Steve Torrence pursues playoff perfection this week when he sends his Capco Contractors dragster after the Top Fuel championship in the season-ending 54th annual Auto Club Finals at Auto Club Raceway.
Although he already has clinched the $500,000 Mello Yello championship, in the process etching his name in the NHRA archives as the first driver to win five Countdown races in one season and the first to win titles in both the Fuel and Alcohol divisions, the 35-year-old Texan still has a couple more items to cross off his competitive bucket list.
First is that matter of sweeping the playoffs, something conventional wisdom once suggested was not possible, especially in a category as volatile as Top Fuel. The other is ending 10 years of frustration in the Auto Club Finals, an event in which he has qualified no better than fifth and never advanced beyond the second round.
In fact, the Auto Club Finals is the only event in the series in which his average starting position is worse than No 8. At the traditional season finale his average starting position has been 10th and only three times has he qualified well enough to earn lane choice for round one.
Considering what he has done elsewhere, especially the last three seasons, and the fact that he has won the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals contested on the same piece of concrete-and-asphalt, his struggles at the Finals are difficult to fathom but unlikely to continue.
Torrence has likened his performance this season to 2005 when he won the NHRA’s Top Alcohol Dragster World Championship. That year, he won nine of 13 national and divisional races, was runner-up in two others and finished the year with a 37-4 record.
While not quite as dominant this year, his statistics nevertheless are eye-popping. He comes into the finale having posted a 54-13 record that includes 10 wins in as many final round appearances. No one has won 10 races since Larry Dixon won 12 times en route to the 2010 championship and no one has won five-in-a-row since 2008.
“Every round that we go is history and you don’t have an opportunity very often to make history,” Torrence said after his most recent win. “’I’ve said that if you win ‘em all, the points will take care of themselves. I didn’t really mean it, but here we are with a chance to do something no one else has ever done and that is sweep the (six races in the) Countdown.
“With the car that Richard and Bobby (crew chief Richard Hogan and assistant Bobby Lagana Jr.) and the guys have given me, my confidence has been through the roof,” Torrence said, “because every time I roll up there I know I’ve got a car that can win, no matter the weather, no matter the track, no matter what’s going on.
“We’ve just tried to break it down to its simplest form. One round at a time; one race at a time,” Torrence said. “That’s how we’ll approach the Finals, too – just keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
What he’s been doing is changing the balance of power in the sport’s signature category, winning 30 percent of the races he’s run over the last three seasons (21 of 70) while compiling a 149-49 record and becoming the first driver not affiliated with one of the sport’s mega teams to win a Top Fuel title during the Countdown Era.
STEVE at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona
Last year at the Auto Club Finals: As the No. 5 qualifier, Steve beat Troy Buff before losing to Antron Brown.
Last February at the Lucas Winternationals: After qualifying No. 2 and beating Steve Faria, Steve was beaten by Antron Brown.
Starts/Final Rounds/Wins/No. 1 Qualifier: 19/1/1/1 (10/0/0/0 at the Auto Club Finals)
Steve’s quickest time at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona: 3.676 seconds, Feb. 10, 2018
Steve’s fastest speed at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona: 333.00 mph, Feb. 11, 2018
Steve’s won-lost record at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona: 14-18 (4-10 at the Auto Club Finals)
Steve’s best moment(s) at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona: At the 2016 Lucas Oil Winternationals, Steve qualified No. 1, beat Steve Faria, Morgan Lucas, Richie Crampton and Doug Kalitta and ascended to the top of the Mello Yello point standings for the first time in his pro career.
Track records: 3.628 seconds by Clay Millican, Feb. 10, 2018; 333.00 mph by Steve Torrence, Feb. 11, 2018.
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2018 NHRA MELLO YELLO POINTS
TOP FUEL (Mello Yello points after five of six races in the Countdown to the Championship)
x1. Steve Torrence, Kilgore, Texas, Capco Contractors dragster 2718
2. Clay Millican, Drummonds, Tenn., Parts Plus dragster 2487
3. Tony Schumacher, Lakeway, Texas, U.S. Army dragster 2454
4. Leah Pritchett, Danville, Ind., Papa John’s dragster 2394
5. Brittany Force, Yorba Linda, Calif., Advance/Monster dragster 2302
6. Antron Brown, Pittsboro, Ind., Matco Tools dragster 2291
7. Doug Kalitta, Saline, Mich., Mac Tools dragster 2259
7. Mike Salinas, San Jose, Calif., Scrappers Racing dragster 2259
9. Terry McMillen, Elkhart, Ind., Amalie Oil dragster 2253
10. Scott Palmer, Cassville, Mo., Cat Spot dragster 2182
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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
Blake Alexander 1st
May 20/21 Topeka, KS 2. Beat Terry Haddock, Brittany Force;
lost 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
June 17 Bristol, TN 6. Beat Shawn Reed, Antron Brown;
lost to Tony Schumacher 1st
June 24 Norwalk, OH 3. Beat Chris Karamesines, Mike Salinas;
lost to Terry McMillen 1st
July 8 Epping, NH 3. Beat Dan Mercier, Shawn Reed, Tony
Schumacher and Antron Brown 1st
July 22 Denver, CO 3. Beat Bill Litton; lost to Blake Alexander 1st
July 29 Sonoma, CA 8. Lost to Doug Kalitta. 1st
August 5 Seattle, WA 1. Beat Ron Smith, Richie Crampton;
lost to Antron Brown 1st
August 19 Brainerd, MN 2. Beat Bill Litton, Tony Schumacher;
lost to Antron Brown 1st
Sept. 3 Indianapolis, IN 5. Beat Pat Dakin; lost to Terry McMillen 1st
COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Millican and Tony Schumacher 1st
Sept. 23 St. Louis, MO 1. Beat Bill Litton, Mike Salinas, Leah
Pritchett and Clay Millican 1st
Oct. 7 Dallas, TX 2. Beat Bill Litton, Blake Alexander,
Tony Schumacher and Terry McMillen 1st
Oct. 14 Charlotte, NC 2. Beat Chris Karamesines, Leah Pritchett,
Tony Schumacher and Brittany Force 1st
Oct. 28 Las Vegas, NV 2. Beat Shawn Reed, Billy Torrence,
Richie Crampton and Leah Pritchett 1st
TORRENCE RACING PR/Photo Credit Mark Rebilas