EPPING, N.H. – Steve Torrence found his “A” game just in time Sunday and used it to apply an exclamation point to a near perfect weekend at the sixth annual Lucas Oil New England Nationals at historic New England Dragway.
In directing his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster into the winners’ circle for the fifth time this season and for the 13th time in the last 33 Mello Yello tour events, the 35-year-old from Kilgore put even more distance between himself and his rivals in an ongoing bid to win the regular season championship for the second straight year.
When racing resumes in 12 days at the 39th Dodge Mile-High Nationals at Denver the weekend of July 20-22, Torrence will lead eight-time series champion Tony Schumacher by a whopping 190 points with only five races remaining before the NHRA adjusts the points for the Countdown.
Sunday’s success was a direct result of crew chief Richard Hogan’s decision to change his approach. After mechanical failures at the two most recent events in the series, the veteran tuner, with input from car chief Bobby Lagana Jr., opted for a more conservative tune-up that delivered in the New England heat.
Although the Capco dragster was quickest in the final qualifying session and in all four rounds on Sunday, that performance might have been for naught had Torrence not regained his own form and thrown an .055 reaction time at close friend and former world champion Antron Brown in the final round. That, coupled to a time of 3.909 seconds, was good enough on a 135 degree racetrack, the hottest this season.
“I apologized to my guys,” Torrence said after reaction times of .114 and .097 in the first two rounds (against a season average .072). I said ‘Hoagie, Bob, are ya’ll getting tired of carrying me, ‘cause so far I ain’t done my job?’”
Fortunately, he turned things around in the semifinals against Schumacher.
“I knew Schumacher would be on the tree,” he said. “They’ve been running good with Zippy (crew chief Mike Neff) over there. We just needed to make it to another final round and keep it going.
“It was good to race my buddy Antron,” Torrence said after beating the three-time champion in the final round for the fourth straight time. “He’s been struggling, but I’ve been rooting for him. I don’t want him to win over me, but I dang sure want him to win something and it looks like they’ve finally got a car that can do that.”