MADISON, Ill. – Steve Torrence couldn’t stop himself on Friday. No one else could stop him Sunday and, as a result, the talented Texan found himself in the winners’ circle at the 20th AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, near St. Louis, Mo.
Torrence, from Kilgore, beat Doug Kalitta in a final round decided by just .008 of a second and thereby extended his point lead from one round to two at the midpoint of the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.
It was a spectacular end to a weekend that began with an uncharacteristic mechanical problem. At the end of the burnout before Friday night’s scheduled qualifying run, a brake problem denied Torrence a run in what were the best conditions of the weekend.
However, while the Capco crew had a fix for the broken brake rotor, those vying with the 34-year-old cancer survivor for the $500,000 NHRA Mello Yello Championship had no answers on race day for a dragster that made four consecutive 1,000-foot runs in less than 3.70 seconds.
“We’re leaving here with a bigger point lead and (another) trophy,” Torrence said, “but there’s a lot more racing ahead. You can’t breathe easy with guys like Doug, Brittany (Force) and Antron (Brown) right behind you. So, we’re gonna celebrate this one, go home and do a little pipeline business and then start getting ready for Dallas (and the 32nd annual AAA Texas Fall Nationals).
“We’re not going to do anything different,” said the 16-time tour winner. “We got here by doing what we do and doing it ourselves. That’s our game plan. We know that to win this championship we’re going to have to fight for every little point because it could come down to one or two points at the end.”
Sunday’s win was especially gratifying for the former Top Alcohol Dragster World Champion (2005) because in every round, he beat a car fielded by one of the sport’s two premier Top Fuel teams: two Don Schumacher Racing entries and two Kalitta Motorsports entries.
As the No. 7 qualifier, he wound up opposite former world champion Shawn Langdon in round one, taking him out with a time of 3.675 seconds and a finish line speed of 329.58 miles per hour. In round two, he beat arch rival Leah Pritchett with a solid 3.678 and then took out Brown with a 3.689. In the final, his 3.684 was just good enough to best Kalitta’s 3.698.
The win over Brown, who off the track is one of his closest friends, was particularly gratifying insomuch as he was only 1-20 against the three-time champion coming into the 2017 season. With Sunday’s win, he improved to 5-3 for the season and 6-23 overall.