CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Steady Steve Torrence extended his playoff winning streak to 16 consecutive rounds Sunday and took another step toward an historic Mello Yello Championship by driving his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster to victory in the 11th annual NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway.
Racing the final three rounds without the benefit of lane choice after a first round scare against Chris Karamesines, the 35-year-old from Kilgore never flinched in taking down Leah Pritchett, eight-time series champion Tony Schumacher and reigning champ Brittany Force for his fourth win in the Countdown and his category-best ninth of the current season.
As he has all season long, an emotional Torrence gave credit first to the Lord for providing him with the resources and the opportunity and second to an incredible crew anchored by Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana Jr.
He should have thrown in an “attaboy” for the driver, though, after he put up reaction times of .047, .049 and .041 in the final three rounds following a first round pedal job that enabled him hold off Karamesines after his car lost traction.
The combination of car and driver carried him to the 25th win of his pro career, his 17th in the last 41 races.
When the Countdown resumes in two weeks with the 18th annual Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Torrence will lead second place Clay Millican by 169 points.
Torrence can mathematically clinch the title by leaving LVMS with a lead of 192 points or more.
That is exactly what he plans to do.
“It’s coming into focus now,” said the man who has led the points since the second race of the campaign, “but we’ve still got work to do. We’re gonna celebrate tonight and tomorrow we start getting ready for Vegas. Same routine, same plan: qualify, win first round, go from there. If we win ‘em all, the points will take care of themselves. That’s what we want to do. Leave nothing to chance.”
If he finally is able to seal the deal, he will become the first driver to win NHRA championships in both the Alcohol and Fuel divisions. He was the NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster champion in 2005.
With Sunday’s win, the talented Texan ran his season record to 50-13, the second straight year he has won at least 50 rounds. Significantly, his record over the last three seasons rivals that of anyone in history over a similar period.
In 68 races (he missed an event in 2016 after suffering a mild heart attack), the Kilgore College graduate has won 20 times and posted a 145-49 record. In essence, he’s won three of every four rounds raced. And he’s not done yet.
“I can’t say enough about these Capco boys,” Torrence marveled. “This is about them. All I can do as the driver is go up there and screw it up and, after all the effort those guys have put in it, I’m trying my best no to do that.
“This is all about family,” Torrence said, “because that’s what this Capco team is. I love these guys like brothers. I’d run through a wall for ‘em and they’d do the same for me. After last year (when he lost the title on the final day of the season), we committed ourselves as a team and as a family to do whatever it took to go out and get the championship.
“You don’t win the championship by default,” Torrence said. “You go up there and do your job when it’s crunch time. Clay going out (early) opened the door and we did what we needed to do.”