INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’ll be Torrence times two in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship this year: Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence, and his father Billy, both of Kilgore.
Defying the odds, Billy Torrence battled his way into the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship Monday in Indy before a loss of traction on a hot Lucas Oil Raceway track surface stopped him just short of victory in the 65th annual Chevrolet U.S. Nationals.
The 60-year-old founder and CEO of Capco Contractors, Inc., a Texas-based oil-and-gas pipeline construction and maintenance business, once again validated his credentials as the sport’s best part-time pro by qualifying No. 2, setting a track speed record of 333.33 miles per hour and reaching the final round for the fourth time in 10 starts this season.
In the money round, though, veteran Doug Kalitta snared a narrow win after both cars lost traction. Kalitta won in 4.144 seconds at only 212.43 miles per hour to become the 30th different Top Fuel winner in drag racing’s biggest event; Billy Torrence trailed in 4.220 seconds at just 206.01 mph.
Despite the final round disappointment, the elder Torrence will start the six-race Countdown from the No. 10 position as a Capco Contractors bookend to son Steve who bowed out in the second round Monday. Thanks to wins earlier this year at Phoenix and Sonoma, Billy Torrence made his way into the Countdown even though he missed eight of the 18 qualifying races.
The younger Torrence, who won his third straight regular season championship by a record 558 points, beat defending Indy champion Terry McMillen in Monday’s first round to pave the way for his dad to punch his ticket into the playoffs. Nevertheless, with crew chief Richard Hogan admittedly in “test mode,” he exited in round two after his usually flawless white-on-black hybrid slowed to just 4.772 seconds at 111.45 mph.
Trying to win back-to-back Mello Yello titles, Steve Torrence can derive encouragement from the fact that 18 of the 48 pro titles decided in the Countdown Era have gone to No. 1 seeds including six of the last nine in Top Fuel. Nevertheless, it was just two years ago that he lost the championship to Brittany Force despite another dominant regular season.
“It’s still just a six-race shootout,” said the 35-time NHRA tour winner. “Yeah, we had a great regular season. We won eight times and my dad won twice, but when we go to Reading (Pa., site of the Countdown opener two weeks hence), I’ll just be 20 points ahead of Doug. We’ve got a great team, a great car and a great track record, but that’s just history. (To win the championship), you still have to perform in the playoffs.”
Of course, no one ever put together a playoff performance like the younger Torrence did a year ago when he won all six races in the Countdown, winning the Mello Yello championship by a bigger margin than that by which he won the regular season.
This year, the biggest playoff problem for Team Torrence could be personnel. Already spread thin whenever Billy joins the mix, those crew resources will be stretched even further in the playoffs, especially in the two events in which Dom Lagana will drive the Lagana family’s “Nitro Ninja” Top Fuel dragster.
The younger of the two Lagana brothers is a regular on Billy Torrence’s crew and his brother, Bobby Jr., shares with Hogan the tune-up responsibilities on the flagship Capco dragster.