POMONA, Calif. – Kilgore’s Steve Torrence managed to regain his composure after an incident with rival Cameron Ferre and, thanks to a pressure-packed, all-or-nothing victory over Brittany Force in the second round of Sunday’s 55th annual Auto Club Finals, became just the eighth driver in NHRA history to win back-to-back Mello Yello Top Fuel championships.
After using an .026 of a second starting line advantage and a 3.749 second track time to beat Force and, for all intents, secure the title, Torrence admittedly lost focus against semifinal opponent Richie Crampton.
Knowing that the only way he could still lose the championship was if he was assessed a points penalty for crossing the centerline or hitting the outside barrier, the 36-time tour winner had an uncharacteristic .183 reaction time that he was unable to overcome despite a slightly quicker track time.
The cancer-and-heart attack survivor took full responsibility for the loss.
“I went up there racing not to lose instead of racing to win,” he said of his race with Crampton. “I know better. I was thinking about crossing the centerline instead of about doing my job. I messed up.”
Torrence’s day began with a bizarre incident at the end of the track where he confronted Ferre after the latter, a part-time pro, engaged in starting line behavior the Capco crew considered inappropriate for someone not racing for the championship.
“Tensions are high,” he explained. “There’s a lot of crap going on out there, but there’s still no excuse for me acting that way. I apologize to every fan, all my racing friends and racing rivals. It was a heat-of-the moment reaction on a day when emotions were high, especially in the Capco camp. I talked the Cameron and we’ll just put it behind us and move on.”
As a two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion, Torrence joins a list of back-to-back title winners that includes Don Garlits, Joe Amato, the late Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon and Antron Brown.
“This championship is for all the guys who work on these two Capco cars,” Torrence said, “and it’s for all the Capco employees back in Texas whose hard work let’s us do this as a family. Finally, it’s for the Seegers family that lost their son Brandon in a freak accident last week. He was such a big Torrence Racing fan and I’d just ask everybody to pray for that family.”
At the end of the day, Torrence finished three points ahead of luckless Doug Kalitta, who beat teammate Crampton in Sunday’s final round at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Meanwhile, Billy Torrence’s longshot bid to become just the second driver to win a Countdown championship from the No. 10 starting spot ended in round two where he ran afoul of Shawn Reed. Both cars lost traction, but Reed was able to get to the finish line first.