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Western Swing: Torrence Takes Shot At Ferre

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 19 2019
Steve Torrence won the 2019 Top Fuel championship on Sunday but he lost the respect of many of the fans in Pomona. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

En route to winning his second consecutive NHRA Top Fuel world championship Sunday, Steve Torrence lost his cool, got physical and played the role of self-described “idiot.”

Torrence shoved part-time racer Cameron Ferre in the face after scoring a first-round victory during the season-ending 55th annual Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif. Locked in a title battle with Brittany Force and Doug Kalitta, Torrence took exception to the deep-staging technique of Ferre, who qualified 16th and last on Saturday. Torrence clearly was distracted by Ferre’s deep-staging tactic, evident by an uncharacteristic 0.142-second reaction time off the starting line.

A driver is deep-staged when, after staging, he or she rolls a few inches forward, which causes the pre-stage light on the NHRA “Christmas Tree” to go out. In that position, the driver is marginally closer to the finish line but dangerously close to a foul start.

Torrence won the round by covering the 1,000-foot distance in 3.734-seconds and 327.82 mph. Ferre ran 4.040-seconds at 294.82 mph for car-owner/crew chief Terry Haddock.

Torrence was visibly upset and terse when he exited his car but began his televised interview by saying Ferre had a bright future in the class. Torrence added, ”You want to act like a little kid, you’ll get treated like a little kid.” Moments later, Torrence walked over to speak to Ferre. The two were shown clenching right hands during a conversation dominated by Torrence.

When they finished talking, Torrence shoved Ferre in the face with the palm of his gloved right hand https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8GCKXMeOs0. Ferre began to charge Torrence, who had raised his right arm as if to strike Ferre.  Both drivers were quickly separated by members of Torrence’s Capco Contractors team.

“Here’s the situation…we’re under the gun, we’re an underfunded team, we’re racing the champion of the world,” said Ferre, driver of Haddock’s American Flowtech dragster. “Yes, he’s racing for a championship. But at the end of the day I’m here to race cars. I worked my butt off to be from sitting on the couch to doing this; I worked my (whole) life to do this. I’m sorry that I have to go in deep to try to beat you. Hey, I ‘treed’ the hell out of you _ what do you want from me? I mean, if you want to go cry like you did two years ago when you lost to Brittany, I’m sorry.”

Ferre was referring to Torrence’s 2017 title loss to Force at Auto Club Raceway, after which he criticized the six-race Countdown to the Championship format. 

“Here’s the thing, we’re out here to try to better the sport and that wasn’t bettering the sport,” said Ferre, a 34-year-old resident of Huntington Beach, Calif. “I’m sorry, if you need to punch me in order to throw a fit or whatever _ bring it on, buddy. I’m just as big as you are and we could have a pretty good wrestling match.”

The incident unfolded directly in front of an NHRA official. Before the second round, Torrence was summoned to the track’s control tower for a meeting with Josh Peterson, NHRA Vice President, Racing Administration. While clearly in violation of Section 1.3.1 of the NHRA Rulebook pertaining to Participant Conduct, Torrence was not docked any championship points. However, NHRA officials reportedly reserved the option to issue a postseason penalty, most likely in the form of a monetary fine.

Meanwhile, Robert Hight (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also claimed world championships in their respective categories at the final race of the Countdown to the Championship. Season-finale race-winners were Kalitta (Top Fuel), “Fast” Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) and Jianna Salinas (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Torrence managed to regain his composure and clinched the 2019 championship with an all-or-nothing victory over Force in Round 2. After using an 0.026-second starting line advantage and a 3.749- second elapsed time to beat Force, Torrence admittedly lost focus in the subsequent semifinal and was trailered by Richie Crampton. “I went up there racing not to lose instead of racing to win,” Torrence said of the pass that ended his season.  “I know better. I was thinking about crossing the centerline instead of about doing my job. I messed up.”

Torrence took full responsibility for the confrontation with Ferre. “Tensions are high. There’s a lot of crap going on out there, but there’s still no excuse for me acting that way,” said Torrence, a 36-year-old resident of Kilgore, Texas. “I apologize to every fan, all my racing friends and racing rivals. It was a heat-of-the moment reaction on a day when emotions were high, especially in the Capco camp.  I talked the Cameron and we’ll just put it behind us and move on.

“I mean, I’ve been in that guy’s spot where you do anything you can to win. He did what he could to win and it just…there’s a championship on the line and tensions get high and emotions get high. It’s just…I apologize to everybody. Brittany and that whole (Advance Auto Parts/John Force Racing) team have done an unbelievable job all year. They’re right there every time to kick our butt. Brittany’s a great driver. I’m just thankful and blessed. But I’m sorry to my friends and everybody for being an idiot.”

Torrence joined a short list of back-to-back title winners that includes “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Joe Amato, the late Scott Kalitta, Gary Scelzi, Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher, Larry Dixon and Antron Brown.

“It’s been really special to be part of a team that goes out and has the success we’ve had,” Torrence said. “It’s really special to win one championship, much less two and to do it back-to-back. I knew what we had to do and we were going to decide who had the best chance at it in the second round. The guys prevailed and gave me the race car, and I did the job I needed to do when I needed to do it. Our group of guys has been together for years and that continuity is what has been a key recipe to our success.

“This championship is for all the guys who work on these two Capco cars (including father Billy’s entry), and it’s for all the Capco employees back in Texas whose hard work lets us do this as a family.”

Torrence won the 2018 title via an historic sweep of the six-race Countdown. Torrence again was in control for most of the 24-race 2019 schedule. He finished with nine Top Fuel wins, including a dominant stretch of eight wins during a nine-race span. Torrence, who won 11 races a year ago en route to his first title, also advanced to 14 final rounds in 2019 and now has 36 wins and 55 finals appearances in his career. His playoff victory at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., on Oct. 14 gave him the point lead for good, as Torrence’s path to the championship included three finals in the Countdown.

Torrence finished three points ahead of Kalitta, who beat Kalitta Motorsports teammate Crampton in Sunday’s final. This marked Kalitta’s fifth runnerup finish for the Top Fuel championship. A 55-year-old resident of Ann Arbor, Mich., Kalitta also finished second in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2016.

Kalitta earned his third victory of 2019 and 47th in his standout career while sweeping both races at Pomona this year. He knocked off Terry McMillen, Justin Ashley and Leah Pritchett to reach the final.

“It was fun, for sure,” said Kalitta, driver of the Mac Tools Toyota dragster owned by uncle and NHRA legend Conrad “Connie” Kalitta. “I was real proud of the effort we put in. We gave it all we could and it’s definitely still on our bucket list to win a championship. I’ve got a heck of a following. There are a lot of people who tell me how much they’d love to see me win a championship. I’d love nothing more than to get it done one of these years.

“I love running here at Pomona and to come out of here with a win in the 60th year (in drag racing) with Connie. Connie’s an inspiration to me and everyone on our teams. He’s had a pretty impressive run and he still loves it. To have someone like that who’s so passionate is infectious to everyone involved.”

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2019 NHRA Countdown to the Championship Playoffs Results

Sept. 12-15 _ Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil, Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa. Richie Crampton (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sept. 27-29 _ AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals, World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill. Billy Torrence (Top Fuel), Shawn Langdon (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Oct. 11-14 _NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals, zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Deric Kramer (Pro Stock), Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Oct. 17-20 _ AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Ennis, Texas. Billy Torrence (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Oct. 31-Nov. 3 _ Dodge NHRA Nationals Presented by Pennzoil, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Nov. 14-17 _ Auto Club NHRA Finals, Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif. Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Jeg Coughlin, Jr. (Pro Stock), Jianna Salinas (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 19 2019
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