GAINESVILLE, Fla. – official series release — NHRA photo —
While 22 races remain in the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, Top Fuel standout Steve Torrence wasn’t about to discount what a win at the season-opener in Pomona meant.
Torrence started the year in impressive fashion with a Winternationals victory in his 10,000-horsepower Capco Contractors/Torrence Racing dragster, an accomplishment he feels still has carryover heading into this weekend’s 47th annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
“It’s huge,” said Torrence, who has six career wins. “First of all, it’s Pomona and when you win there it’s a little different than at some other tracks because of the history. Plus, we hadn’t had a lot of success there in Top Fuel. I don’t think we’d even been to the final. So it’s a big confidence booster for all the guys on the Capco team and for me, too.
“And, of course, you can’t underestimate how big it is to be the first one into the Traxxas Shootout. I know because we’ve had seasons where you come down to those last couple of qualifying races and you’re not in and it just adds to the pressure. So, we’re in, we’re gonna race for the hundred grand again and that’s pretty exciting.”
Torrence is excited to see what is next after a successful start in Pomona. He suffered a first-round loss in Phoenix, but again showed great numbers in qualifying, starting fourth with a 3.766 on the heels of a No. 1 qualifying spot in Pomona with a blistering 3.703 at 328.06 mph.
Torrence has prided himself on consistency throughout his impressive career, but his team continues to push the envelope when it comes to performance. By bringing famed nitro tuner Alan Johnson on board to work with an already talented team that includes Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana, Torrence is confident he can run with anybody in the loaded Top Fuel class, even as the numbers continue to get more incredible seemingly by the race.
“Why not?” Torrence asked. “The goal is to run as good as the Schumachers and the Antron Browns and the Kalittas and the Cramptons. If they’re running 3.75s, then that’s the goal. If they start running 3.72s, you gotta step up. That’s been our thought process. Last year, we knew that to be competitive, we had to go from being a mid-70s car to one that could run low 3.70s.
“Now, to really run at the top, you have to be able to run 3.60s and I think this car can do that. We ran 3.703 at Pomona and, to me, the exciting thing is that the car has gone down the racetrack under full power every run except for one in testing (at Phoenix) where we just got too aggressive. We went down the track 13 times in the first two races and we averaged 3.77.”
That mix of consistency and performance is a credit to Torrence’s hard-working team, which continues to mesh at a high level after Johnson came on board. Torrence is currently second in points behind Doug Kalitta and knows the potential his team has.
After finishing eighth a year ago in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, Torrence has bigger goals in 2016, including picking up his first victory in the six-race NHRA playoffs. Starting the season with a win doesn’t guarantee anything, but Torrence likes where things are headed.
“Going into Gainesville, we still know we’ve got a bad hot rod and that’s a credit to a couple of things,” Torrence said. “First, we’ve got a new chassis from Morgan Lucas Racing and those guys worked their butts off just to get it to us in time for testing. Then, I’ve got what I think is the best crew in the business. It’s taken a couple of years to put it all together but I think we did it the right way and now we have the right people in the right places.
“Finally, bringing A.J. (Alan Johnson) on board to work with Hogan has just added to the whole thing. We’ve always run Alan’s parts so there wasn’t a big change mechanically, but he pushes Richard and Bobby to go just a little further (with the tune-up) and with the success he’s had, they do listen. It’s a combination of several things.”
That puts Torrence right in the mix when it comes to winning at the famed facility in Gainesville, but the loaded field starts with defending world champion Brown. Others to watch at Gainesville include 2014 event winner and current points leader Kalitta, rising star Leah Pritchett, who won her first career race in Phoenix, eight-time world champion Schumacher, Shawn Langdon, J.R. Todd, Brittany Force, Richie Crampton, Dave Connolly and Clay Millican.
“We’re not going to approach it any different than we have any other race,” Torrence said. “We’re just going to go out and race the track and take whatever it gives us and try to stay consistent. Gainesville is one of the biggest events and if you win it, you definitely earn the right to walk a little taller. But you can’t get all caught up in the hype and the history. You still have to run your race.”
CREDIT: NHRA Communications