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Torrence Claims 2018 Top Fuel Championship

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 29 2018

Steve Torrence is the NHRA’s Top Fuel champ. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Now that he is a first-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion, Steve Torrence is determined to complete a relentless pursuit of personal perfection.

Three hundred-and-fifty days after enduring the biggest disappointment of his drag racing career, Torrence secured the 2018 Mello Yello Top Fuel Championship Sunday at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“World champion. Man, that sounds good don’t it?” Torrence said after defeating Leah Pritchett in the final of the 18th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals. “After last year, to come back and have the year that we’ve had, I just can’t say enough about every single member of this Capco team.  This isn’t just a job for these guys. It’s a lifelong goal that now they’ve achieved. For the rest of their lives, they are Top Fuel champions.”

Visibly stunned, frustrated and a bit disillusioned after losing the championship to Brittany Force on the final day of the 2017 season, Torrence was in a far better place Sunday after earning the $500,000 Mello Yello bonus. The Top Alcohol Dragster champion in 2005, Torrence is the first driver to win NHRA world titles in both the Fuel and Alcohol divisions.

“I was angry last year.  I had a chip on my shoulder,” said Torrence, who was critical of the NHRA’s “welfare point system” after finishing 81 points behind Force, of John Force Racing. “But when we didn’t win it, I did some soul-searching and when we came back out this year, I had to give myself a little attitude adjustment and I’ve got to tell you, I’ve had fun all year.”

Meanwhile, J.R. Todd (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and Hector Arana Jr. (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also emerged as winners in their respective categories at the fifth of six playoff events during the 2018 Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship.

Torrence bagged the world championship during the semifinals, when he defeated Richie Crampton. With his title secure before the final round, Torrence made sure no “mathematical” wiggle room remained for rivals Clay Millican and Tony Schumacher by driving to a record fifth consecutive Countdown victory and running his playoff winning streak to 20 consecutive rounds.

A 10-time race-winner this season, Torrence is the first driver regardless of professional category to win as many as five Countdown events.  The 35-year-old resident of Kilgore, Texas, will attempt to run the playoff table during the season-ending 54th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif., Nov. 8-11.

In an almost anti-climactic final, Torrence trailered Pritchett with a 1,000-foot pass in 3.751-seconds at 326.32 mph after Pritchett’s car lost traction and fell back. That signaled the start of the team’s familiar “dogpile” starting line celebration. The seventh different pro driver to win as many as 10 races during a single season, Torrence slapped an exclamation point on a campaign of vindication for himself, father/racer Billy, mother Kay and the “Capco Boys” who comprise his extended family at Capco Contractors/Torrence Racing.

“The competition (in Top Fuel), in my opinion, is stronger than it’s ever been,” Torrence said.  “So, to win a championship in this time is probably more difficult than it was 10 years ago. There’s zero room for error out there, but with the car that Richard (Hogan) and Bobby (Lagana Jr.) and the guys have given me, my confidence has been through the roof.”

Over the last three seasons, Torrence has finished third, second and first in the point standings. “It’s not me. It’s not one person,” Torrence said. “This is a team sport and on this Capco team, every member is like the spoke in a wheel.  Take a spoke away and the wheel don’t roll. We’re rolling pretty well right now and our mindset is to just keep it going.

“Every round that we go is history and you don’t have an opportunity very often to make history.  I said earlier that if you win ‘em all, the points will take care of themselves. That’s what we’ve been trying to do _ win ‘em all.  And now we’ve got an opportunity to do something no one else has ever done and that is sweep the Countdown.”

The point leader since prevailing in the second race of the season at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., outside Phoenix, Torrence won a category-best five races during the 18-event regular season and entered the playoffs as No. 1 seed for the second straight year.  All that proved to be an appetizer.

When the tour moves to Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Torrence won’t have to worry about all the various point scenarios for the first time in three years. The season-ender will award one-and-a-half times more points than any other race except the prestigious U.S. Nationals (191 points). Torrence exited Vegas 231 points ahead of Millican, with whom he has battled for most of the season, and 264 ahead of eight-time world champ Schumacher.

Torrence is the 21st different Top Fuel champion crowned since the NHRA adopted an accumulative point format in 1974. He also is the fourth Texan to win the Top Fuel title, joining Richard Tharp of Dallas (1976), Eddie Hill of Wichita Falls (1993) and former Lubbock, Austin and Dallas resident Kenny Bernstein (1996 and 2001).

In Funny Car, Todd powered to his fifth win of the year in his Toyota Camry and took over the category point lead. Todd, of Kalitta Motorsports, defeated two-time world champion Matt Hagan of DSR in the finals with his winning 1,000-foot run of 3.921-seconds at 318.39 mph. Todd now has a 74-point/nearly four rounds of racing lead over two-time/reigning world champion Robert Hight, who suffered a first round loss. Todd earned the 16th win of his career and second in Vegas. 

“It is so awesome to drive a car like that when it’s that consistent,” said Todd, a 36-year-old native of Lawrenceburg, Ind. “You don’t have to worry about if you are going to have to go out there and pedal it or things like that. You can go up there and smack the tree as hard as you can and keep that thing stuck down the groove. It’s a lot of fun to drive. We still have some unfinished business in Pomona. Hopefully we can go there and come out of it with two trophies.”  

Todd advanced to his fourth final round in the Countdown via victories against Robert Townsend, teammate Shawn Langdon and 2012 world champion “Fast” Jack Beckman of DSR.

Butner, the 2017 Pro Stock world champion from Ken Black Racing, posted his second win of the year by defeating two-time world champ Erica Enders of Elite Motorsports with a quarter-mile run of 6.657-seconds at 207.43 mph. Butner, who announced Saturday he plans to exit Pro Stock and return to his NHRA Sportsman roots next season, drove to his fifth final round at Vegas in the past four seasons. 

“We started off like gangbusters _ win in Pomona, ran good at Gainesville and thought we had another repeat deal coming,” said Butner, driver of a Chevrolet Camaro SS. “We struggled a little bit as every team does. I kept saying this weekend this is perfect. This car showed improvement every run. I’m very happy we got to win again, win a couple of rounds, much less win the race. This Pro Stock deal is amazing. Everybody in the top-12 qualifiers can win.” Butner is a 44-year-old resident of Floyds Knobs, Ind.

Point-leader Tanner Gray raced into the semifinals in his Camaro, where he was defeated by Enders and her Melling/Elite Performance Camaro. Gray has a  commanding 140-point/seven rounds of racing lead heading into the season-finale. 

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, pole-sitter Arana Jr. won his third race of the year when he defeated four-time/reigning world champion Eddie Krawiec in the final. Arana Jr. rode his EBR to a winning quarter-mile run of 6.885-seconds at 193.35 mph for the 14th win in his career and first at The Strip. 

“We did a great job qualifying and that set the tone for today,” said Hector Jr., a 29-year-old resident of East Northport, N.Y. “It gave me the confidence I needed. I had great lights in qualifying and did it again today on race day. Great preparation and everything came back together. We just want to qualify well, win rounds and win races.” 

The victory moved Arana Jr. to fourth in the standings, trailing leader/two-time world champ Matt Smith by 64 points. Krawiec is second aboard his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod, only four behind Smith aboard his Smith Racing EBR. LE Tonglet, the 2010 world champ, is third, 61 out of first aboard his Nitro Fish Suzuki. 


Final finishing order (1-16) at the 18th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race is the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _ 1. Steve Torrence; 2. Leah Pritchett; 3. Richie Crampton; 4. Tony Schumacher; 5. Blake Alexander; 6. Clay Millican; 7. Brittany Force; 8. Billy Torrence; 9. Antron Brown; 10. Troy Buff; 11. Terry McMillen; 12. Scott Palmer; 13. Greg Carrillo; 14. Doug Kalitta; 15. Shawn Reed; 16. Mike Salinas. 

Funny Car _1. J.R. Todd; 2. Matt Hagan; 3. Jack Beckman; 4. Bob Tasca III; 5. Ron Capps; 6. Courtney Force; 7. Shawn Langdon; 8. Tommy Johnson Jr.; 9. John Force; 10. Cruz Pedregon; 11. Jim Campbell; 12. Robert Hight; 13. Jonnie Lindberg; 14. Tim Wilkerson; 15. Richard Townsend; 16. Jeff Arend.

Pro Stock _ 1. Bo Butner; 2. Erica Enders; 3. Tanner Gray; 4. Matt Hartford; 5. Jason Line; 6. Drew Skillman; 7. Deric Kramer; 8. Jeg Coughlin Jr.; 9. Greg Anderson; 10. Alex Laughlin; 11. Chris McGaha; 12. Vincent Nobile; 13. Kenny Delco; 14. Steve Graham; 15. Fernando Cuadra; 16. Alan Prusiensky.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Hector Arana Jr.; 2. Eddie Krawiec; 3. Hector Arana; 4. Andrew Hines; 5. Chip Ellis; 6. Matt Smith; 7. Angelle Sampey; 8. Jerry Savoie; 9. LE Tonglet; 10. Steve Johnson; 11. Scotty Pollacheck; 12. Ron Tornow; 13. Ryan Oehler; 14. Kelly Clontz; 15. Mark Paquette; 16. Angie Smith. 

Sunday’s final results from the 18th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway: 

Top Fuel _Steve Torrence, 3.751-seconds, 326.32 mph def. Leah Pritchett, 5.317-seconds, 148.85 mph. 

Funny Car _ J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.921, 318.39 def. Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 4.087, 263.62.

Pro Stock _Bo Butner, Chevy Camaro, 6.657, 207.43 def. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.652, 206.57.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _Hector Arana Jr., EBR, 6.885, 193.35 def. Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.911, 195.05.

Pro Modified _Sidnei Frigo, Chevy Camaro, 5.756, 256.50 def. Mike Castellana, Camaro, 5.861, 249.49.

Top Alcohol Dragster_ Joey Severance, 5.266, 275.28 def. Julie Nataas, 5.369, 271.95.

Top Alcohol Funny Car_ Sean Bellemeur, Chevy Camaro, 5.517, 264.65 def. Doug Gordon, Camaro, 5.488, 269.24.

Competition Eliminator_ David Billingsley, Chevy Camaro, 8.268, 148.48 def. Doug Engels, Dragster, Foul/Red Light. 

Super Stock _Justin Lamb, Chevy Cobalt, 8.766, 150.58 def. Jimmy DeFrank, Cobalt, 9.102, 148.56.

Stock Eliminator _Chris Stephenson, Pontiac Firebird, 11.221, 112.78 def. Jeff Taylor, Chevy Camaro, 9.501, 139.66.

Super Comp _ Kevin Wright, Dragster, 9.044, 175.05 def. Ken Mostowich, Chevy Camaro, Foul/Red Light.

Super Gas _Matt Blodgett, Chevy Nova, 10.057, 134.93 def. Rob Willis, Pontiac Firebird, 10.042, 165.13.

Final round-by-round results from the 18th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:


ROUND ONE _Tony Schumacher, 3.818, 315.86 def. Scott Palmer, 3.850, 304.94; Blake Alexander, 3.734, 326.48 def. Antron Brown, 3.793, 314.61; Clay Millican, 3.744, 329.58 def. Greg Carrillo, 3.912, 315.42; Leah Pritchett, 3.735, 327.43 def. Troy Buff, 3.808, 319.67; Brittany Force, 3.738, 330.55 def. Mike Salinas, Broke; Steve Torrence, 3.778, 326.79 def. Shawn Reed, 4.461, 180.02; Richie Crampton, 3.797, 314.02 def. Doug Kalitta, 4.219, 216.06; Billy Torrence, 3.724, 329.58 def. Terry McMillen, 3.812, 325.85;

QUARTERFINALS _Schumacher, 3.754, 328.70 def. Millican, 4.025, 242.15; Pritchett, 3.740, 322.42 def. Alexander, 3.968, 276.29; Crampton, 3.766, 321.96 def. Force, 4.232, 242.23; S. Torrence, 3.764, 329.34 def. B. Torrence, 4.417, 185.10;

SEMIFINALS _S. Torrence, 3.724, 330.15 def. Crampton, 4.233, 223.54; Pritchett, 3.730, 328.46 def. Schumacher, 6.004, 93.72;

FINAL _S. Torrence, 3.751, 326.32 def. Pritchett, 5.317, 148.85.


ROUND ONE_ Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.969, 317.79 def. Jonnie Lindberg, Mustang, 5.025, 160.18; Tommy Johnson Jr., Dodge Charger, 3.938, 326.08 def. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 7.197, 92.39; J.R. Todd, Toyota Camry, 3.935, 321.27 def. Richard Townsend, Camry, 6.782, 98.32; Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.935, 326.24 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.035, 300.33; Ron Capps, Charger, 3.954, 325.22 def. John Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.972, 330.31; Courtney Force, Camaro, 3.919, 326.87 def. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.975, 308.35; Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.922, 325.85 def. Robert Hight, Camaro, 4.643, 186.41; Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.908, 326.08 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, Foul/Red Light; 

QUARTERFINALS _Tasca III, 3.943, 322.11 def. Capps, 3.963, 322.81; Todd, 3.957, 320.36 def. Langdon, 5.134, 145.96; Hagan, 3.919, 326.08 def. Johnson Jr., Foul/Red Light; Beckman, 3.951, 320.51 def. C. Force, 3.969, 320.66;

SEMIFINALS _Todd, 3.906, 327.11 def. Beckman, 3.937, 327.90; Hagan, 3.928, 323.89 def. Tasca III, 3.952, 319.29;

FINAL _Todd, 3.921, 318.39 def. Hagan, 4.087, 263.62.


ROUND ONE _Erica Enders, Chevy Camaro, 6.644, 206.45 def. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.655, 207.37; Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.653, 207.56 def. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.655, 205.16; Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.663, 206.80 def. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.657, 207.37; Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.646, 206.64 def. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, Foul/Red Light; Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.646, 206.48 def. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.661, 204.94; Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.641, 205.51 def. Fernando Cuadra, Camaro, 6.723, 205.54; Jason Line, Camaro, 6.640, 206.86 def. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.693, 205.16; Jeg Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.635, 206.86 def. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.714, 204.91;

QUARTERFINALS _ Gray, 6.654, 206.39 def. Skillman, 6.666, 206.48; Hartford, 6.663, 205.85 def. Kramer, 6.673, 206.23; Butner, 6.652, 207.08 def. Line, 6.655, 206.23; Enders, 6.664, 206.45 def. Coughlin, 6.679, 206.39;

SEMIFINALS _Enders, 6.665, 204.32 def. Gray, 6.673, 205.91; Butner, 6.658, 207.66 def. Hartford, 6.682, 206.10;

FINAL _Butner, 6.657, 207.43 def. Enders, 6.652, 206.57.


ROUND ONE _Angelle Sampey, Buell, 6.973, 190.00 def. Angie Smith, Buell, 7.638, 128.24; Matt Smith, EBR, 6.923, 195.62 def. LE Tonglet, Suzuki, 6.926, 193.24; Chip Ellis, Harley-Davidson, 6.918, 191.97 def. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 7.045, 189.84; Hector Arana, EBR, 6.905, 194.60 def. Ryan Oehler, Buell, 7.022, 190.89; Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.950, 191.92 def. Scotty Pollacheck, Suzuki, 6.994, 189.95; Hector Arana Jr., EBR, 6.924, 193.27 def. Mark Paquette, Buell, 7.236, 152.38; Eddie Krawiec, Harley-Davidson, 6.901, 194.21 def. Ron Tornow, Buell, 7.003, 188.67; Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.943, 192.85 def. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.966, 190.48;

QUARTERFINALS _ Arana Jr., 6.942, 193.88 def. M. Smith, Foul/Red Light; Hines, 6.978, 191.29 def. Ellis, Foul/Red Light; Arana, 6.931, 194.74 def. Sampey, 6.960, 191.87; Krawiec, 6.933, 194.97 def. Savoie, 6.978, 192.69;

SEMIFINALS _Arana Jr., 6.946, 194.13 def. Hines, 6.995, 190.89; Krawiec, 6.924, 194.83 def. Arana, 6.953, 193.52;

FINAL _Arana Jr., 6.885, 193.35 def. Krawiec, 6.911, 195.05.

Point standings (top-10) following the 18th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the 23rd of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series and penultimate round of the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs:

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence, 2,718; 2. Clay Millican, 2,487; 3. Tony Schumacher, 2,454; 4. Leah Pritchett, 2,394; 5. Brittany Force, 2,302; 6. Antron Brown, 2,291; 7. (tie) Doug Kalitta, 2,259; Mike Salinas, 2,259; 9. Terry McMillen, 2,253; 10. Scott Palmer, 2,182.

Funny Car _1. J.R. Todd, 2,553; 2. Robert Hight, 2,479; 3. Ron Capps, 2,388; 4. Tim Wilkerson, 2,367; 5. Tommy Johnson Jr., 2,362; 6. Courtney Force, 2,324; 7. Matt Hagan, 2,321; 8. Jack Beckman, 2,283; 9. John Force, 2,277; 10. Shawn Langdon, 2,204.

Pro Stock _1. Tanner Gray, 2,583; 2. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 2,443; 3. Erica Enders, 2,434; 4. Drew Skillman, 2,413; 5. Vincent Nobile, 2,404; 6. Jason Line, 2,350; 7. Greg Anderson, 2,334; 8. Bo Butner, 2,300; 9. Deric Kramer, 2,220; 10. Chris McGaha, 2,135.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Matt Smith, 2,479; 2. Eddie Krawiec, 2,475; 3. LE Tonglet, 2,418; 4. Hector Arana Jr., 2,415; 5. Jerry Savoie, 2,378; 6. Andrew Hines, 2,366; 7. Angelle Sampey, 2,268; 8. Angie Smith, 2,255; 9. Steve Johnson, 2,242; 10. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,209.

Mike Janis claimed his first world championship in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service at the season-ending NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This weekend’s Pro Mod racing was presented by Trask Performance. 

The point-leader entering the weekend, Janis and his Chevrolet Camaro were defeated in the first round of eliminations by Mike Caruso. Rickie Smith, who was second, advanced to the quarterfinals and had an opportunity to win his fourth championship if he moved on to the semifinals. But Smith was defeated by Rick Hord, allowing Janis to claim the crown.

“It hasn’t set in yet,” Janis said. “After losing first round we were all kind of down. Now, just incredible feeling, I can’t explain it. We had a good car all year, we had a good car when we got here, nice and consistent runs. It will sink in in the next hour or so. I’ve won races before but this is the cream of the crop right here. The NHRA Pro Mod champ _ I love it!”

In the final, Sidnei Frigo faced Mike Castellana for the last victory of the year. Frigo wheeled his Camaro to the win with a quarter-mile run of 5.756-seconds at 256.50 mph to the trailing pass of 5.861 at 249.49 for Castellana.

“We had a lot of issues with the car at the beginning of the year,” said Frigo, who bagged his first win of the season. “Now we fixed the car and it runs great. Next year is going to be a good year.”

Final finishing order (1-16) at the 18th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race was the final of 12 events in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series:

Pro Modified _1. Sidnei Frigo; 2. Mike Castellana; 3. Rick Hord; 4. Jose Gonzalez; 5. Michael Biehle; 6. Jim Whiteley; 7. Marc Caruso; 8. Rickie Smith; 9. Jeremy Ray; 10. Shane Molinari; 11. Mike Janis; 12. Clint Satterfield; 13. Steve Jackson; 14. Chad Green; 15. Steven Whiteley; 16. Todd Tutterow.

Final round-by-round results from the 18th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:


ROUND ONE _ Michael Biehle, Ford Mustang, 5.762, 255.97 def. Steven Whiteley, Chevy Camaro, 10.537, 83.01; Sidnei Frigo, Camaro, 5.753, 256.65 def. Steve Jackson, Camaro, 6.149, 172.70; Mike Castellana, Camaro, 5.731, 252.99 def. Clint Satterfield, Camaro, 5.856, 248.39; Jose Gonzalez, Camaro, 5.707, 258.22 def. Shane Molinari, Pontiac Firebird, 5.769, 257.53; Marc Caruso, Camaro, 5.762, 247.75 def. Mike Janis, Camaro, 5.789, 247.57; Rick Hord, Chevy Corvette, 5.750, 252.66 def. Chad Green, Corvette, 6.156, 244.78; Rickie Smith, Camaro, 5.782, 248.39 def. Jeremy Ray, Corvette, 5.731, 247.88; Jim Whiteley, Camaro, 5.840, 246.48 def. Todd Tutterow, Camaro, Foul/Red Light; 

QUARTERFINALS _Castellana, 5.751, 251.72 def. Biehle, 5.810, 254.86; Frigo, 5.754, 256.02 def. J. Whiteley, 5.826, 246.48; Hord, 5.756, 254.86 def. Smith, 5.843, 247.38; Gonzalez, 5.755, 256.45 def. Caruso, 5.829, 245.94;

SEMIFINALS _Frigo, 5.745, 257.28 def. Hord, 5.898, 214.48; Castellana, 5.797, 250.55 def. Gonzalez, Broke; 

FINAL _Frigo, 5.756, 256.50 def. Castellana, 5.861, 249.49.

Final point standings (top-10) following the 18th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The race was the last of 12 events in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series:

Pro Modified _1. Mike Janis, 770; 2. Rickie Smith, 763; 3. Mike Castellana, 725; 4. Steve Jackson, 659; 5. (tie) Chad Green, 610; Jeremy Ray, 610; 7. Rick Hord, 565; 8. Khalid alBalooshi, 558; 9. Todd Tutterow, 521; 10. Jose Gonzalez, 510.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 29 2018
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