LEAD DOG

Kilgore's own Steve Torrence (pictured) is the favorite going into the NHRA's Route 66 Nationals this weekend in Chicago. (Photo by MARK REBILAS)

CHICAGO – So far this season, Mello Yello drag racing Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence has roped calves with world champion cowboy Tuf Cooper, worked the takeout window at an Arby’s restaurant in Georgia, blocked hats at The American Hat Company in his native Texas and put together a program with the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation through which first responders got free tickets to the AAA Texas Fall Nationals this October.
Oh, yeah, the Kilgore native also managed to find time to drive his 330 mile-an-hour Capco Contractors dragster to three straight NHRA tour victories, a feat that sends him into this weekend’s 22nd annual NHRA Route 66 Nationals as both the Mello Yello point leader and the favorite to win Sunday’s eliminations.
Both are familiar roles for the 36-year-old who has won 22 of the last 51 races in drag racing’s premier series. 
To put it another way, Torrence has won more races over the last three seasons than any other four drivers in the sport’s ultimate category. 
That’s right. He’s won more often than Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett, Doug Kalitta and Clay Millican – combined. Or more often any other mix and match group of four Top Fuel drivers including currently inactive eight-time champion Tony Schumacher.
That’s pretty rarified air for a guy who, when he decided to form his own team in 2012, was told he couldn’t compete with what then was the establishment. In the Texas vernacular, it was a suggestion that “put a burr under his saddle” and spurred the graduate of Kilgore College to do what he’s done all his life, which is defy the odds.
Disdaining conventional wisdom, the cancer and heart attack survivor opted to rent shop space in Brownsburg, Ind., from John Force Racing, Inc., rather than build and, instead of trying to design and build proprietary parts and pieces, he opted to buy everything “off the shelf,” from the chassis to the engine to the driveline components.
Torrence’s “store bought” Top Fuel operation not only has re-energized the sport, it has revolutionized it to the point that his business model has become the new norm.
“We buy all our parts off the shelf and put them on the race car,” Torrence said. 
“They’re great parts. Everybody’s probably running the exact same thing with just a different stamp on it, whether it’s JFR, DSM or Alan Johnson.
“(Winning and losing) is all about these Capco boys that put these things together and Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana (Jr.), who do the tuning. My hat’s off to them. I can’t give them enough credit. They just pay such attention to detail.”
The Route 66 Nationals finals will air on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) tomorrow, beginning at 4:30 p.m.
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