Three-Time Reigning Champ Bids for Fifth Straight Final at St. Louis

September 22, 2021 -- Victimized last Sunday by an electronic glitch that triggered a premature semifinal victory celebration, Steve Torrence goes back to work this week at World Wide Technology Raceway where, when qualifying begins Friday in the 24th NHRA Midwest Nationals, he will trail Brittany Force by a scant 21 points.

The fact that the reigning Camping World Top Fuel Champion didn’t reach the final round in either of the first two Countdown races and last week fell out of the point lead after failing for the first time this year to earn a qualifying bonus point is big news considering his level of dominance the last five seasons.

However, this isn’t the first time the talented Texan has found himself in such a position.  Two years ago, the last time the championship was decided in the Countdown format, Torrence also arrived at WWTR having lost the point lead following an inexplicable first round exit in the playoff opener.

He responded by taking his Capco Contractors dragster to the final round, thereby jump-starting his drive to a second consecutive title.  He added a third last year when COVID-19 compelled the NHRA to determine the champion based on overall points in a shortened 11-race season.

That Torrence trails Force in the current standings is somewhat disconcerting considering the fact that three weeks ago he led the 2017 champion by a whopping 411 points.  Nevertheless, a stroke of the NHRA pencil reduced that number to 20 entering the Countdown and Force has made the most of it.

When the two front-runners met last week in the semifinals of the Carolina Nationals at Charlotte, N.C., Torrence trailed by a single point but appeared to regain the lead when the electronic win light flashed in his lane in an extremely close race as both cars accelerated to near 330 miles per hour. 

However, the math showed that instead of a hole shot win for the Capco driver, who forged a .020 lead at the start, Force got to the finish first by .004 of a second, a result later confirmed by FOX TV replay.

“I didn’t think that could happen,” said the only driver to have won NHRA world titles in both the Top Alcohol and Top Fuel divisions.  “I saw the win light and started celebrating.  Then they said I lost.  As a driver, you look for that light because most of the time the races are too close to call.  That win light is like a beacon in the night.  Now, you don’t know whether to trust it or not.”

What Torrence does trust is the expertise of crew chief Richard Hogan and a Capco crew anchored by Bobby Lagana Jr. and clutch specialist Gary Pritchett.  

“These Capco Boys always give me a car that can win,” he said.  “It’s up to me not to screw it up.  There’s still a lot of racing ahead.  We’re gonna be there for the long haul and I know Brittany and Grubby (Force crew chief David Grubnic) are gonna be there, too.  Should be a fun shootout.”

Torrence, who’s won eight times this season, is just two victories shy of reaching 50 since he started contesting the Top Fuel championship in 2012.  That has put him in position to become just the seventh pro driver in NHRA history to win four consecutive titles (after Don Prudhomme, Bob Glidden, Lee Shepherd, Kenny Bernstein, John Force and Tony Schumacher).


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