BRISTOL, Tenn. – Despite rhetoric to the contrary, consistency is not what wins championships. One can be consistently ineffective, for example.
The fact that consistency can be either an asset or a liability is best exemplified by Steve Torrence who, with reigning Mello Yello Champion Antron Brown, is the Top Fuel co-favorite in this weekend’s 17th annual NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
Torrence and Brown, great off-track friends and intense on-track rivals, begin qualifying Friday separated by only seven points in the race for the $500,000 championship. They’ve faced each other in the final round in two of the last three races.
Nevertheless, early-on, after moving up in class after winning the 2005 Top Alcohol Dragster World Championship, Torrence notably was consistent in enduring as many as a dozen first round losses each season, losses that effectively took him out of serious title contention.
In his first 85 Top Fuel races, the 34-year-old cancer survivor reached the second round only 37.7 percent of the time. He endured 50 first round losses plus four DNQs. He was consistent but certainly not in the way he had planned.
That all changed as his Capco Contractors team began to mature under his leadership and that of crew chief Richard Hogan, car chief Bobby Lagana Jr. and tuning consultant Alan Johnson. The turnaround has been profound.
Once a consistent victim, the 34-year-old Texan now consistently is among the top qualifiers (he has qualified in the quick eight in a category-best 41 straight races) and top finishers (five final round appearances in the last six events and a career-high 14 consecutive races without a first round loss) and, after finishing third in points a year ago, has emerged as the biggest threat to Brown’s bid for his fourth title in seven years.
Nevertheless, if he is to become the first driver to win championships in both Top Fuel and Top Alcohol, the talented Texan knows that he has to reverse his consistency ratio where it applies to his friend.
After beating Brown in his home state in the final round of last week’s last week at Englishtown, N.J., Torrence’s record against the reigning champ is 2-22. Lopsided hardly does the statistic justice.
“That’s the guy I least want to race, knowing my success ratio against him,” Torrence said. “That’s a super-super-lopsided victory record he has against me, but it’s not in my head anymore. I’ve got a car that can win. He’s got a car that can win.
“Now, it’s just up to us to do our jobs and go. We’re racing Top Fuel dragsters. I’m living my dream. I’m racing one my best friends in the world,” Torrence said. “When you’ve got that going on, you’re not going to have a bad day.”
An 11-time Top Fuel winner, with three wins in each of the last two seasons, Torrence won at Bristol in 2013, a Father’s Day victory spoiled only by the fact that the man who taught him about life and drag racing, his dad Billy, wasn’t there to share the moment. He’ll try to make it up to him this time around.
See qualifying highlights on Fox Sports 1 tonight at 10 p.m. The finals will also be on FS1, on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.