RICHMOND, Va. – Facing a major challenge from veteran Clay Millican, steady Steve Torrence responded impressively Sunday at Virginia Motorsports Park where he drove his Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster past the Mac Tools dragster of Doug Kalitta in the final round of the 10th NHRA Virginia Nationals.
In winning for the fourth time this season and for the 12th time in the last 30 Mello Yello tour events, the 35-year-old Torrence, from Kilgore, deftly avoided the upset virus that afflicted so many including Millican.
While Millican, Leah Pritchett, eight-time series champion Tony Schumacher and reigning champion Brittany Force all were on the sidelines before the semifinals, Torrence marched methodically to his 20th career Top Fuel victory with times of 3.818, 3.799, 3.837 and 3.812 seconds.
Not that his race day was not without its drama.
Even though crew chief Richard Hogan and car chief Bobby Lagana Jr. did a masterful job in avoiding the traction trap that snared so many teams in the Virginia heat, it was Torrence’s starting line skill that got the point leader to the finish .007 of a second ahead of Terry McMillen in round two despite a slightly slower track time.
Meanwhile, Millican, who had closed the gap between himself and Torrence to just 25 points with back-to-back wins at Topeka, Kan., and Chicago, Ill., lost to Leah Pritchett in round one and, as a result, will trail Torrence by 108 points when qualifying begins Friday in the 18th annual Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn.
“We had a great weekend, great racetrack, great fans here in Richmond,” proclaimed a jubilant Torrence. “I started my Top Fuel career here in 2006. Fortunately, we did a little better this time than we did then (when he lost in the first round).
"We got a little behind in qualifying (No. 6), but I’m beginning to think that No.1 qualifier ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. We went out there today and did what we do. Hogan just keeps making good calls and this crew is the best.
“We just have to keep it going,” said the former Top Alcohol Dragster World Champion (2005).
“You saw today, there ain’t no easy rounds. Every round, if we’d made just one mistake, it would’ve cost us. Fortunately, everybody was on the same page, pulling in the same direction and we got the job done.”