With apologies to Aesop and his tale of “The Tortoise and the Hare,” the only thing a “slow and steady” pace will assure at this week’s 18th annual Fitzpatrick USA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway is an early seat in the spectator grandstand.
In a sport the Greek fabulist could not have imagined 2,500 years ago, one in which Top Fuel dragsters routinely accelerate from zero to 330 mph in fewer than 3.75 seconds, success falls to those best able to combine the speed of the hare with the pace of the tortoise.
In the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, it’s “fast-and-steady” that wins races and, over the last three seasons, no one has been faster and steadier than the Capco Contractors team anchored by driver Steve Torrence.
The 35-year-old Torrence, who overcame Hodgkins lymphoma to win the 2005 NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster World Championship, has emerged as the new gold standard in the sport’s ultimate category.
The current Top Fuel point leader has taken his 10,000 horsepower hot rod to the final round in 15 of the last 30 NHRA tour events, winning 12 including last week’s Virginia Nationals at Richmond, Va.
Third in points in 2016 and second a year ago, the talented Texan is determined this year to win the title that would make him the first ever to hoist an NHRA championship trophy in both the Fuel and Alcohol divisions.
Qualifying or eliminations, it doesn’t seem to matter to the Kilgore College alumnus. He has dominated both. In addition to winning more than a third of the races contested over the last two seasons, only once in the last two years has he qualified outside the Quick 8.
Over the last 58 races (including one in which he didn’t even participate after suffering a minor heart attack), he has earned more total qualifying bonus points than any other Top Fuel driver (263) and has averaged 4.6 qualifying bonus points per race. There’s no reason to think things will be any different this weekend.
An avid outdoorsman, Torrence credits his success to a team led by crew chief Richard Hogan and car chief Bobby Lagana Jr. that has remained largely intact for the past four seasons.
“These Capco boys are the best out here,” Torrence said. “I’m driving my ass off because I know every time I go up there (to the starting line) I’ve got a car that can win. I don’t want to be the guy that’s the weak link in this deal, so it’s made me a better driver. My guys don’t want to let me down and I don’t want to let them down.
“So, we’re just gonna keep doing what we do. After last year (when he lost the championship in the second round of the final race of the season), we know how quick the wheels can come off so we’re definitely not taking anything for granted.”
Date Site Qualifying position and race detail Points
Feb. 11 Pomona, CA 2. Beat Steve Faria; lost to Antron Brown 5th
Feb. 25 Phoenix, AZ 2. Beat Steve Chrisman, Blake Alexander,
Billy Torrence and Scott Palmer 1st
March 19 Gainesville, FL 2. Lost to Mike Salinas 1st
April 9 Las Vegas, NV 5. 4Wide WINNER over Tony Schumacher,
Doug Kalitta and Antron Brown 1st
April 22 Houston, TX 9. Beat Scott Palmer; lost to Leah Pritchett 1st
April 29 Charlotte, NC 4. 4Wide WINNER over Doug Kalitta, Terry
McMillen and Clay Millican. 1st
May 6 Atlanta, GA 3. Beat Terry Haddock, Doug Kalitta; lost to
Blake Alexander 1st
May 20/21 Topeka, KS 2. Beat Terry Haddock, Brittany Force; lost to
Terry McMillen 1st
June 3 Chicago, IL 1. Lost to Luigi Novelli 1st
June 10 Richmond, VA 6. Beat Scott Palmer, Terry McMillen, Antron
Brown and Doug Kalitta 1st
2018 NHRA MELLO YELLO POINTS
(After 10 of 18 races leading into the Countdown to the Mello Yello Championship)
1. Steve Torrence, Kilgore, Texas, Capco Contractors dragster 827
2. Clay Millican, Drummonds, Tenn., Parts Plus dragster 719
3. Doug Kalitta, Saline, Mich., Mac Tools dragster 665
4. Tony Schumacher, Lakeway, Texas, U.S. Army dragster 641
5. Leah Pritchett, Danville, Ind., Mopar Dodge dragster 639
6. Antron Brown, Pittsboro, Ind., Matco Tools dragster 530
7. Terry McMillen, Elkhart, Ind., Amalie Oil dragster 521
8. Brittany Force, Yorba Linda, Calif., Monster Energy dragster 518
9. Richie Crampton, Brownsburg, Ind., DHL/Kalitta Air dragster 387
10. Scott Palmer, Cassville, Mo., Cat Spot dragster 383
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STEVE at Bristol Dragway
Last year: After qualifying No. 1, Steve beat Chris Karamesines and Mike Salinas before losing to Tennessee native Clay Millican.
Starts/Final Rounds/Wins/No. 1 Qualifier: 7/1/1/2
Steve’s quickest time at Bristol Dragway: 3.745 seconds, June 17, 2016
Steve’s fastest speed at Bristol Dragway: 325.14 mph, June 19, 2016
Steve’s won-lost record Bristol Dragway: 8-6
Steve’s best moment(s) at Bristol Dragway: In 2013, Steve qualified second before beat Leah Pritchett, Shawn Langdon, Clay Millican and Spencer Massey for a Father’s Day victory.
Track records: 3.745 seconds by Tony Schumacher, June 19, 2013; 331.04 mph by Larry Dixon, June 21, 2015.
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June 24, 2018 12th Summit Racing Nationals Norwalk, Ohio
July 8, 2018 Sixth NHRA New England Nationals Epping, N.H.
July 22, 2018 39th Dodge Mile-High Nationals Denver, Colo.
July 29, 2018 31st Toyota Sonoma Nationals Sonoma, Calif.
August 5, 2018 31st NHRA Northwest Nationals Seattle, Wash.
Torrence Racing PR/Photo Credit Mark Rebilas