ENNIS — Just short of 12 months after slamming his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster into the guardwall at the Texas Motorplex at more than 320 mph, in essence destroying his car and his chances of winning the NHRA Championship, Steve Torrence finally won on his home track to the delight of friends, family and a partisan crowd.
The 35-year-old Kilgore resident beat close friend and fellow Top Fuel independent Terry McMillen in the final round of the 33rd annual AAA Texas Fall Nationals and, in so doing, opened up a 103-point lead halfway through the Countdown to the Championship.
“We were just here to go rounds,” Torrence said. “I don’t have a Top Fuel championship yet but I have a Top Alcohol Championship and the year that I won that, I won Dallas. So, we’ve been trying to get this done since 2010 (when he made his first Top Fuel appearance in the Fall Nationals).
“This is a check off my bucket list,” he continued, “to be able to come to Dallas with all my friends and family and everyone from Capco supporting us and finally win. I couldn’t be prouder.
“Last year, we didn’t get it done,” said the man who is just three races away from becoming the first in NHRA history to win series titles in both the Alcohol and Fuel divisions. “We ran into the wall. But this year we finally get that cowboy hat (awarded to winners of the Fall Nationals) and the party is going to be big tonight. These Capco boys are bad ass hombres and I’m just lucky to be the guy behind the wheel.”
It was the third straight win for Torrence but it was his first at a Texas track since he turned pro in 2006. Moreover, he stayed perfect for the year: eight final rounds, eight trips to the winners’ circle.
“I dropped the ball in the final,” Torrence said. “I was late on the Tree (the electronic ‘Christmas Tree’ starting system that flashes green to start each two-car race). I knew I was late. I could hear him the whole way but near the end there, I started reeling him in.
“These Capco guys, I can’t say enough about them. Every one of them, they’ve got my back. When you go up there knowing that you can slap the biggest guy in the bar and probably come out unscathed, it makes you feel good. Honestly, that’s the mindset I have. If I go up there and just do my job, I know I have a race car that can win every time.
“That’s really taken the pressure off. I had fun during the regular season, but now it’s ‘Katy, bar the door.’ We’re here to take care of unfinished business. We felt like we got robbed last year (losing the championship to Brittany Force on the final day of the season) and we’re doing everything we possible van to not let that happen (again). At the end of the day, we’re just going to continue to try to do the best job that we can and let the good Lord handle the rest.
For the third time in as many Countdown events, Torrence started his day against Bill Litton, whom he dispatched with a 3.764 second effort that, surprisingly, wasn’t good enough to get lane choice for a round two match with Blake Alexander.
Nevertheless, he took care of Alexander and then sent eight-time series champ Tony Schumacher home in the semifinals before lining up against McMillen, the reigning U.S. Nationals champion, for the first time ever in a final round.
“The best thing about all of this is there were two independent cars in the final today,” Torrence said. “(and) there were two independent cars in the last final (two weeks ago at St. Louis, Mo.). These big multi-car teams aren’t the powerhouse that they once were and that gives hope to other people.
“Some people don’t like the track prep,” Torrence said of NHRA’s controversial decision this year to reduce the amount of attention paid to traction enhancement. “I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other, but I think it’s leveled the playing field quite a bit.
“Terry and his guys have worked really hard and of late they’re having some success and I’m happy to see that. Terry’s a good guy and when I leaned in his car there at the end, his son Cameron was in there crying. That broke my heart. I felt so bad that I wanted to give him the trophy, but I told him, ‘it’s OK, your dad did an absolute good job. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. He’ll have a lot more chances.’”
The win, Torrence’s 16th in the last 40 tour events, was extra special because it came a week after crew chief Richard Hogan underwent a successful procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat that had put him down on power most of the season.
“(He) texted me earlier in the week and said, ‘I guess I really didn’t realize how bad I did feel,’” Torrence said, “but he’s feeling really a lot better now. I can’t say enough about that guy. I put all my faith in him in 2011 when we got started (with Torrence Racing) and now he’s got us close again to winning this championship.”