POMONA, Calif. – Steve Torrence had a hug for close friend Antron Brown Sunday after their second-round showdown in the 53rd annual Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
Unfortunately, it was a hug of congratulations, not one of consolation.
Brown’s narrow 3.691-3.695 second victory in the second round of eliminations opened the door for Brittany Force to become just the second woman in history to win the NHRA Top Fuel championship. The last to do so was Shirley Muldowney in 1982.
After dominating all season long at the wheel of the Capco Contractors dragster, Torrence, from Kilgore, had to settle for “almost” one more time.
After finishing third in 2016, the 34-year-old cancer survivor ended this season 81 points behind. Force clinched the title with a second-round win over Richie Crampton and added an exclamation point with a final round victory over Shawn Langdon.
“It’s very disheartening,” said a visibly disappointed Torrence. “You win nine races (eight tour events and the Traxxas Nitro Shootout) and can’t close the deal. I’m not a real big fan of NHRA’s welfare points system but it is what it is. I want to congratulate Brittany, A.J. (Alan Johnson), John Force and that whole Monster team. They just played the Countdown game better than the rest of us (going to the finals five times in six races).
“I feel bad for all my guys, everybody on this Capco team,” said the 16-time Top Fuel winner and former Top Alcohol Dragster World Champion. “They worked their butts off all year and to come this close to winning it all, well, that kinda sucks, to be honest.”
Although he failed to make a representative run in three of the four qualifying sessions, Torrence wound up fifth on the ladder and, in the first round, drove past fellow Texan Troy Buff with a time good enough to get the lane choice option in round two.
Unfortunately, Brown had just enough race car to get the win and thereby deny Torrence a shot at Force in what would have been a winner-take-all semifinal. It was the ninth meeting of the season between the two and the fact that Torrence won five of those was of little consolation to the championship runner-up.