Mello Yello Champ Defends Title in Dodge Nationals

October 30, 2019 -- Despite first round losses in two of the first four races in the Countdown to the Championship, it would be difficult to find anyone willing to bet against Steve Torrence and his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster this week as the Mello Yello tour moves to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the 19th annual Dodge NHRA Nationals.

After all, despite early exits at Reading, Pa., and Dallas, Texas, Torrence still leads the point standings entering this, the season’s next-to-last event.

Add the fact that he is the reigning series champion, that he has won this race two of the last three years and that he is the track record-holder at 333.33 miles per hour and it’s easy to see why so many people still consider him the odds-on favorite.

That said, the 36-year-old cancer survivor is well aware that he is in a battle this time around, unlike 2018 when he became the first driver in history, regardless of category, to sweep all six NHRA playoff races.

Among those still in the mix is the champ’s dad, Billy Torrence, who will send a second Capco dragster to the starting line for Friday’s first qualifying session trailing his son by only 71 points on the strength of victories at St. Louis and Dallas that have established him as one of the hottest drivers in the Countdown.

“It looks like it’s going to come down to the last race (the Auto Club Finals, Nov. 15-17, at Pomona, Calif.),” acknowledged the point leader, “but if we go out and execute our plan, we’re gonna be hard to beat.  These Capco Boys are battle-hardened.  We’ve been through the good and the bad in the Countdown.  We know how quickly things can change and how important it is to keep your head in the game.

“Our plan is not to get ahead of ourselves,” said the 36-time tour winner, the only driver to have won NHRA championships in both the Alcohol and Fuel divisions. “One round at a time.  Do whatever it takes to get the job done.”

Backed by the talented tuning tandem of Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana Jr. and a crew of self-proclaimed “outlaws and misfits” that rarely makes mistakes, Torrence has become Top Fuel racing’s new Terminator.  Over the last three seasons, he’s hoisted the “Wally” 28 times and won 80 percent of his matches (169-42) while claiming three consecutive regular season championships.

Nevertheless, despite that success and the inevitable comparison to the sport’s past stars, the Kilgore College graduate has managed to remain remarkably grounded.

 “Very seldom do I win races,” he said.  “It’s the team behind me and the race car I’m in.  I just try not to screw it up.  It’s like any other team sport.  Success depends on everyone doing his job to the best of his ability. 

“I feel blessed and humbled just to have this opportunity,” he said, “but since I have it, I want to make the most of it.  Our goal the rest of the way is simple.  If we win the last two races, everything else will take care of itself.”


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