INDIANAPOLIS – From painful personal experience Steve Torrence knows how fickle drag racing can be.
That’s why, although he is virtually assured of winning the NHRA regular season championship and earning the No. 1 starting berth for the playoffs, the 35-year-old Texan is taking nothing for granted this weekemd when he defends his Top Fuel title in the 64th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.
“I won’t believe it until we get through that first qualifying run on Friday,” the runaway point leader said of his bid to become just the fifth driver in Countdown history to earn the No. 1 starting spot in consecutive seasons. “This sport can bite you. It bit us last year when we crashed in Dallas (four races into the playoffs).”
See “Saturday Nitro Live,” the NHRA’s new program, today at 3:30 p.m., for about 1 ½ hours, and then Sunday at 3 p.m. for two hours, both on Fox Sports 1 (FS1). The finals will actually be on Monday this week (Labor Day), and it’ll air at noon on the main Fox network, instead of FS1.
Forced into a backup version of his all-conquering Capco Contractors dragster following that accident, Torrence won just two rounds the rest of the way and lost the title to Brittany Force in the next-to-last round on the final day of the season.
The cancer survivor used that disappointment as a motivator for a 2018 season in which he again has dominated the pro tour, winning four times and leading the driver standings after every race but the season-opener.
“If we’re the No. 1 seed, that’s great,” Torrence said, “but that wasn’t our goal coming in here. There’s only one thing we’ve talked about all year. Everybody on this team is committed to winning a championship that we know we let get away last year.
“When you get so close that you can taste it and it doesn’t happen, it just makes you want it even more,” Torrence said. “Maybe my attitude wasn’t right (last year), but it is now.”
Ironically, one of the biggest roadblocks to Torrence’s bid for a second straight Indy victory may come from within the Capco compound.
Billy Torrence, the 60-year-old founder of Capco Contractors, will be back in the cockpit of a second Capco dragster as teammate to his son after earning an upset victory two weeks ago at Brainerd, Minn., his first such success in Top Fuel.
Not only did he win the race, he also qualified No. 1 (just ahead of his son) and, in the final, upset three-time World Champion Antron Brown, whose semifinal victory had squelched the possibility of an all-Torrence, all-Capco final.
“He was pretty bad-ass,” Torrence said of his dad who for more than 30 years has raced competitively at the sportsman level where he has won a couple of NHRA national events in the Super Comp class.
“Racing each other at this level in a final round has been a dream of mine,” Torrence said. “You don’t get that many opportunities. In fact, I think it’s only happened once in Top Fuel (when Conrad Kalitta beat his son Scott at the 1994 Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.). We’d like to be the second. That would be tough to top.”