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Torrence Returns To Top Fuel Cockpit

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 21 2020

Steve Torrence, who did not race in the NHRA’s season-opening Winternationals, has returned to race this weekend in Arizona.

Two weeks after his rivals began the 2020 season without him, Steve Torrence will launch his bid for a third consecutive NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel world championship Friday with the opening rounds of qualifying for the 36th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz.

The 36-year-old resident of Kilgore, Texas, opted out of the season-opening 60th annual NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., where 2019 championship runner-up Doug Kalitta prevailed for the third consecutive year. Torrence and his Capco Contractors dragster trail the Kalitta Motorsports veteran by 117 points _ nearly six rounds of racing at 20 points per round.

Torrence also is 99 points behind John Force Racing’s Austin Prock, last year’s NHRA Rookie of the Year. Torrence is 87 points behind 2017 Top Fuel world champion Brittany Force in the dragster also fielded by JFR.

Torrence’s early deficit looms as an imposing hurdle for the driver who, just 15 months ago, made history by sweeping all six races in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Crew chiefs Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana Jr. are directing a team that largely has remained intact for four-plus seasons. Torrence has no doubt the 11,000-horsepower dragster he’ll bring to the starting line is capable of putting him into a winners’ circle in which he has celebrated 28 times over the last three years. 

“For me, one of the big things is that we’re probably more relaxed now because we know what we’re capable of doing,” said Torrence, the only driver to have won NHRA championships in the fuel and alcohol categories.  “Before we won (the 2018 championship), we thought we could do it but we didn’t have the hardware to prove it.

“You look back at the success we’ve had the last three seasons and it’s a big confidence-booster, especially for the pilot, the guy sitting in the cockpit. As a team, I think our ability to stay focused and overcome obstacles has been the key.  We’ve won the championship in two completely different ways and we overcame a lot of things both times. I’ve been pretty proud of how well we’ve handled whatever’s been thrown at us.” 

Case in point, team-owner Kay Torrence ended rampant speculation surrounding the team’s absence from Pomona and the WinterNats with an explanation that cited NHRA’s lack of urgency in acting upon the team’s appeal of sanctions related to a November 2019 incident involving her son.

“Us not being at Pomona had nothing to do with the new Countdown rules or Steve’s health or anything else that’s been said on the internet,” Kay Torrence said in a team release.  “It was about trying to settle the appeal we filed with the NHRA on November the 29th.  We didn’t want any unresolved issues going into the new season, but we had trouble getting them to respond to our letter of appeal. 

“By the time everything was settled, it was too late to get our equipment and crew members to Pomona in time to race. I just want to say to all the fans who have supported us, ‘We appreciate you and we look forward to seeing you all in Phoenix.’  We also want to give a big shout-out and thank you to our sponsors and all the pipe-liners across the country who support us.”

Although Steve Torrence was assessed a $25,000 fine and penalty for a confrontation with rival Cameron Ferre that was shown during FOX TV’s coverage of last November’s Auto Club Finals, the amount of the fine and the stipulation that he attend anger management classes were disputed by Torrence Racing.

The incident occurred at the end of the racetrack following Torrence’s first round victory in the midst of a tense, three-way point battle.  At issue was Ferre’s starting line etiquette as a driver not in contention for the championship. One of the salient points raised by Torrence Racing was that NHRA was complicit in creating a hostile environment by using an edited video clip that showed Torrence’s reaction to whatever had been the provocation but not the provocation itself.

Moreover, Torrence Racing took issue with what it viewed as NHRA’s apparent hypocrisy in assessing penalties for what it deemed conduct detrimental to the sport and then using video clips of that very same behavior, ostensibly to attract new fans and viewers. 

The fact that a penalty should have been imposed never was in dispute and Torrence quickly accepted full responsibility for the incident to the extent that, during his acceptance speech at the Mello Yello Awards Banquet, he made a point to personally apologize to Ferre for over-reacting in a “heat of battle” situation.

The incident itself is one that both Torrence and Ferre publicly have said they wish to put behind them.  However, NHRA’s continued use of the edited clip made such a course exceedingly difficult, Torrence Racing contended. 

Team Capco has won the Arizona Nationals, contested outside Phoenix, each of the last two years.  Steve won in 2018 and his father, Billy, hoisted the Wally trophy in 2019. While Steve struggled at Wild Horse Pass a year ago, qualifying only 14th and exiting in Round One, it still was a solid weekend for Team Capco with Billy driving the team’s “other car” to a victory that laid the foundation for his eventual fifth-place finish in points.  The elder Torrence will defend his event title this weekend.

Matt Hagan (Funny Car) and Jeg Coughlin Jr. (Pro Stock) also were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised nationally on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage on Sunday, Feb. 23. The duel in the desert marks the second of 18 races during a 2020 Pro Stock season featuring the 50th anniversary celebration of the Factory Hot Rod class.

“I don’t see any reason why we can’t continue to do well, but to win a championship, everything has to fall into place,” Steve Torrence said. “It’s a difficult thing to do just one time and it gets more difficult when you’re trying to win a second time because you’ve got a target on your back.  And now we’re trying for a three-peat. The goal is to try and be as perfect as possible. That has to become a habit and that’s why we race just as hard in the regular season as we do in the Countdown. Our mindset is to win every race.”

Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds on Friday and the final two rounds of time trials on Saturday afternoon. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday.

FS1 will air one hour of qualifying on NHRA Friday Nitro Live at 11 p.m. (EST). The network will resume its coverage with one-hour of action on NHRA Sunday Live at 3 p.m. Three hours of finals coverage is scheduled for 9 p.m. Sunday, also on FS1. Fans also can stream every NHRA national event via NHRA.TV.

Texas Motorplex will mark its 35th year of showcasing the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, and the induction of track founder/owner Billy Meyer into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, with a season-long celebration.

Meyer’s facility located between Ennis and Waxahachie, Texas, has featured the biggest names in professional drag racing since 1986. Tickets for the Oct. 15-18 AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals now are sale following a successful renewal period. While supplies last, each order will receive a commemorative 35th anniversary coin. As the fourth of six Countdown to the Championship playoff events, the FallNationals historically play a pivotal role in the point standings.

“We had one of the most successful ticket renewal periods we have ever experienced,” said Andy Carter, Motorplex general manager. “More of our long-time FallNationals ticket-holders either upgraded their orders to areas like the Champions Club with starting line seats or they added tickets to their previous packages. We had an amazing race last year with Kilgore’s own Billy Torrence getting the win in Top Fuel before Steve going on to win his second consecutive Top Fuel world championship.”

Fans who buy any adult ticket with pit pass for any day of the FallNationals will receive one Texas Motorplex 35th Anniversary Commemorative Coin to be redeemed at the Motorplex souvenir stand during the event. This promotion is limited to one coin per household while supplies last.

Meyer, a former Funny Car racer, will be inducted on March 12 into the International Drag Racing Fall of Fame owned by straight-line legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits in Ocala, Fla. Meyer, who now lives in Austin, Texas, will be honored for his career as a driver, car-owner and visionary track operator. The Class of 2020 also includes, in alphabetical order, Robert “Bones” Balogh, Lee Beard, Don Enriquez, Roy Hill and Larry Minor.

The Motorplex _ noted for introducing the stadium-style seating complex into the sport and as drag racing’s first all-concrete quarter-mile _ still is considered one of the premier performance racetracks in the country after three-plus decades.

“This year at the FallNationals we are bringing in more fan and family-friendly activities to add to the on-track racing action,” Carter said. “We added a few elements last year but this year we’re really ramping it up with more premium seating and a track-side pavilion in the works modeled after the Byron Nelson (golf) experience. We want to give the hard-core fan what they want but we’re also very aware we need to cater to new fans.”

The Motorplex’s 2020 season will kick-off with the Lone Star Nationals March 27-28. Throughout the season the facility will host American Drag Racing League (ADRL) national events, No Prep Races, Redemption Series events, the Jumbo BBQ Challenge Cook-Off and weekly events to keep racers off the streets.

Fans can order tickets at www.texasmotorplex.com or call 800-MOTORPLEX.

Point standings (top-10) following the 60th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., the first of 24 events on the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule: 

Top Fuel _1. Doug Kalitta, 117; 2. Austin Prock, 99; 3. Brittany Force, 87; 4. Leah Pruett, 80; 5. Clay Millican, 53; 6. Justin Ashley, 52; 7. Shawn Reed, 51; 8. Shawn Langdon, 38; 9. Terry McMillen, 34; 10. Antron Brown, 32.

Funny Car _1. Jack Beckman, 126; 2. John Force, 94; 3. Matt Hagan, 86; 4. Alexis DeJoria, 67; 5. Robert Hight, 61; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., 56; 7. Ron Capps, 54; 8. Tim Wilkerson, 52; 9. Paul Lee, 34; 10. J.R. Todd, 33.

Pro Stock _1. Jeg Coughlin Jr., 130; 2. Jason Line, 94; 3. Erica Enders, 80; 4. Kenny Delco, 77; 5. (tie) Steve Graham, 52; Matt Hartford, 52; Chris McGaha, 52; 8. Fernando Cuadra Jr., 51; 9. Deric Kramer, 40; 10. Bo Butner, 36.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 21 2020
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