Mello Yello Champ Defends Title at Maple Grove

September 12, 2019 -- Drag racing is a “what have you done for me lately” sport and since Steve Torrence and his all-conquering Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster have gone four races without celebrating a single NHRA tour victory, the minority viewpoint is that the reigning Mello Yello Champion is in a slump. 

If so, it’s the kind of “slump” for which most of his Top Fuel rivals gladly would gnaw off an arm or a leg.    

In fact, entering this week’s 35th annual Mopar Express Lane Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, the first of the six races comprising the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship, it would be difficult to find anyone who would bet against the Capco Kid, crew chief Richard Hogan and their gang of outlaws and misfits.

After all, they’ve already won eight times this year and despite the aforementioned “slump,” the talented Torrence won his record third straight regular season championship by the biggest margin in NHRA racing history (558.points).  

Furthermore, it was only a year ago that he and his team rolled into Reading in a similar situation after failing to reach the winners’ circle in the five previous tour events.   He quickly addressed any concerns, though, by winning six consecutive events and 36 consecutive racing rounds, streaks he’ll try to extend on Sunday.

Although he qualified No. 1 just once during last year’s record playoff run, Kilgore College graduate snatched up a remarkable 96.3 percent of the maximum available points (834 of 866).  It was a level of domination that would be nearly impossible to duplicate.  Fortunately, duplication isn’t required.

All Torrence has to do is simply what he’s done on a regular basis the last three seasons.  In the 72 events starting with the 2016 Countdown, he has taken his hybrid hot rod to the finals 34 times and hoisted the trophy on 28 occasions.  The most telling statistic, though, may be the fact that he has lost in the first round just six times.

“Lasf year was unbelievable,” Torrence said.  “To win six straight races, whether it’s in the Countdown or just the regular season, is incredible.  Everything has to go perfect. 

“The crew chiefs have to make the right calls, the crew can’t make a mistake putting the parts and pieces together, the driver has to do his job and, even after all that, you still need some luck.  So, sweeping the Countdown a second time isn’t that likely, but it’s still our goal.

“It’ll be even tougher (this year) because we’re running two cars at every race,” said the 35-time tour winner.  “If my dad (Billy) hadn’t made the Countdown, he would have run the other car just two or three times.  Now, he’s running all six races so that’ll spread us a little thinner, but it’s great for him to get the chance. 

“He’s done a great job this year and I’m really proud of him and that team,” said the cancer and heart attack survivor.   “We’ve always raced as a family, me, my mom (Kay) and my dad, but to do it at this level is really special.”

The elder Torrence, founder and CEO of Capco, a Texas-based oil-and-gas pipeline construction and maintenance company, has won twice already this year in the second Capco dragster and, even though he missed eight of the 18 qualifying  races, earned  the 10th and final Top Fuel spot in the Countdown. 

“We’ve got a great team, a great car and a great track record, but that’s just history,” Torrence said.  “You still have to perform in the playoffs and none of these guys is going to go easy on us, especially after last year.  We’ve got a target on our back, but that’s fine.  We earned it.”


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