INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Reigning Mello Yello Champion and runaway point leader Steve Torrence rolls his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster onto the concrete-and-asphalt at Lucas Oiil Raceway with a chance to add another chapter to his growing legacy.
The 36-year-old not only is on pace to add his name to the list of those who have won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals more than once, but he also is poised to complete 18 races with the largest point lead in NHRA history.
When qualifying begins in the world’s biggest drag race, Torrence will lead 2017 series champion Brittany Force by 635 points, roughly the equivalent of 32 racing rounds. In the Countdown Era, the largest margin enjoyed by any driver in the 18-race regular season, regardless of category, was the 567 points by which Tony Schumacher led Top Fuel teammate Antron Brown in 2008.
In a season in which he’s won almost half the races (eight of 17) and in the midst of three years of total domination during which he has compiled a 161-38 record, Torrence is almost certain to eclipse that mark. However, he also is in position to break the record for the biggest margin through 18 events, ever.
That would be John Force’s 618-point lead over Funny Car teammate Tony Pedregon after the first 18 races of the 1996 season.
The difference is that after 18 races in 1996, Force still could build on that margin. He actually finished the season 636 points ahead and that’s one record Torrence won’t be able to eclipse. That’s because regardless of the point differential at the conclusion of racing on Monday, he still will start the Countdown only 20 points ahead of whomever is No. 2, the result of NHRA’s manipulation of the points in an effort to assure that more drivers remain in contention until season’s end.
After being burned by that system in 2017 when he finished second after winning the first of a record three straight regular-season titles, Torrence laid waste to the “adjustments” and swept the playoff races last year.
He actually finished the season with a margin 116 points greater than the one he enjoyed in the regular season, finishing the 304 points clear of the second place Schumacher.
Nevertheless, that’s another story. This week, the talented Texan isn’t worried about the playoffs; only about the 65th U.S. Nationals. He won the race two years ago and has been to the finals four times in his last six appearances. His goal this week is to become just the 36th pro driver with multiple wins in the biggest race on the planet.
“I’ve got a really good team, a really good group of guys,” Torrence said. “They are the reason for the success that we have. When you see teams that go out and do well and continually win, it’s usually because the guys have been together for years and they just work well together. That’s what we have with these Capco cars.
“(Crew chiefs) Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana Jr., they’ve made all the right moves,” Torrence continued, “and the guys putting my car together, they just don’t make mistakes. It’s an exceptional group. I’m very blessed and very thankful to be the guy in the car. It’s been an awesome ride even if we were to quit tomorrow.
“If it’s a little hot this week, that’ll be just fine with me,” said the only driver to have won NHRA championships in both the Alcohol and Fuel categories. “Richard does a really good job of navigating tracks that are a little ‘iffy’ because of the heat of whatever and I’m just glad that he’s my guy.”
While Torrence is trying to close out a record-breaking regular season, dad Billy will resume his bid for a Countdown berth in the second Capco dragster.
The founder of Capco, a Kilgore-based oil and gas pipeline construction and maintenance business, Billy has won twice this year despite a limited schedule and enters the race just 41 points behind defending U.S. Nationals champ Terry McMillen, who currently occupies the 10th and final qualifying spot.
See the action on Sunday, beginning at 2 p.m. on Fox Sports 1 (FS1). The finals air on Monday at 11 a.m., also on FS1.