POMONA, Calif. – Steve Torrence extended to a category-best 33 the number of consecutive NHRA tour events in which he has qualified the Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster in the top half of field but he simply couldn’t translate that performance into a repeat victory last Sunday in the 57th annual Circle K Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona.
The 33-year-old from Kilgore got behind in qualifying when his 10,000 horsepower hybrid lost traction on its first qualifying chance, lost a second opportunity to rain and ultimately had to settle for the No. 8 starting spot. In eliminations, the eight-time tour winner took out fellow Texan Troy Buff in the first round with a solid 3.751 at 328.06 miles per hour.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough to earn him the choice of lanes in the second round against No. 1 qualifier and eventual winner Leah Pritchett whose 3.707 at 324.44 mph covered his 3.755 and at even faster 328.22 mph.
“We were a run or two behind the curve,” Torrence said. “If we hadn’t lost a run to rain on Friday, I think we might’ve had a little more for Leah, but I don’t know. Between her and Doug (runner-up Doug Kalitta), the rest of us looked like we were in a different race.”
Nevertheless, to have recovered from Friday’s stumble with four straight 3.70s and to have earned the starting line advantage against a driver as accomplished as Pritchett, Torrence is looking forward to putting his Mello Yello championship bid back on track two weeks hence when the tour moves to Wildhorse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix for the 33rd annual NHRA Arizona Nationals.
“We had a good test at Phoenix,” Torrence said, “and we were testing as much for the Arizona race as we were for the Winternationals. We stumbled a little bit here but we still have a fast hot rod and veteran race team.”
Torrence, who was third in the world a year ago, will move on to Phoenix in a tie for seventh place in Mello Yello points with Terry McMillen.
“We left last year with the points lead,” he said of Pomona, “but the only time it’s really important to be No. 1, like a said a year ago, is after we’re through racing here in the fall (at the season-ending Auto Club of Southern California Finals).”