New Set-Up Gets Another Test This Week at Heartland Motorsports Park

August 8, 2022 -- It’s no secret that at the outset, reigning NHRA Top Fuel Champion Steve Torrence was no big fan of a playoff format that adjusts the points at the conclusion of the regular season, thereby placing an enormous premium on the handful of events comprising the Countdown to the Championship.

But attitudes change and, on the eve of this week’s 33rd Menard’s Nationals at Heartland Motorsports Park, the 39-year-old Texan is hoping that a format that once was his undoing (2017) can be his deliverance in a season in which he is trying to become just the fourth driver in NHRA pro drag racing history to win as many as five consecutive series championships.

 “We’re just trying to use the Countdown to our advantage, like Brittany (Force) did (when her 562-point deficit was reduced to 60 for the 2017 playoffs),” he said.   “Whether you like the rules or not, if you’re gonna play the game, you have to play by whatever’s there.  That’s the lesson we learned.”

A year later, Torrence made history when he swept the Countdown races to win the first of his four straight Top Fuel titles.  Now, the question is whether he and his Capco Contractors crew chiefs, Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana Jr., can make magic once more with a new set-up that has proven to be more challenging than anticipated.   

“We’re just using the races before the Countdown to work through some issues,” he said.  “We haven’t been the dominant car all season but we’re trying to see if we can be the dominant car the last six races.  I feel confident (in the changes we’ve made) even though it hasn’t paid off in wins.  I think that you just have to stay the course.  You don’t get to be on top of the mountain by not having to overcome obstacles. 

"I think we're getting there,” he continued.  “I'm starting to see some consistency, which has been the hardest thing to get back to.  I know what these Capco boys are trying to do and I know what the car is doing and it’s aligning itself very closely.  We’re just picking away at it a little bit at a time.  It’s a mental game.  We had a plan and to be successful, we know we have to execute that plan to the end.

“We’ve got three more races to fine tune everything before we really have to kick it in gear for the Countdown,” said the only driver to have won NHRA championships in both he Top Fuel and Top Alcohol categories.  “We’re a solid fourth in points and could gain a spot or two.  When Brittany won (her championship), she started sixth.”

Torrence has gone to the semifinals or beyond in his last five appearances in the Menard’s Nationals, winning a family feud with dad Billy to reach the winners’ circle in 2019, the only time he has started the race from No. 1.

While his dad will return to competition this week for the first time since April, there’s no chance the two again will meet in an all-Capco final.  That’s because the elder Torrence will eschew the Top Fuel ride in which he has won eight times on the Camping World tour for the Super Comp dragster in which he outlasted a field of 100 to win a Lucas Oil Series points race at Heartland Park last year.

Billy Torrence, who has finished as high as third in Top Fuel points despite never running a full schedule, has been racing NHRA sportsman cars since the 1980s, winning national Super Comp races at Las Vegas, Nev., in 2011 and Atlanta, Ga., in 2016.   Among his three runner-up finishes in Super Comp was one at Topeka in 2012.

A single nitro qualifying session is scheduled Friday at 7:30 p.m., Texas time, with subsequent rounds at 3 and 6 p.m., Texas time, on Saturday.  Eliminations will begin at 10:30 a.m., Texas time, on Sunday.  All television coverage of the event will be on FS1 with Texas time qualifying shows at 3:30 p.m. Saturday and 12 noon Sunday followed by eliminations at 1 p.m., Texas time, Sunday.

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