Torrence Tries to Put His Stamp on Final NHRA Spring Nationals Event

April 18, 2022 -- The significance of winning this week’s 35th annual NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park is not lost on Top Fuel point leader Steve Torrence, the just-turned-39-year-old Texan who this year is trying to become just the fourth driver in NHRA history to secure as many as five straight series championships.   

Shut out of the winners’ circle at the season’s first four events in a Capco Contractors dragster in which he has totally dominated the last five seasons, the Kilgore resident is hoping to end that mini-drought this week on one of the Texas tracks he calls home.

However, it’s not just the competitive nature of this year’s championship that has Torrence so sharply focused.  It’s the history of the moment; knowing that when the last car hurtles down HRP on Sunday, it will bring an end to professional drag racing in Houston. 

The plot of land on which the track was constructed, which at one time seemed so far removed from Houston’s urban sprawl, has become increasingly valuable and already has been sold to Belgian conglomerate Kaoen Natie for development.

Winner of 51 Top Fuel races on the Camping World pro tour, 43 of them since 2016, Torrence has seen far too many “last drag races” the past few seasons.  This one, though, is personal.  Racing for the final time at HRP is a source of added motivation for the only driver ever to have swept the races in the NHRA playoffs (2018).

“It’s always special to win the last one of anything,” he said.  “We were fortunate enough to win the last Traxxas Shootout (2017 at Indianapolis, Ind.), the last race at Englishtown (N.J., also in 2017) and the last race at Chicago (the 2019 NHRA Route 66 Nationals), but to win Sunday in the last race at Houston would take it to another level.

“Winning last year was special because it gave our Capco team a win at every track,” he said, “but I’ve got (HRP) memories going all the way back to being a fan in the stands and then, after I started racing, matching up with Erica (four-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Erica Enders) when we were both running Super Comp dragsters. 

“We’ve always run well there,” he said, alluding to four No. 1 starts and three runner-up finishes preceding last year’s win.  “Hopefully, we can make this last race a special one for Capco, Toyota, Red Line Oil, Mac Tools and all our fans.  I hate to see it close, but I’m happy to have one more chance to make some noise.”

If he is to go back-to-back at the Spring Nationals, however, he’ll have to overcome some formidable competition.

“They’re definitely coming after us,” Torrence said of those trying to end his reign, “but that’s what makes it fun.  It’s all about the competition.  The longer you’re on top, the harder it is to stay there and that’s our challenge this year – to stay on top.”

One of those trying to deny him a fifth straight title is Tony Schumacher, the eight-time former champion who is back in a full-time ride for the first time since 2018. 

Although he raced in only a handful of events the past three years, Schumacher did win an epic final round duel with Torrence at the 2020 Spring Nationals, one decided by just .002 of a second.  Torrence got the starting line advantage by .016 of a second, but Schumacher’s 3.669 second track time (just a tick off the 3.661 track record) was too much to overcome.

Despite their well-documented rivalry, Schumacher is but one of a dozen legitimate challengers to have emerged this year.

Among the others are former series champions Brittany Force, Antron Brown and Shawn Langdon, aspiring champions Doug Kalitta, Mike Salinas, Clay Millican and Leah Pruett and emerging stars Justin Ashley, Josh Hart and Austin Prock.

Spring Nationals qualifying begins with a single nitro session at 7 p.m. Friday followed by sessions at 2 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. Saturday.  Sunday eliminations will begin at 11 a.m.  Television coverage of the Houston finale will include a pair of qualifying shows, the first at 6 p.m., Texas time, on Friday and the second at 9:30 a.m., Texas time, on Sunday, with race coverage slated from 6:30-9:30, Texas time, Sunday.

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