SEATTLE, Wash. – Top Fuel point leader and Pacific Raceways track record-holder Steve Torrence is an outspoken Texan who, at 5-7 and 150 pounds, has taken a few good natured shots this year from some of his rivals who, among other things, have characterized him as a “little man with a big mouth.”
Not that the 34-year-old hasn’t given as good as he’s taken, secure in the knowledge that a man is not measured by the dimensions of his frame but rather by the dimensions of his game.
By that criteria, the cancer-and-heart attack survivor stands head-and-shoulders above virtually everyone else competing this week in the 30th annual NHRA Northwest Nationals, final race in the NHRA’s critical Western Swing.
After a breakout 2016 campaign during which he won three times and finished third in the Mello Yello driver standings, Torrence this year opted out of a working relationship with tuning consultant Alan Johnson and put the mechanical onus directly upon the shoulders of crew chief Richard Hogan and the team of what he calls “misfits and outlaws” he has assembled under the Capco Contractors Racing banner.
The results have been stunning.
In the last 11 races, Torrence has appeared in eight final rounds with six victories including three in the last four events, the most recent last Sunday’s Toyota Sonoma Nationals in California wine country. His head-to-head record for the season is 38-9. That’s just one round-win shy of his career best set a year ago when he went 39-20.
What makes this year’s performance so impressive, though, is the fact that Torrence fronts a one-car team competing against the most heavily-funded multi-car teams in the sport. A one-car team has not won the NHRA Top Fuel championship during the Countdown Era (which began in 2007). Torrence is determined to change all of that and has been energized by the fact that he has become the first driver for a single car team to win six races since 2003.
“The first few races we struggled,” admitted the 14-time pro winner. “Then we developed our current clutch package and we’ve been able to refine it. Once we got the consistency where we wanted it,it gave me more confidence and I’ve been driving much better because of the way the car is performing.”
Torrence’s driving has been as consistent as the car’s performance. He has the best reaction time average in the category, has earned the second most qualifying bonus points (behind Leah Pritchett) and is one of only two Top Fuel drivers (along with close friend and three-time champion Antron Brown) to have avoided a first round loss while qualifying eighth or better in each of the season’s first 15 races.
“We’re gonna just try to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” said the former Top Alcohol Dragster world champion (2005). “(The $500,000 Mello Yello Championship) is still a long way off. There’s still a lot of racing to do. We’re confident in ourselves and our race car but we know as well as anybody that strange things can happen between then and now.”
See the NHRA’s annual Seattle event live on Sunday, beginning at 3 p.m., on regular Fox Network. There will be a replay on Fox Sports 1 at 10 p.m.