NORWALK, Ohio — Three years ago, on the eve of the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, Steve Torrence suffered a heart attack that forced him to withdraw from the event.
It was the worst thing that could have happened, not to him, perhaps, because it was only a minor episode from which he quickly recovered, but certainly to those against whom he was competing for the Mello Yello championship.
Reminded of the tentativeness of the human condition, a reality to which he first was introduced during his battle with Hodgkins lymphoma, the 36-year-old Texan resolved to live every day as if it was his last.
The laser focus that grew out of that epiphany paved the way to a third place finish in 2016. A year later, he won eight of 24 races including the Summit Nationals and moved up to second and a year ago, he won it all as the first driver in any category to sweep the six races in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.
Now, as the preeminent driver for the most dominant team in the world’s premier straight-line category, he’ll spend his weekend doling out figurative heart attacks instead of dealing with real ones.
Having won 24 of the last 55 races in which he has driven the Capco Contractors dragster including five of the last six, Torrence is the new face of dominance in a Top Fuel category that for 14 years, from 2004 through 2017, was monopolized by cars tuned, owned or managed by either Don Schumacher or Alan Johnson.
Significantly, he broke that stranglehold with a business model that focuses more heavily on people than on parts.
“We buy all our parts off the shelf,” Torrence said. “They’re great parts but everybody’s probably running just about the exact same thing with just a different stamp on it. For us, (winning and losing) is all about the Capco boys that put these things together and (crew chiefs) Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana (Jr.), who do the tuning. I can’t give them enough credit. They just pay such attention to detail.
“A great car will make you a better driver,” he added. “When you go up there knowing that every round you have a car that can go low, that gives you a lot of confidence. Right now, we’re definitely hitting on all eight. We just have to keep it going.”
Despite a final round loss last week at Bristol, Tenn., a defeat that ended his five-race winning streak, Torrence returns to Ohio this weekend leading second place Doug Kalitta by 339 points and last week’s Top Fuel winner, Mike Salinas, by 357.
He’ll be rejoined by his dad, Billy, who, despite an abbreviated schedule, is just outside the Top 10 in a second Torrence Racing dragster. A winner earlier this year at Phoenix, Ariz., the founder of Capco Contractors, a Texas-based oil and gas pipeline construction and maintenance business, is trying to become the first part-time pro to make the playoffs.