NORWALK, Ohio – Every time he rolls his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster to the starting line at Summit Motorsports Park site as he will this weekend for the 14th Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, Steve Torrence is reminded of the fragility of life and of the need to treat every moment as if it may be your last.
Five years ago, three days before he was to fly to Ohio, Torrence was completing a particularly intense workout as part of his daily physical fitness routine when he began to have sensations that clearly were out of the ordinary.
Aware that something unusual was going on, he immediately drove himself to a hospital in his hometown of Kilgore, where he was told he had suffered a minor heart attack, likely due to cell damage from radiation treatments he underwent as a teenager during treatment for Hodgkins lymphoma.
Fortunately, he suffered no permanent damage and, after a corrective procedure, was back in a 330 mile-an-hour race car just two weeks later. However, the experience compelled the talented Texan to recommit himself to living life to its fullest every single day, a philosophy that over the last several years has paid enormous dividends in both his professional and personal life.
Not only has he won the last three NHRA Top Fuel titles, securing the first by sweeping all six races in the 2018 Countdown to the Championship, he also has married his best friend, Natalie Jahnke, and last April the couple welcomed their first child, a daughter they named Haven Charli.
Ironically, Torrence’s record in the Summit Nationals largely mirrors that of his overall career.
In six Norwalk appearances before his heart issue, he posted a 6-6 record with no winners’ circle appearances. Since then, he’s 10-1 with victories in 2017 and 2019, the latter making him the defending champion in a race that was not contested last year because of the pandemic.
Overall, the 38-year-old has secured 38 of his 43 career tour victories since missing the 2016 Summit Nationals and, during that span, has won 78.7 percent of his individual matches (239-64).
That success has him on pace this year to become just the seventh driver in NHRA professional drag racing history to win four consecutive titles (after Don Prudhomme, Bob Glidden, Lee Shepherd, Kenny Bernstein, John Force and Tony Schumacher).
This season, Torrence is two events removed from his last win, in Houston back in May. He’s in a familiar position: Torrence leads the Top Fuel standings with 606 points. His dad, Billy Torrence, is just two back (391). Longtime friend and competitor Antron Brown, from Pittsboro, Ind., is in between father and son at second place (444), and Shawn Langdon, from Indianapolis, is in fourth (354).
See Torrence and the rest of the NHRA compete in Ohio all weekend on Fox and Fox Sports 1 (FS1). Qualifying rounds are on today (1 p.m. until 2:30 p.m. on FS1), and Sunday (11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., again on FS1), and the finals are on Sunday, beginning at 1 p.m. on Fox.
Up next for the NHRA circuit: a trip to Denver for the Dodge Mile-High Nationals on July 18, and then it’s the Sonoma Nationals in Sonoma, Calif., on July 25.
Sports editor Mitch Lucas contributed to this story.