POMONA, Calif. – A year ago, Steve Torrence and Brittany Force shared race data and the expertise of tuning consultant Alan Johnson. This year, all the two share is the rare opportunity to reign over the ultimate category in the world’s most extreme motor sport.
When qualifying for the 53rd annual Auto Club Finals began Friday at Auto Club Raceway, Torrence leads Force by a scant 20 points in their ongoing duel for the $500,000 NHRA Mello Yello Top Fuel Championship.
Because of NHRA’s manipulation of the points for the season’s final event, awarding 30 points for each round win instead of the normal 20, Doug Kalitta and reigning champion Antron Brown remain in the title mix, at least mathematically. Kalitta starts 84 points behind; Brown 135.
However, only Torrence, the 34-year-old cancer survivor from Kilgore, and Force, the 31-year-old daughter of drag racing legend John Force, control their own destinies. If either one wins the race, he or she also wins the championship.
See coverage of the finals – the final NHRA event of the season – and how Torrence does live on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) on Sunday afternoon, beginning at 3 p.m.
For his part, Torrence will remain true to the formula that has delivered a category-best eight season victories, a bonus win in the Traxxas Nitro Shootout and the regular season championship, the first won during the Countdown Era by a driver not affiliated with one of the sport’s mega-teams.
“We just need to go in there and try to win the race,” Torrence said. “We don’t want to make the mistake of becoming too conservative. We don’t want to treat the Finals any different than any other race. We just want to go out there and do what we’ve been doing all year long.
“(Crew chief) Richard Hogan and this Capco crew have given me a competitive car at every event,” he said, “and we’ve gone out there and run as hard as the conditions would allow. That’s been our strategy all year and it’s gotten us twice as many wins as anyone else, so why would we change?
“Bottom line, we want to run well in qualifying, go rounds, try to win the race and have fun while we’re doing it. We’re already in a position no one expected us to be in,” said the 16-time tour winner. “We just need to take care of business on our end and everything’ll be okay.”
Torrence, who finished third in points a year ago, is trying to become the first driver in NHRA history to win series championships in both the Alcohol and Fuel categories. He was the NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster champion in 2005.
“When we go out and everyone on our team does his job, we have been really successful,” Torrence said. “I’ve got the best bunch of guys in the sport and, if we stay calm and stay focused, I have no doubt that we’re up to the challenge.”