Torrence Shows Small Can Be Successful In NHRA

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 31 2012

Steve Torrence and his Top Fuel team have been the big story in the first part of the 2012 NHRA season.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

It was a calm Steve Torrence who settled into a padded-metal chair, leaned back and propped his feet up on another chair in the lounge of his Top Fuel car hauler at Heartland Park Topeka a couple weeks ago. Really calm. Eerily calm.

Certainly, ironically calm considering what he is doing in/to the NHRA power structure in 2012.

Surrounding Torrence’s modest Torrence Racing/Capco Contractors encampment at HPT were the mega-million-dollar compounds of the NHRA’s big boys: Schumacher, Kalitta, Al-Anabi, Morgan Lucas. Pricey neighborhood for a one-car, one-driver Top Fuel team which is taking part in its first full season in the sport.

But a couple of hours before the start of qualifying at Topeka, it was not Torrence and his numbers-lean crew who were pacing, dropping tools and preparing excuses for sponsors. Instead, they were going about the business of showing that cubic dollars can be overtaken by cubic hustle in the NHRA this year.

“We’ve been able to field a good team that is a well-oiled machine,” Torrence says as he rocks back in the chair.

Guess so. So good, so well-oiled that if you’re putting together your list of top stories in the NHRA – maybe all of American motorsports – you are going to want to include Torrence and Capco.

The team, which is owned and financed by Torrence and his family, was pieced together last year. It competed in just the three end-of-season events and produced unremarkable results. It then started out

Steve Torrence flashes his very first Top Fuel Wally after winning in Atlanta.

2012 in unremarkable fashion, losing in the first round to Shawn Langdon of Al-Anabi at the Winternationals.

The next time out, at Firebird in Phoenix, Torrence qualified third and parlayed that into his first round-win of the season, beating Brandon Bernstein. But at Gainesville, the Capco team was blown backward, losing in the first round to Bob Vandergriff.

That would be Torrence’s last one-and-done, however. He made it to the semifinals the next three events – qualifying first and then second in the second two events –  and then shook the NHRA to its flame-proof booties at Atlanta.

After qualifying second at Atlanta, Torrence blew through the field and went on to win his first national event.

To get the victory, Torrence and his team had to be J.R. Todd, Vandergriff, Bernstein and, finally, seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher.

The Atlanta victory was a statement victory. A statement from Torrence and his people to all of the NHRA. It was a statement that reads: Small is cool.

“What that does is give someone else who wants to come do this hope that they can come out and compete with these big teams,” Torrence said. “We’re not doing anything different from them. We’re not doing anything different than anyone else has ever done. We’ve been real fortunate that we have been able to put the right people in place and have success.”

The people are a story in themselves. In a sport that tends to install brand new parts for every run but recycle the same people every year, Capco has become successful with a crew that includes a small handful of folks who are brand new to the sport.

“Never worked on a fuel car in their life,” Torrence said.

Those folks are mixed in with some castoffs. Calling the shots is respected veteran tuner Richard Hogan and car chief Bryan Shipman.

They are, Torrence said, “People who showed some promise and would be a good fit with our team.”

And they came running when the doors opened.

“These guys saw what we were putting together and wanted to be part of it,” Torrence said. “People want to be part of something that, you know, where they have a good time, where they are appreciated. You know, we’re doing this for fun. This is a business, but if you can’t have fun working, why not go somewhere else and do the same job and have fun?

“We’ve capitalized on people who are young in the sport, enjoy what they’re doing and want to be part of a winning team. We’ve showed that we’re capable of going out and being contenders and we’ve shown that we’re a professionally run team and that these guys are not going to have to be worrying if they are going to get paid, if they are going to get their bonus money or any of that. We’ve shown ourselves to be an established team in a short amount of time and we’ve had people flock to that.

“Like anything else, the personnel is the key to the whole thing. Any team can go out here and buy the same parts, the same pieces, the same everything. You can buy everything that is on this car; but (without good people) it doesn’t mean you’re going to win.”

The win in Atlanta was gratifying for Torrence, but he insists it wasn’t unexpected. It certainly didn’t bowl him over. His socks were still on at Topeka that day.

“It doesn’t change our thinking in any way at all,” he said. “We set out to have a competitive race team, we set out to break the stereotypes of the single-car teams and show we can go out and compete with these multi-car teams. We really didn’t really have that objective of just being a one-car team and trying to go out there and beat up on the big guys, but we just wanted to come out here and run and this is a family race team and we wanted to be competitive.”

At Topeka, things started out well for Capco.  Torrence qualified second fastest. On race day, he laid down a very nice 3.776-second run to beat Hillary Will in the first round.

But in the second round, Torrence’s engine exploded and burst into flames as he headed up track in a matchup with eventual Topeka winner David Grubnic.

Unscorched by the flaming nitro was Torrence’s plan and confidence.

This week, in talking about the weekend’s Toyota SuperNationals in Englishtown, N.J., Torrence said, “We had a motor problem in the last race at Topeka that knocked us out in the second round against David Grubnic. After the guys inspected it, they said it was a parts failure . . . and we know what caused it. We were running well before that happened and I don’t think that should hinder us any this weekend.”

It sure didn’t seem to hinder his calm demeanor.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 31 2012
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