Mello Yello Champ Looks to Reverse Gainesville Trend

March 11, 2019 -- There are exceptions to every rule and, with regard to Steve Torrence’s domination of the NHRA’s Mello Yello drag racing series, that exception is Gainesville Raceway, site this week of the 50th running of the Amalie Oil Gatornationals.

While the talented Texan’s fingerprints are all over virtually every other event in drag racing’s primary series, one would be hard pressed to find evidence that he ever has raced in Florida. 

 In nine previous Gatornationals appearances, the reigning series champion has won a mere seven competitive rounds.  In three of his last four appearances, he’s endured a one-and-done weekend.  Moreover, while he is among the career leaders in final round appearances (42), No. 1 qualifiers (20) and victories (27), he is 0-for-his-career in those categories at Gainesville Raceway. 

It’s an issue the 36-year-old cancer survivor hopes to address this week when he once again sends his Capco Contractors dragster after the Top Fuel championship in the longest enduring Mello Yello event east of Indianapolis.

“There’s no reason why, really,” Torrence said of his lack of production at the Gatornationals.  “There’s nothing different about the track or the conditions or anything.  It’s just one of those deals.  All you can do is just keep showing up and doing what you do.  Eventually, it’s gonna happen.  It’d be nice if it happened this week – the 50th anniversary.  That would be special.”

The only driver in history to win NHRA championships in both the Alcohol and Fuel divisions, Torrence’s Gatornationals disappointment weighs heaviest on crew chief Richard Hogan, a Florida native whose drag racing roots pre-date the race itself.

Hogan grew up around Sarasota where his dad, the late “Charlie the King” Hogan, was something of a local drag racing legend and a 1950s’ rival of another Florida native, one who would go on to become the greatest of all time, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits.

Hogan, whose lightweight V12 Ford roadster may have been his most memorable ride, never pursued the sport at the professional level but Garlits credits their rivalry with stoking his own competitive fire.

 “Without Charlie, I would probably never have experienced the coming decades of victories, all the ‘Swamp Rat’ excitement and even the nickname ‘Big Daddy,’” Garlits said.  “I thank the good Lord every day that there once was a guy named Charlie Hogan who became the ultimate challenge for me.”

Eventually, Garlits would hire Charlie’s son, Richard, to work on his crew and would steer the aspiring young racer away from a career behind the wheel.

“He impressed on me that there was always going to be a shortage of (good) crew chiefs,” Hogan said, “so I just went down that path and never thought about driving.”

It’s a decision that last year paid big dividends when Hogan directed Torrence to the Top Fuel championship in a season in which they celebrated 11 wins (12 including one by Steve’s dad, Billy) and became the first team, regardless of racing discipline, to sweep the six races comprising the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.

Nevertheless, Torrence and Hogan both understand that drag racing is a “what have you done for me lately sport.”

“You have to keep proving yourself week after week,” Torrence said, “and we like that.  We like doing what everybody thinks can’t be done.  That’s what motivates me, that’s what motivates Richard and that’s what motivates all these Capco boys.”

So, the kid can’t win the Gatornationals?  Don’t bet on it.


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