NHRA RACING / TOP FUEL DIVISION

Can Torrence reverse Big 'D' fortunes?

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DALLAS – It is with mixed emotions that Kilgore’s Steve Torrence returns to the Texas Motorplex, the all-concrete track on which he will resume his bid for the $500,000 Mello Yello Drag Racing Championship in this weekend’s 33rd annual AAA Texas Fall Nationals.

Torrence admittedly loves the Motorplex, a track on which he has logged more “seat time” than any other and one on which he won a pair of races en route to the 2005 Top Alcohol Dragster World Championship. Recently, though, the facility he calls “home” hasn’t loved him back – and therein lies the rub.

One of only four tracks on the NHRA tour on which he hasn’t won since turning pro, the Motorplex played a key role last year in denying him the title that would have made him the first ever to win championships in both the Fuel and Alcohol divisions.

The point leader then, as he is now, Torrence drove his Capco Contractors dragster to the No. 1 qualifying position and seemed to have the race in hand until he crossed the finish line after a second round victory. It was then that a tire inexplicably blew out at more than 300 miles per hour, sending him and his 10,000 horsepower hybrid crashing heavily into the concrete guardwall.

The car was a total loss and even though a herculean effort delivered the talented Texan to the starting line in a backup machine in time for the semifinals, things never were the same. His won-lost record before the crash was 54-13. Afterward, it was 2-3.

“That was probably the best car I’ve ever had,” lamented the 23-time tour winner. “I felt like if that (crash) hadn’t happened, we probably would‘ve won (the Fall Nationals) last year. So, yeah, we’d like to win at our hometown track but, more importantly, we’d just like to keep the momentum going in the Countdown.”

That momentum grew out of consecutive triumphs to start the playoffs, the first at Reading, Pa., and the most recent at St. Louis. They were the category-leading sixth and seventh wins of the season for Torrence who, over the last two years, has won 15 tour events, twice as many as anyone else.

Nevertheless, the challenge of racing at the Motorplex is a daunting one.

“I’ve made a lot of laps there in every race car I’ve driven,” he said, “but it’s a double-edged sword for us.

“We get to see some people we don’t see too often and get to race with some friends that I grew up with in the Sportsman ranks so that’s pretty neat; something I always look forward to,” he said. “On the other hand, we’re at a point where you really need to stay focused on racing.

“We’re just going to go in there, make sure we get qualified and then go one round at a time – just like we have all season,” Torrence said. “It’s the same attitude we had last year. This time, maybe we’re a little better prepared for what can happen, but it’s the same intensity, some focus. We’ve got a ‘take no prisoners’ mindset.”

Although his is the face of Torrence Racing, the Kilgore College graduate is quick to credit a crew led by veteran tuner Richard Hogan, who is off restriction after successfully undergoing a procedure to correct and irregular heartbeat last week at the Cleveland Clinic.

“Very seldom do I win races,” confessed the 35-year-old cancer survivor. “It’s the team and the race car. All I can do is screw it up. Fortunately, I’ve been able to do my job more times than not this year and my comfort level is very high right now.

“I couldn’t have a better group of guys backing me up than this Capco crew,” he said. “I put all my faith in them and they give me a (competitive) race car every time. I’m just blessed to be part of this team.”

Although Brittany Force came from out of nowhere to win last year’s championship, passing him on the last day of the season, Torrence knows who poses the biggest threat in his current bid.

“Clay (Millican) and Grubby (crew chief David Grubnic) are running really hard and that’s who I think right now we’re going to have to go toe-to-toe with for this championship,” he surmised. “But you never know. Our plan is just to win ‘em all and right now we’re doing pretty good.”

Watch the NHRA’s “Saturday Nitro Live” for pre-race coverage today on Fox Sports 2 (FS2), beginning at 4:30 p.m. Another pre-race program, “Sunday Nitro,” airs at 1 p.m. tomorrow on FS1, and then the Texas FallNationals begin at 2 p.m., also on FS1, three hours of coverage, four in all.

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