Texan Wins for Second Time at NHRA Summernationals

June 12, 2016 -- Steve Torrence extended his all-or-nothing history at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park Sunday, applying an exclamation point to a wire-to-wire victory in the 47th annual NHRA Summernationals by driving his Capco Contractors/Rio Ammunition Top Fuel dragster past the U.S. Army hybrid of eight-time series champion Tony Schumacher in the final round.

If the 33-year-old Texan’s overpowering victory in the season-opening Circle K Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., was a study in perfection, Sunday epitomized the contrasting concept of “winning ugly.”

The normal problems of achieving maximum traction with a 10,000 horsepower race car were exacerbated by high winds that continually blew dirt onto the track surface.  That made it much more of a drivers’ race and Torrence proved equal to the task even though he spent an agonizing few nano-seconds waiting for Schumacher to drive past him at the finish line.

“This is huge,” Torrence said of the bookend for his 2012 Summernationals win.  “This was a tough race.  Smoking tires, a pedal-fest (drivers feathering the throttle to try and regain traction).  Down there at the end, my car shuts off before the finish line.  I could tell it had holes out (cylinders that no longer were firing), and it wasn’t wanting to go anywhere.  It knocked the (supercharger drive) belt off so I’m trying to Flintstone it to get it to the end and somehow we managed to squeak in there ahead of Schumacher.”

In taking his Capco Contractors/Rio Ammunition Top Fuel dragster to the final round for the third time in the last five races, Torrence sped to within shouting distance of the Mello Yello point lead and an advantageous starting spot in the Countdown to the Mello Yello Championship. 

When racing begins Friday in the 16th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn., another race in which he will be seeking a second tour victory, he’ll be just 65 points behind pacesetting Doug Kalitta and only 16 behind two-time and reigning series champ Antron Brown. 

“It’s too early to be counting points,” Torrence cautioned, noting that there still are eight races remaining before the Countdown, “but you do want to distance yourself from the people behind you and catch up to the guys ahead of you.  So we’re just trying to go rounds.”  

Torrence’s dragster, which had been the picture of perfection in completing 52 of 56 1,000 foot sprints this year under full power, didn’t make a clean run all day Sunday and that made the driver’s contribution far more meaningful.

“To be able to come out and leave here with a Wally for Bobby and Dom (Lagana) is huge,” said the seven-time pro winner in reference to car chief Bobby Lagana and his racing brother Dom, natives of

Scarsdale, N.Y., who literally grew up at Raceway Park where their late father, Bobby Lagana Sr., was a fan favorite.  “Those guys have a lot of history here. This is home for them. 

“Dom did a great job this week in his car (losing in the second round of Top Fuel for the second straight year) and when they lost, they rolled over here and helped us,” Torrence continued.  “It’s a family out here and Bobby and Dom are part of our family.  I’m just proud to have contributed to this win.”

The day was such that, for the final round, the discussion was not how to go faster, but how to slow down a race car that has set the performance pace for most of the season, qualifying at the front of the pack in fully half the races.

“Collectively, we sat there in the lounge,” Torrence recalled, referring to himself, tuning consultant Alan Johnson, crew chief Richard Hogan and the Laganas.  “The right lane had not been good all day, but we lost lane choice and got stuck over there in it.  We saw Schumacher go .84 (3.843) in the semis and we knew the right lane was not going to hold an .84.  We needed to go A to B and not beat ourselves and that’s what we did.

“We took a bunch of timing out of it and slowed the flows down,” he said of the planned de-tune.  “It didn’t like it.  It put holes out.  But the bottom line is it wasn’t smokin’ the tires.  I could hear (Schumacher’s U.S. Army car) when we left.  I could tell he was right with us.  I could hear him slap (the throttle, trying to overcome traction loss) and I knew he had to pedal it. 

“It was just a great team win,” concluded the man who this year is trying to become the first driver to win NHRA championships in both the Top Alcohol (2005) and Top Fuel divisions.  “We’ll celebrate this one a little but we start racing again in five days.  It doesn’t leave you much time.”

Although he now has won twice at Raceway Park, Torrence did not advance out of the first round in his other four appearances which forms the basis for his “all or nothing” reputation at the iconic New Jersey track.



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