TOPEKA, Kan. – For a track that played such a pivotal role in his drive to the NHRA’s Top Alcohol Dragster championship back in 2005, Heartland Park has been less than kind to Steve Torrence since he turned pro and began rewriting the Mello Yello record book in his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster.
In fact, the last time Torrence won the Menard’s Heartland Nationals, contested this week for the 31st time, George W. Bush was just starting his second term as POTUS, Hurricane Katrina had not yet struck the Gulf Coast, Pluto still had the same astronomical status as Venus and Mars and the car he was driving was not his own.
Since he founded Torrence Racing in 2012, the 36-year-old phenom has made nine trips to Kansas and not one of them has ended with his hoisting the winner’s trophy. That’s a frustration he hopes to address this week when he goes after his fifth straight victory, his 11th in the last 16 stops on the NHRA tour.
A cancer and heart attack survivor who still holds down a day job at Capco, the Texas-based oil and pipeline construction company founded by his dad, Billy, Torrence not only has established himself as the new gold standard of performance on the pro tour, he also has emerged as a refreshing alternative to rampant political correctness.
“In my opinion, one thing this sport really needs are personalities,” he said, “people that are genuine and real. That’s what I try to be. I know some people don’t like it, but when you come over to this camp, you gotta know that we wear our hearts on our sleeves.
“We’re just a good ‘ol family-run race team from East Texas,” he said. “We’re pipeliners who say what we think. Truth is, we don’t make money drag racing. We do it because we love it and I think that’s what this sport was built on and what it’s all about.”
A graduate of Kilgore College in his hometown, Torrence has carved out his own niche as a pro, creating a legend that was greatly magnified last season when he swept the six races in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs. He’s the only driver in any category to have accomplished that feat just like he is the only driver to have won series championships in both the Top Alcohol and Top Fuel divisions.
None of that will mean anything, however, when he rolls his 330 mile-an-hour hybrid to the starting line.
“That’s what’s great about drag racing,” he said. “It’s a ‘what have you done for me lately’ sport and lately Heartland Park has just been kicking our butt.