GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Even though he won last year’s race in spectacular fashion, ultimately celebrating in the winners’ circle with Florida drag racing legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, three-time reigning NHRA Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence will address a bit of unfinished business this weekend when he competes in the 52nd annual Amalie NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
Last year, driving a 330 mile-an-hour hybrid modeled after “Swamp Rat 14,” the Garlits-designed rear engine dragster that transformed Top Fuel racing during the 1971 season, Torrence beat Tony Schumacher, Doug Foley, Leah Pruett and, finally, dad and Capco Contractors’ teammate Billy Torrence to end 10 years of abject frustration in Florida’s biggest drag race.
All that’s left now is to finally win it on its traditional date.
Since NHRA officials were compelled to move last year’s race from the spring to the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Torrence remains winless during his entire pro career in the month of March.
That’s significant because, other than December and January, the only months in which the NHRA does not contest events in its national series, March is the only month in which the man who has dominated the tour the last four years has not yet hoisted one of the iconic “Wally” trophies presented to winners in the Camping World series.
A 40-time tour winner who has 24 victories in the last three seasons alone, Torrence is hoping the magic his team enjoyed last year with its “Big Daddy” tribute car, a project initiated by crew chief Richard Hogan, will carry over into this weekend.
“I never had won at Gainesville before, never even been to a final,” Torrence said of last year’s breakthrough, “but racing ‘Big Daddy’s’ car we had magic and we finally got a win.
“There’s a history with Hogan and ‘Big,’ so we thought it would be something really cool,” he said of the Garlits’ tribute car. “‘Hoagie’ worked for Garlits for a long time and, before that, his dad (Charlie ‘the King’ Hogan) was one of ‘Big Daddy’s’ biggest rivals.”
From NHRA.com, on Torrence and the Top Fuel division: “Torrence has not only won the last three NHRA world championships, but he’s also the defending Gatornationals champion. Even though his Richard Hogan-tuned dragster now carries the familiar colors of Capco Contracting rather than the special “Big Daddy” Don Garlits scheme he wore last year, he’s got to be considered the favorite. Torrence’s path to a Gainesville repeat figures to be a tough one with the return of Brittany Force, the resurgence of Antron Brown, and the constant pressure applied by Leah Pruett, Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon, and reigning NHRA Rookie of the Year Justin Ashley.”
See qualifying today from 2 to 4 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), and more qualifying Sunday morning from 10 to 11 a.m. The finals will air on Fox on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.