SEATTLE – Steve Torrence drove his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster into the semifinals for the 10th time in 16 races Sunday but the point leader couldn’t get past close friend Antron Brown who went on to win the 31st annual Cat Spot Northwest Nationals, the final event in thee NHRA’s grueling Western Swing.
“I knew he’d break out of this slump,” Torrence said of Brown, who hadn’t won a tour event in a full calendar year, “but I hate that he wound up beating us to do it, especially on a hole shot, especially on my crew chief Richard Hogan’s birthday and especially after we had such a good time together earlier in the week driving rally cars (at DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie, Wash.). C’mon, man.”
The weekend started out very good for Torrence, the number one qualifier for the 18th time in his career.
The 35-year-old from right here in Kilgore drove his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster through the 1,000-foot timers in 3.723 seconds at 331.61 miles per hour on Friday night and then withstood every challenge on Saturday to earn his 18th No. 1 start, his second this season and his first at Pacific Raceways.
The former Kilgore College sutdent got a free pass in round one when first time opponent Ron Smith had to abort when his parachute deployed at the starting line. He cruised past expatriate Aussie Richie Crampton in round two to set up his 35th meeting with Brown, the three-time world champion.
At the start, Torrence had a solid .085 of a second reaction time. Unfortunately, Brown was even better at .065 and that was the difference at the finish line.
Despite the loss, Torrence will carry a 161-point lead into the next-to-the-last race in the regular season, the 37th annual Lucas Oil Nationals, Aug. 17-19, at Brainerd, Minn., before returning to Indianapolis as the defending champion in the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals over Labor Day weekend.
“These next two races are really big,” said the 21-time pro tour winner, “because they’re the set-up races for the Countdown. I feel real good about our race team and our chances of getting the No. 1 seed for the second straight year, but it’s still on us to go out and execute.
“We’ve had a bullseye on our backs all year and I’ve got no problem with that,” said the cancer survivor and former Top Alcohol Dragster world champion (2005). “We know we have to be at our best every run and that makes you focus. Can’t wait to start the Countdown.”
Torrence, who is on pace to win the regular season championship for the second consecutive season, started his week driving a car bearing little resemblance to his 10,000 horsepower dragster beyond the fact that it has four wheels.
Ironically, it was he and Brown that spent a day, as Torrence alluded to earlier in this story, at DirtFish Rally School in Snoqualmie before their face-off driving specially outfitted, four-wheel drive Subarus.
“It was a good break from the grind of the Western Swing,” Torrence said, “but we were both ready to get back to racing.”
The NHRA circuit takes a break this weekend, but then returns next week, August 17-19, for the 37th annual Lucas Oil Nationals, at Brainerd, Minn.