The last time Steve Torrence was at Route 66 Raceway, he was in the middle of one of the most impressive stretches in his Top Fuel career, which is saying something considering the tremendous success he’s enjoyed as a four-time Top Fuel champion.
The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series returns to Chicago for the first time since 2019 for this weekend’s Gerber Collision & Glass NHRA Route 66 Nationals presented by PEAK Performance at Route 66 Raceway, and Torrence is the most recent winner in the 11,000-horsepower nitro category.
He rolled through Chicago four years ago, extended a win streak that hit five straight victories and wins in an incredible eight of nine-race span. It helped cement his second straight world title at the time and gave him plenty of good memories at the fan-favorite facility. Back after four years, Torrence, who is the current points leader but looking for his first win in 2023 in his Capco Contractors dragster, is ready to pick up right where he left off.
“Lots of good memories from Chicago,” Torrence said. “I know things change but Hoagie and Bobby (crew chiefs Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana Jr.) should have some good data to work with and I think we’re all glad to be back.”
Torrence (Top Fuel), Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car), Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) all won the most recent race in 2019 and this year’s event will be on Fox Sports 1 (FS1). Along with eliminations on Sunday, the sixth event of 2023 is loaded with special events on Saturday, including the Pro Stock All-Star Callout, as well as the #2Fast2Tasty Mission NHRA Challenge in both nitro classes and Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Torrence has been a model of consistency so far this year, advancing to the final round at three of the first five events. That’s given the Texan the early-season points lead, and a victory is the only thing missing thus far. But the 53-time event winner knows just how difficult it is to win in Top Fuel these days.
Along with defending world champion Brittany Force, Torrence will have a loaded field to compete against in NHRA’s return to Chicago, including Justin Ashley, who has a pair of wins this year, Charlotte winner Austin Prock, Leah Pruett, Antron Brown, who won in Las Vegas, Tony Schumacher, Doug Kalitta and Gainesville winner Mike Salinas.
But Torrence remains impressed at how his team operates, giving him a standout dragster race after race. That made him a dominant champ over a four-year stretch and has him right in the thick of another championship and an event victory this weekend in Chicago.
“It’s (even) more competitive now than it was then,” Torrence said. “Now, you’ve got Justin Ashley and Josh Hart, who weren’t even driving Top Fuel in 2019, plus Brittany (Force), Antron (Brown) and all the other usual suspects.
“There are no easy rounds in Top Fuel. You make a mistake; you go home, which is how it should be and it’s why I go up there with a lot of confidence whether it’s Chicago, Dallas or somewhere else. These CAPCO boys make fewer mistakes than anyone else out there. I just try not to be the weakest link in this CAPCO chain.”
The Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge matchups in Top Fuel include Ashley taking on Brown, and Force rematching with Prock, with the winners meeting on Saturday for bonus points and a bonus purse.
In Funny Car, Matt Hagan holds the points lead over a star-studded class on the strength of three victories and is after his fourth Chicago win. To do so, he’ll have to get past John Force, defending world champ Ron Capps, Robert Hight and Alexis DeJoria. Hagan also races Terry Haddock in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, while the other matchup is Capps taking on Bob Tasca III.
Dallas Glenn leads the way in Pro Stock, while others to watch are defending champ Erica Enders, Greg Anderson, Deric Kramer, Troy Coughlin Jr. and Camrie Caruso. Glenn is also the first seed in the Pro Stock All-Star Callout, meaning he’ll get the first pick of his opening-round opponent in Saturday’s specialty race that also features Matt Hartford, Kyle Koretsky, Aaron Stanfield, Coughlin, Cristian Cuadra, Enders and Caruso.
Gaige Herrera has won both races in Pro Stock Motorcycle, but other top names include Eddie Krawiec, defending champ Matt Smith, Angie Smith and Jerry Savoie. Herrera will race Jianna Evaristo in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge, with A. Smith and Chase Van Sant meeting in the other matchup.
The Gerber Collision & Glass Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by PEAK Performance will also feature competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. The FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by Type A Motorsports and Flexjet NHRA Factory Stock Showdown will be in action during the weekend, as well as Mountain Motor Pro Stock and Top Fuel Motorcycle. Fans can also look forward to watching the “Hot Blade” Jet Dragster exhibition with Al Z, and the “Walking Tall” PT Cruiser driven by “Nitromike” Kunz.
Fans will also be invited all weekend long to the Nitro Alley Stage, which will help create a festive atmosphere leading into the nitro pits. The Nitro Alley Stage will be the main entertainment hub in the pits when the Camping World Drag Racing Series competitors are not on the track, hosting Nitro School, meet and greets, music and much more.
Race fans at Route 66 Raceway can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the event winners.
As always, fans also get an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet in Chicago. This opportunity gives fans a unique chance to see teams in action and service their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. Fans can also visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food, and fun for the entire family.
Qualifying opens on Friday, May 19 at 5 p.m. CT, leading into qualifying at 1 and 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 20. Eliminations begin at 11 a.m. CT on Sunday, May 21. The opening round of the NHRA Pro Stock All-Star Callout takes place at 1 p.m. CT on Saturday, followed by the semifinals at 3:15 p.m. and the final round at 4:55 p.m. CT.
Tickets for the Gerber Collision & Glass Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by PEAK Performance are on sale now at NHRA.com/tickets. All children 12 and under will be admitted free in the general admission area with a paid adult. For more information about NHRA, visit www.NHRA.com.