Reigning Mello Yello Champion, Dad Billy Face Off at Dodge Indy Nationals

August 7, 2020 -- When new teammate Tony Pedregon beat him in the final round of the 1996 Southern Nationals at Atlanta, ending a three-race winning streak in the most productive season of his career, an obviously surprised John Force told the media, “I think I’ve hired my own assassin.”

That observation would prove prophetic when Pedregon, now an analyst on FOX TV coverage of NHRA drag racing, ended Force’s 10-year domination of the Funny Car division by winning the first of his two championships in 2003. 

Steve Torrence can relate.  When qualifying begins Saturday in the Dodge Indy Nationals, the third straight Mello Yello tour event contested at Lucas Oil Raceway, the 37-year-old Texan won’t have to look further than the next pit spot to locate the rival who currently poses the biggest threat to his bid for a third straight Top Fuel title.

Dad Billy Torrence, the founder and CEO of Capco Contractors, a family-owned, Texas-based pipeline construction and maintenance company that supports drag racing and drag racers at every level from Jr. Dragster to Sportsman to Pro, has emerged this season as his son’s biggest rival.

Over the last 12 months, while he has posted a 21-11 record against everyone not driving a Capco Contractors dragster, the champ is only 1-4 against his own dad, losing to him in both July races here, a result that sends him to the line this week in fourth place in points, 10 points behind in the family rivalry and 132 behind overall leader Doug Kalitta.

The reality for the younger Torrence is that not only did he hire his own assassin, he trained him, too.  And apparently did one heckuva job. 

“It’s really been fun because my dad taught me how to race in Super Comp and Super Gas and I’ve been able to teach him how to drive a Top Fuel dragster,” beamed the younger Torrence.  “I grew up racing with my mom (Kay) and dad as a family.  That’s what we did.  So, to see how well he’s done (in Top Fuel) is awesome.

“When you have a really good student, somebody that just listens when you say ‘do it this way, I don’t know why, but just do it this way,’ it’s great,” Torrence said of his teaching methods.  “He takes it very seriously.  He’s always trying to improve, taking the pedal out of the car and changing the linkage, working the practice tree, anything, and we’d both rather beat the other than anyone else.  That’s just our nature.  We’re competitive in everything we do.”

Between them, the Torrences have won 35 times in the last three-plus seasons and although he missed six races because of business responsibilities, Billy finished fifth in points a year ago, winning two times in the Countdown, the six-race playoff series that has been suspended for 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Nevertheless, despite his record, Billy Torrence has no delusions about his status with the team.

He constantly reminds everyone that he is racing only at the pleasure of his wife Kay, the team’s owner and driving force, and that whatever success he has enjoyed is due to the work of others.

He has further emphasized that while he recently has had the better of the intrateam rivalry, Steve remains far and away the most dominant driver on the tour with 29 wins in his last 70 starts, the most recent coming last February at Phoenix.  Overall, the reigning champ has 37 tour victories since moving from the Top Alcohol Dragster class in which he won the 2005 Lucas Oil World Championship.

“My car is right there with Steve's (in performance),” acknowledged the Capco bossman, “but he's certainly the better driver. I take a lot of tutoring from all the guys, but to come out here and compete at this level, it’s always gratifying (and) if you can’t have fun doing this, you can’t have fun doing anything.”

Saturday qualifying runs at 9:45 a.m. and 3:45 p.m., Texas time, will set the fields for Sunday eliminations covered by FOX broadcast network beginning at 12 noon.  Qualifying coverage will air in Texas on Fox Sports 1 at 10 a.m.

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