Three weeks after the NHRA Mello Yello Championship slipped from his grasp on the final day of the season, Steve Torrence was back home in Kilgore channeling his frustration into the launch of a new title bid.
Although he remained unapologetic for remarks critical of the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship, Torrence is nothing if not a realist.
“It is what it is,” said the driver of the Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster. “I know why they do it. I know they want as many teams racing for the championship at the end as possible but, as a racer, I don’t like it. I never have.
“They stuck a mic in my face after we lost and asked me how I felt,” he said of his post-race remarks. “How did they think I felt? I was thinking about my guys and how hard they worked to get us in a position to win the whole thing. I was thinking and about all the things we overcame and about all the skeptics who said we couldn’t be competitive at the top level.
“I was frustrated and pissed off and said what I thought instead of what was politically correct and, because of that, I got beat up on social media. You don’t like some of the things that are said about you but, in the big picture, it’s not a big deal. I’m still going to speak my mind.”
Despite his distaste for a top-heavy system that places a premium on the last six races of the year, Torrence reiterated his admiration for 2017 champion Brittany Force and the job she and her team did in winning three of those final six events including the season-ending Auto Club Finals.
“Brittany and that Monster team played the Countdown game better than everyone else,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. So, while I’ll tip my new cowboy hat to them, I want ‘em to know that we’re going to be coming after them again in 2018.”
Based on the team’s overall performance this past season, it’s difficult to imagine that Torrence won’t be the favorite when the sport’s touring pros reassemble at Pomona, Calif., Feb. 9-11, for the 58th annual Lucas Oil Winternationals.
After all, Team Capco was Top Three in virtually every statistical category. It was tied for first in final rounds (10), first in victories (eight), first in round wins (56) and first, for the second straight year, in qualifying bonus points (104). It was second in average qualifying position (behind the Mac Tools team of Doug Kalitta) and tied for second in average driver reaction time (Torrence and Antron Brown posted averages of .060; Shawn Langdon .059)
The team earned qualifying bonus points in a category best 23 of 24 events, failed to advance out of the first round just once and extended to 55 the number of consecutive races in which it has qualified a car in the top half of the field, best in either of the fuel categories.
“My guys gave me a race car that could win in any condition,” Torrence marveled, “and you can’t ask for any more than that. We’re family. We win as a team and we lose as a team.
"We may fight among ourselves but when it comes down to it, I know they’ve got my back and they know I’ve got theirs. I couldn’t be prouder of what we accomplished together.”
Among Torrence’s victories was a double-up performance at Indianapolis, Ind., where he won both the Traxxas Nitro Shootout and the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the most prestigious race in the sport. He won the regular season championship in a walk and was the point leader after 10 of the 24 races and never worse than third after winning the Southern Nationals at Atlanta on May 7.
Special recognition also was bestowed for work not necessarily reflected in the statistical data.
Steve, his dad Billy and mother Kay were honored at the U.S. Nationals for their support of first responders through an ongoing involvement with the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and the Lagana brothers, Bobby Jr. and Dom, also were cited at Indy for their overall contributions to the sport.
Of course, all the statistics and accolades in the world won’t alter the fact that Torrence will begin the season with the No. 2 on the wing of his race car instead of No. 1
“That’s just more motivation for me and my guys,” said the cancer-and-heart attack survivor. “All we know to do is just work harder.”
Although the team’s title bid officially ended in a second-round loss at the Auto Club Finals to Brown, one of Torrence’s closest friends, a case can be made that the die was cast six rounds earlier at the Texas Motorplex outside Dallas.
It was there where, after qualifying No. 1, the 34-year-old Torrence rode out a spectacular 320-mile-and-hour crash in the second round that destroyed what had been the most dominant race car on the circuit.
With Richard Hogan handling the tune-up duties and the Laganas adding their expertise and passion, the team was 54-13 with that car.
Thereafter, forced into a back-up car not privy to the TLC of its predecessor, Torrence was 2-3.
“We had a great season, we had a lot of fun and we learned some hard lessons,” concluded the 16-time NHRA pro tour winner and former Top Alcohol Dragster world champion. “We’ll be back.”