INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Kilgore’s own Steve Torrence left Lucas Oil Raceway with everything but the gate receipts Monday after adding a victory in the 63rd annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals to his Saturday triumph in the $100,000 Traxxas Nitro Shootout.
His Monday win in the world’s biggest drag race, the one known as “The Big Go,” also insured that he will begin the six-race NHRA Countdown to the Mello Yello Championship from the No. 1 starting position, 30 points ahead of close friend Antron Brown whom he caught and passed for the top spot Monday in a tension-filled second round showdown.
If there was a disappointment for the 34-year-old cancer survivor, it was that he didn’t have the opportunity to beat all three Don Schumacher Racing dragsters for his seventh win of the season. He missed that opportunity when Kebin Kinsley upset 10-time Indy winner Tony Schumacher in one semifinal while Torrence was driving his Capco Contractors entry past the Papa John’s Pizza car of Leah Pritchett in the other.
The U.S. Nationals runner-up three of the previous four years, Torrence left no doubt this time, winning handily in 3.757 seconds at 322.96 miles per hour as Kinsley, a virtual unknown outside Texas and a first time Top Fuel finalist, lost traction in the other lane.
“This is surreal,” Torrence said in the post-race melee. “I don’t even know if I’m realizing what’s going on right now. You come to Indy and you race for a week. This is our biggest race.This is what we race our careers for. It’s to try and win Indy and it’s a marathon.
““I’m wore out,” he said. “Unless you’re a racer and in this situation, I don’t think I can explain the feelings you get. This is us winning the biggest race of our sport. I said the other day, you can win a bunch of championships but if you don’t win Indy then you haven’t really done much. So now we’ve won Indy.
"We’re gonna celebrate big time (tonight) but tomorrow the focus turns to the Countdown,” he said. “Our goal was to be No. 1 and get that 30-point advantage going into the Countdown and we did that. But this is no time to pat ourselves on the back. There’s still a lot of work to. It’s real easy to go from hero to zero and zero to hero in those last six races.”
In seven rounds of weekend racing, he left the starting line first in all but his Monday race with Brown, the three-time and reigning Mello Yello champion. In that duel, his .043 reaction time was just a tick off Brown’s best-of-the-race .038, but it would make no difference. The Richard Hogan-and-Bobby Lagana Jr.-tuned Capco dragster covered the 1,000-foot course in 3.730 seconds to 3.745 for Brown.
The overall performance ranks among the most impressive in Indy history. In addition to becoming just the sixth Top Fuel driver to win a bonus race and an NHRA tour event in the same weekend (along with Schumacher, Shawn Langdon, Gary Scelzi, Joe Amato at Rod Fuller) Torrence earned an event-high 12 qualifying bonus points. For the weekend, he was just three points shy of winning every point possible.
As the crew members he has characterized as “outlaws and misfits,” they put a car beneath him that was perfect for whatever condition existed. After posting the quick time of every round of the Shootout, the Capco dragster added runs of 3.725, 3.711, 3.765 and 3.757 Monday. All but the first was quickest of the entire round, second quickest.
The only other time Torrence celebrated in a U.S. Nationals winner’s circle was 2005 when he won in Top Alcohol Dragster, significant because he went on to win the championship that year. This year, he’s trying to become the first driver in history to win world championships in both the Top Fuel and Top Alcohol categories.
“Of his double-up victory, Torrence admitted that after five runner-up finishes in Indy events from 2012 through 2016, he was “tired of being on the ‘L’ side” in final rounds. “Being on the ‘W’ side is a lot more gratifying.”
Torrence and all the NHRA are next in action next weekend in the Carolina Nationals.