Texan Aims for Second Straight NHRA Tour Victory

June 15, 2016 -- The last two seasons, Steve Torrence’s Mello Yello title bid fell apart in the six summer races beginning with the NHRA Kansas Nationals at Topeka, Kan., ending with the NHRA Route 66 Nationals at Joliet, Ill., and including the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, contested this week for the 18th time at Bristol Dragway.

In that span, the 33-year-old Texan posted a 3-12 record, never advancing beyond the second round at the wheel of the Capco Contractors/Rio Ammunition Top Fuel dragster.

 So, the obvious question is was that a concern this week as the young cancer survivor made preparations for another Father’s Day at Thunder Valley?  Not really. 

Coming off a victory last week at Englishtown, N.J., Torrence never has been more confident in himself, his team or his race car.  Why?  Well, 10 races into the season, the graduate of Kilgore (Texas) College is third in Top Fuel points, has qualified No. 1 five times, has gone to the finals four times and has two tour victories.

Furthermore, he showed off his cockpit skills at Englishtown where, on a day on which traction was a major issue, he was able to “win ugly” with 1,000 foot times of 3.876, 4.481, 4.327 and, finally, 4.037 seconds.

By contrast, when he won the season-opening Circle K Winternationals, at Pomona, Calif., his winning times were 3.762, 3.782, 3.749 and 3.735 seconds.  The significance is that Torrence and his team now have proven they can win when conditions are ideal and when they aren’t and that validates their status as legitimate contenders for the $500,000 championship.

Since Torrence last mashed the pedal at Bristol Dragway, nothing has changed in the engine compartment insofar as the basic components or their assembly.  The clutch set-up is the same.  The crew returned intact with Richard Hogan as crew chief, Bobby Lagana Jr. as car chief and Gary Pritchett as clutch specialist.

The changes have been subtle, but significant.  One, Torrence is racing with new pipe courtesy of the fabrication shop belonging to Top Fuel rival Morgan Lucas.  Two, future Hall-of-Famer Alan Johnson has been added to the mix as tuning consultant.  Those moves have completely changed the chemistry and taken the team from title pretender status to title contender.

“This is the best car I’ve had since 2005,” Torrence said this week. 

That reference is important because it was in 2005 that Torrence won the NHRA championship in the Top Alcohol Dragster division driving for Tom Conway.  Now, he’s trying to become the first driver in history to win NHRA championships in both the Fuel and Alcohol divisions. 

If he is to do so, he most certainly will have to deal with the two drivers immediately ahead of him in points – two-time and reigning series champion Antron Brown and current point leader Doug Kalitta.  By reaching the final round for the third time in five races last week, Torrence cut his deficit to Kalitta to 65 while moving to within one round of Brown. 

Nevertheless, he knows that there is a lot of racing ahead including next week’s 10th annual Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio. 

“It’s too early to be counting points,” Torrence said, “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 every week.”

So far, so good.  Since enduring three consecutive first round losses following his Winternationals win, Torrence has gone 14-5.  More important is the fact that in the first three races of the set that took him out of contention the last two years, he already has won more races racing rounds than he did in the two previous years combined.


# # #