the way to his seamless return less than a year later.
“We were at Palm Beach (for the official pre-season test),” Torrence explained, “and I said, ‘C’mon Richard, let’s go back racin.’”
Now, they’re poised to go back winnin’ as well.
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