ENNIS, Texas — official release — NHRA photo — It might have been an excruciating defeat at the time, but Steve Torrence also knows that his runner-up finish in Top Fuel at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is a surefire sign that the Texas native is ready to compete for an NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship.
Torrence fell in the Top Fuel final to rookie Richie Crampton in Indy, but he takes plenty of positives into the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. The final-round appearance represents a solid turnaround after a midseason dry spell, and Torrence has his sights on his first win of 2014 and a possible championship run in his 10,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster.
That first victory could come at Texas Motorplex, Sept. 18-21. Torrence will have two opportunities to win NHRA Countdown events at the famed all-concrete dragstrip just south of the Dallas Metroplex.
His first opportunity will come during the continuation of eliminations for the Countdown opener, the Pep Boys NHRA Carolina Nationals, which will be completed during qualifying rounds of the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. Three rounds of racing remain for both Top Fuel and Funny Car, and all rounds remain for Pro Stock Motorcycle. Four pairs of Pro Stock cars also need to complete their first-round runs.
Then, of course, Torrence could win the 29th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, round two of the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.
Torrence, who qualified No. 2 in Charlotte, won his opening-round race at the NHRA Carolina Nationals and will face Leah Pritchett in the second round when eliminations for that race resume Saturday during qualifying at Texas Motorplex.
Winning an NHRA playoff doubleheader is definitely a unique opportunity, and Torrence is up for the challenge.
“The car has definitely picked up,” Torrence said. “The performance was better, and it was more consistent, and I’m very happy with that. The consistency was definitely there and was so the performance, and that’s a big confidence-booster this time of year. Going into the Countdown, that gives our team the type of momentum we need. I feel like we put our best foot forward going into the Countdown.”
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, which will again be televised nationally on ESPN2.
The good news for Torrence is that he appears to be entering the most crucial stretch of the season on a solid note.
“We’ve worked a lot on improving our consistency during qualifying, and that’s big during the Countdown,” Torrence said. “We have to maintain that and continue to get better. I think we’ve got a better handle on the car than we’ve had all year. It’s really responded well to the changes we’ve made, and that is encouraging. Those ‘little points’ are a big deal, and that’s why you have to be consistent during every run.”
That gets magnified during the Countdown, when every driver must be focused on the task at hand. The Kilgore, Texas, native will have plenty of family and friends at Texas Motorplex for the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, but entertainment will take a back seat to performance.
“Everybody understands that in Dallas, it’s strictly business,” Torrence said. “We’re racing for a championship, and we have to be on our game at all times. You can close that gap on people just picking up qualifying points, so you have to maintain that consistency.”
Torrence also has the task of competing against a loaded Top Fuel lineup that features championship contenders at every turn. Kalitta has advanced to nine final rounds in 2014 and will be after a second straight Dallas win, and the ultra-talented field also features Countdown qualifiers Tony Schumacher, who has five Dallas wins, Antron Brown, reigning world champion Shawn Langdon, Spencer Massey, Brittany Force, Khalid alBalooshi, two-time season winner Crampton, and J.R. Todd.
Torrence knows the Texas Motorplex well, and that experience could translate to his first major success in a Top Fuel car at the famed facility.
“I’ve spent a lot of time racing in Dallas,” Torrence said. “I clinched the Top Alcohol Dragster championship there in 2005, and the track will always hold a special place for me. But I haven’t had much success there in a [Top Fuel] car. I would definitely like to change that in front of the home crowd.”