INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Racing for injured team member Dom Lagana in a Capco Contractors dragster sporting the Lagana family’s “Nitro Ninja” livery, two-time reigning NHRA Top Fuel Champion Steve Torrence lost a heartbreaking semifinal to Leah Pruett Sunday in the 66th annual Denso U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.
The disappointment of being unable to achieve his goal of winning the world’s biggest race for one of the key members of his extended family left the 38-time Mello Yello pro tour winner from Kilgore both physically and emotionally drained.
The unexpected result also dropped him from second to third place in points in his bid to become just the third driver in NHRA history to win three straight Mello Yello Top Fuel championships.
“I didn’t do my job,” Torrence said after losing to Pruett on a hole shot. “No excuses, but it hurts really bad because of what’s going on with Dom. He’s an integral part of this family and his absence has left a big hole. I really wanted to put the ‘Nitro Ninja’ in the winners’ circle. All I can do now is continue to support Dom and Bobby and the family in any way I can during this difficult time.”
Dom Lagana was critically injured in a one vehicle crash after leaving Lucas Oil Raceway following Torrence’s Aug. 9 victory in the Dodge Indy Nationals. He remains hospitalized at Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital. Two passengers in the car, Richie Crampton and Jake Sanders, were less seriously injured.
When qualifying begins Sept. 26 in the Amalie Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., a race in which he has never advanced beyond the second round, Torrence will trail Doug Kalitta by 60 points and Pruett by 10.
Torrence’s team used the actual body panels from the Lagana brothers’ Top Fuel car to transform the family Capco dragster from bright red to basic black. The look extended to crew uniforms which included a “Twilight Zone” banner, a reference to the Funny Car driven by the late Bobby Lagana Sr.
After a great qualifying effort that included quick time in two of the three qualifying sessions, Billy Torrence became a first-round victim of rookie sensation Justin Ashley and, as a result, fell to fifth place in points in the second Capco Contractors dragster.