Torrence To Arrive At Pomona As The Top Dog

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 7 2019
Steve Torrence will attempt to back up his remarkable 2018 Top Fuel campaign with another in 2019. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

On the November afternoon when Steve Torrence publicly was honored by his hometown folks, the reigning NHRA Top Fuel world champion was reminded about his place in the celebrity hierarchy of Kilgore, Texas.

“I’ve dated a couple Kilgore Rangerettes in my time,” said Torrence, referencing the white hat/boot- wearing, high-kicking drill team from Kilgore College. “And no, no, no _ I’m not more famous than them! Anytime anybody knows what Kilgore is, they know about the Rangerettes, absolutely.”

Nevertheless, Torrence was feted via official proclamation during ceremonies conducted by Mayor Ronnie Spradlin, City Manager Josh Selleck and a host of officials at the Texan Theater. Torrence and the Capco Contractors/Torrence Racing team led by crew chief Richard Hogan claimed their first professional championship together with an 11-victory season featuring an unprecedented sweep of NHRA’s six-race/24-round Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

“You know, that was really neat to be recognized by the community and all the people that have known me since I was a kid,” said Torrence, 35, a cancer survivor and self-described redneck. “Kilgore’s a small town and to be recognized and for them to support me and think that what we’re doing is a big deal. Because drag racing doesn’t have nearly the fan-following and all that like NASCAR and some other sports. It’s been neat for the whole community to follow and keep up and support. Way more people showed up than what I ever even expected.”

To repeat _Torrence completed the 2018 season as the first driver in NHRA history, regardless of classification, to sweep the six-race Countdown. NHRA’s all-too-brief offseason ended last weekend at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., near Phoenix. On cue, Torrence posted the quickest run of the meet, covering the 1,000-foot distance in 3.689-seconds at 328.78 mph.

“To go do what we did at testing, that just bolsters our confidence,” said Torrence, who has 27 career victories in drag racing’s premier division. “It’s humbling to be in the position we’re in and to think about the success we’ve had, but we’re not close to being done yet. We’re looking forward to Pomona and we’re going to be real simple about it. They key is to go out and win rounds and if you’re able to do that four times, that’s a race. That’s how we’ve approached it the last two years and we’re going to keep that same approach.”

Indeed, Torrence will roll into Friday’s first two rounds of qualifications for the 59th annual NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., chasing additional history. A victory Sunday at Auto Club Raceway would allow Torrence to equal eight-time world champ Tony Schumacher’s record of seven straight tour wins. Fittingly, Torrence capped his massive 2018 season last November with a victory in the Auto Club Finals. Torrence finished 304 points in front of runner-up Schumacher, who will not compete at Pomona this weekend due to a lack of sponsorship.

“We don’t have the same point to prove as last year, but it’s the same drive and maybe more, just for different reasons,” Torrence said. “The performance the last couple years speaks for itself, but we want to keep driving that home. We’ve gotten to the top, established the fact that we deserve to be there and we’re going to do everything we can to stay there. It’s business as usual for us and that’s the way we’re going to approach it.”

Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including three hours of finals coverage beginning at 5 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, Feb. 10. It’s the first of 24 events during the 2019 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season.

Following is an edited transcript of Torrence’s post-championship interview with RacinToday.com. Conducted via phone from his ranch north of Laredo, Torrence spoke about his historic 2018 season with “them Capco Boys,” his family-owned business and his big-dollar car toys.

RT: You wrapped up the championship in Round 5 of the Countdown at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. So what was it like heading into Pomona for the season-finale, and a shot at history?

STEVE TORRENCE: “Yeah, we had thought about it quite a bit going into that race. I mean, you try to not let it get it in your head but you still think, well, hell, the fact and the reality of it is if we do it nobody can beat us to it. Only way it’ll change is if they change the amount of races. So, you start putting your name in line and in position with some of the greats and it’s pretty humbling to say, ‘Heck, we set a mark we’re going to be remembered forever for doing.’ And as a single-car team.

“I was told that we raced Tony Schumacher in the final of the very first race of the Countdown and the very last race of the Countdown, so we kind of bookended it against the all-time winningest Top Fuel driver ever. It added validity to it.”

RT: Competing for the most part as a single-car team, do you envy multi-car organizations like Don Schumacher Racing and all their human capital, expertise and sponsorship?

STEVE TORRENCE: “No, I don’t envy them. I think that we’re as well-prepared and have all the resources. I think that when you start adding multiple cars it gives you an advantage but we’re not at that point. We’re not where we need to have two or three of these things out there or where we can sustain that.

“There is an advantage to it if you can get that other data. But it has to be where the teams work together. If it’s two completely independent teams that don’t communicate and don’t share information, then it’s really no advantage. So it needs to be a true team. I see some of the other multi-car teams and I know how the inner workings of them are, know their secrets, and they’re not communicating and that changes the look of that.

“But I think it does motivate us to beat those teams when they are the big powerhouses and we’re the…you know, we’re not the ‘little guy’ but we are the single-car team over there that’s going toe-to-toe with ‘em and it is a big motivation.”

RT: Your primary funding is provided by Capco Contractors, the company founded by your parents, Billy and “Mama Kay” Torrence. Do you intentionally steer away from corporate sponsorship?

STEVE TORRENCE: “We haven’t shied away from (corporate sponsors).  It’s just been the last couple of years we’ve felt we’ve really had a marketable product to represent somebody. It’s something we haven’t put a lot of emphasis on and haven’t pursued much because it takes some time to get these things up-and-running and get your organization where…I don’t want to go out there and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a Top Fuel car and we might can win some races and a championship, but I need your help.’ At this point we’re completely self-sufficient and I can tell you, ‘Hey, I’ve got a Top Fuel car and we’re championship contenders. We’ve won a championship and this is what we can do for you now.’^”

RT: No corporate sponsor also means no corporate obligations at the racetrack or during the week, so you’re not beholding to anyone, right?

STEVE TORRENCE: “That’s true because I fly- in (to the event) on Friday mornings, I fly home on Sunday nights and I’m back to work. So with corporate sponsorship comes obligations and at this point we don’t have any of that.”

RT: Your shot at the 2017 Top Fuel title basically ended when you crashed during the FallNationals at Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex in Ennis. Brittany Force, of John Force Racing, went on to win her first title by 81 points and you were critical of NHRA’s “welfare point system” and your fate. So, what did you learn about yourself from all that?

STEVE TORRENCE: “Given the way everything went and how well we were running, we did learn some of our weaknesses, where we weren’t as prepared  as what we needed to be given that situation. And I think 90 percent of the teams wouldn’t be and until you’ve been there, you don’t know how to prepare for it. So that changed our routine for the 2018 season. That’s why in the middle of the year we pulled out another car and started testing through the Western Swing with another car and completely got it ready and put it back up (in the hauler). So in the event that we needed to pull a brand new car down and race the next round we were (ready).

“And I’ve said it numerous times _ you have to learn how to win a race, you have to learn how to deal with that pressure and make it four rounds and win that race just doing your best. It was the same for us with the championship. I mean, we were there and we had it in our grasp and we let it slip through our fingers but we learned how to handle the pressure. I think we clearly exhibited that through the Countdown.”

RT: You’ve also mentioned “the Good Lord” during any number of interviews. So, do you believe in Divine Intervention?

STEVE TORRENCE: “Absolutely I do and I think that God …we didn’t win the championship in 2017, you know. We dominated and outran everybody and won twice as many races as anybody but we didn’t and I think at the end of the day He had a bigger plan for us and it was to go out and do it the way we were able to do it (in 2018). It meant more to us than it would have (in 2017).”

RT: Business-wise, your father, Billy, founded Capco Contractors in 1995. Google describes Capco as a full-service pipeline company located on 30 acres in Henderson, in East Texas, specializing in compressor stations, site work, mainline pipe construction and pipeline integrity projects. Where do you fit into the daily activities at Capco?

STEVE TORRENCE: ”We’re a sort of decent-sized company. I mean, we got 300-some employees but we’re pretty small in our overhead. We don’t have a lot of people in the office, we don’t have any salesmen _ that’s just my dad and myself. So he and I do the bidding and estimating and I do the majority of the client relations and just entertain these people, like deer hunting with some guys. You get to know a guy on a more personal level and develop a relationship with them and individually a friendship. If you spend a couple of days with them at hunting camp or fishing or whatever as opposed to taking them to lunch.”

RT: Do you have experience working “in the field” for Capco, as opposed to your current office duties?

STEVE TORRENCE: “I’ve done every aspect or our entire business. Only thing I don’t do is I’m not a welder. I can’t weld but I can operate equipment. I’ve driven haul trucks to move the equipment, I’ve worked in the field as a laborer. I mean, I’ve worked at Capco…I think I’ve actually been on the payroll since I was 15 or 16 but I worked there every summer since I was old enough.”

RT: Ironically,your father was a welder in the construction industry before striking out on his own, and your mother worked as a maid. You’ve often mentioned your “humble beginnings” in previous interviews and growing up in a middle-class family. Safe to say that describes a life based upon conservative values?

STEVE TORRENCE: “It absolutely does. I’ve grown up having to work and I’ve been very, very fortunate and blessed. I mean, my mom and dad have both worked extremely hard to afford me the opportunities that I’ve been able to do and if weren’t for them and the business and everything I wouldn’t be here racing. So it created a work ethic in me that we’ve been able to parlay into the race team and you can’t do anything without hard work. And so, myself and all those boys on that team and everything that we do day-to-day is to be the best. When you constantly keep striving to be better and better it’s difficult to beat a guy or get a guy with that mindset down.”

RT: You’ve also referred to yourself as a “redneck” during interviews in various media centers, in print publications and online. It’s a tag you actually wear proudly, right?

STEVE TORRENCE: “Yeah, I enjoy roping, I enjoy doing manual labor _ it keeps you healthy, keeps you in shape and keeps you doing something. You can sit on a couch and watch movies and not do anything and play video games _ that just ain’t me.”

RT: Your award-winning public relations representative, Dave Densmore, says you have an impressive collection of big-boy car toys. What do you drive away from the racetrack?

STEVE TORRENCE: “I’ve got a couple Porsches and I’ve got a Ferrari. My dad has a McLaren and a couple Porsches…and honestly, one of the Porsches is a (911) GT2 RS, the first one. It has 900 miles on it. My dad has two of the GT2 RS’ _ the one from 2010 and the one that came out in 2018. I think they made 800 of the latest edition and 500 of the first. So we each have one of those and I got a new GT3 RS…honestly, I’ve driven the GT3 a couple times. The GT2 has 900 miles, my Ferrari has like 1,200. I just don’t drive ‘em a bunch.

“The GT2 RS I’ve got is the 2010 model…it’s insane. It’s the twin-turbo…think mine is No. 488 out of 500 and dad’s is No. 373. Those things are insane. It’s basically the GT3 Cup car with the twin-turbo engine in it and it’s fun to drive. But they call it ‘The Beast.’ Like, the engineer signed the underside of the hood for every one of us because they were sold before they ever came to the United States. The GT3 RS I just got is a blast because it’s got a naturally aspirated engine, it’s not as peaky, it’s more controllable and fun to drive.

“I told my dad that GT2 is already an eight-year-old car with 900 miles on it and it’s just sitting there and it’s already appreciated close to $200,000. We give right at $250,000 for ‘em and now you can get ‘em for $450,000. I’ve had people that have actually got in touch with the dealership that we bought ‘em from and had people call me to buy it. A guy from California, a guy from Florida…and they’re wanting one.

“But I’m more of a cowboy at heart. I’ve got cattle, I drive a three-quarter ton GMC pickup to work every day and a one-ton dualie pretty much all through the weekend and got a horse trailer, a cow trailer, got a few horses. I enjoy team roping with my buddies. So it’s a completely opposite lifestyle of what you would figure for a professional drag racer.”

RT: Your tuning crew is led by Richard Hogan, assisted by Bobby Lagana Jr. and Justin Crosslin. Hogan joined your team in 2014 after stints with superstars “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Kenny Bernstein, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Gary Scelzi, where he worked with nitro guru Alan Johnson. Hogan has been described as a “journeyman” but you’ve said your relationship with him is “brother-like.” Why him to lead your team?

STEVE TORRENCE: “Hogan was my choice as a crew chief from Day One. I just believed in the guy. I saw the talent he had and the work ethic he has and he’s become a really close friend of mine. You can hire a guy, whoever it is, and they’re going to have strengths and weaknesses. And I think what I’ve learned from my dad with working with people is you utilize people for their strengths and you support them in their weaknesses. Just treat people well and if people like to work for you and with you then you get the best out of them. It’s when you wear ‘em down to the bone and they don’t feel appreciated that you don’t get the best. And Richard, not only being a good friend, is a really good crew chief and we supported him and he went to the front.”

RT: Along those lines, you and your team have recorded 19 wins over the last two seasons. You’ve won 12 straight final-round matches. You guys are THE target, so are you ready to defend and repeat?

STEVE TORRENCE: “Absolutely. And not taking anything whatsoever away from Brittany, but we feel like we dominated last year (2017) as well. We won the championship, we just didn’t get the trophy. So we go out there with that same mindset and nothing will be any different in 2019 _ same drive, same intensity. I don’t think anybody took us lightly (in 2018); I think they saw our performance from 2017 and knew the mission and the mindset we were in and what we were trying to do. So I don’t think 2019 will be any different. We’ll just try to continue in that direction and stay focused and if we can do it, we can do it. I don’t think there’ll be any more pressure or anything than there was this past year.”

RT: Was it good to get out of the race car for a while in November, and let the championship hoopla soak in?

STEVE TORRENCE: “It was. I love racing. I enjoy driving that thing more than anything. But it is good, especially when you get into that last six and there’s pressure and there’s stress. When you finally get it done and over with you crash for a few days after that season. I hopped on the airplane and flew down to the ranch and unwound. My house is 10 miles down a dirt road and I’m the only house on it. It makes it a lot easier to unwind and uncoil and decompress when you’re by yourself.”

RT: Finally, I read when you were a senior in high school you had teen-age plans to get out of Kilgore ASAP. So, did you have an actual exit strategy for life outside of your hometown?

STEVE TORRENCE: “Absolutely not, but just growing up in a small town you think, ‘Oh, I’m getting outta here! Too closed-up, too this, too that.’ Well, now I try to get back there as fast as possible. It’s where my friends are, my family, my roots.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 7 2019
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