BRAINERD, Minn. – When the Mello Yello tour moves this weekend to Brainerd International Raceway for the 38th annual Lucas Oil Nationals, the focus briefly will shift from series champion Steve Torrence’s pursuit of drag racing history to dad Billy’s first title defense and his bid for a starting spot in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
It’ll be a two-pronged assault by a Capco Contractors Top Fuel team that has won 10 of 16 races this season and 22 of the last 39.
Billy Torrence, the founder and CEO of Capco Contractors, a Texas-based oil-and-gas pipeline construction and maintenance business, earned his first professional victory just one year ago when he won the Lucas Oil Nationals from the No. 1 qualifying position, becoming one of an elite group of drivers who have won NHRA national events in both the pro and sportsman categories.
Now, he is trying to defy the odds once more and make the Countdown despite racing in only 10 of 18 regular season events. To do so, he must make up ground this week and again at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis over Labor Day weekend.
Currently 12th in points, the elder Torrence needs to move past both Scott Palmer, who currently is 11th, and Terry McMillen. The three of them are separated by only 66 points with only two races remaining before the points are adjusted.
Billy Torrence has won twice in eight appearances so far this season and was on the losing end of an historic final round shootout with his son at Topeka, Kan. He avenged that loss by beating Steve in the semifinals of Sonoma, Calif., and denying him what would have been his 10th straight final appearance.
That is one of the few milestones to have eluded the current point leader in what thus far has been a spectacular defense of the championship he won a year ago.
By reaching the finals two weeks ago at Seattle, he became just the second driver (after Hall of Famer John Force) to appear in as many as 11 final rounds in three consecutive seasons.
He already had become the first driver, regardless of category, to win the regular season title three straight years.
En route to last year’s title, which made him the first driver in history to win championships in both the Fuel and Alcohol Divisions, Torrence also became the first ever to sweep the six races comprising the Countdown.
Over the last 22 races, the 36-year-old cancer survivor has posted a remarkable 70-7 record, winning more than 90 percent of his two-car challenges. He has taken his car to the final round in 32 of the last 64 races.
“We’re not some big powerhouse that’s building our own parts,” he said of his family-owned operation which operates out of leased shop space in Brownsburg, Ind. “I mean we buy all our parts off the shelf.
“It’s all about the boys that put these things together and the guys that are making the calls to tune ‘em,” he said. “Richard Hogan, Bobby Lagana and all these Capco boys, my hat’s off to them. I can’t give them enough credit. I know every time I go to the starting line that I’ve got a car that can win and that gives you a huge boost in confidence.”