ST. LOUIS – Steve Torrence left the starting line first, but that was all that went right for the two-time reigning NHRA Top Fuel world champion in a final round race with Doug Kalitta to determine the Top Fuel winner in Sunday’s 23rd Mopar Express Lane Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway.
The result sends the 37-year-old back home to Texas for two races that will play a pivotal role in his bid to become just the third driver in NHRA history to win three straight Top Fuel championships.
Torrence will lead Kalitta by a scant two points Oct. 17 when qualifying begins in the 35th annual AAA Texas Fall Nationals at the Texas Motorplex, outside Dallas, about two hours from Torrence’s home in Kilgore. A week later everyone moves to Houston Raceway Park before heading west for the concluding event Nov. 1 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Although he put his Capco Contractors dragster in the final round for the fourth consecutive year, Torrence and crew chief Richard Hogan fought mechanical gremlins both days. During qualifying, which was reduced to a single session by weather, Torrence had to backpedal to deal with a loss of traction and started Sunday from only the No. 6 position.
Two solid runs on race day gave way to a recurrence of tire shake and traction loss in the semifinals that was overcome only by Torrence’s quick pedal job. Nevertheless, the fact that the car slowed from 3.687 and 3.710 in the first two rounds to 3.948 in the semifinal win over dad and teammate Billy Torrence, convinced Hogan that he needed to make a big change before the final round.
Unfortunately, the car didn’t respond well to that strategy and, after an .056 of a second reaction time, Torrence limped across the finish line in 9.111 seconds.
“Hoagie knew what we had wasn’t going to work and he had something he’d been wanting to try,” Torrence said. “If it had worked, we’d be geniuses, but it didn’t so we’ll just pack it up and head home. We feel real confident running the next two races in Texas. There’ll be a lot of ‘Capco Boys’ out to support us.
“Doug and that team, they’re really tough,” he continued. “They showed what they’re made of, going out in the first round last week and then coming back to win this week. They’re a good team, but we ain’t bad, either.”