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Torrence Gets Big Win In ‘Big Daddy’ Rail

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 29 2020

Steve Torrence won the Gatornationals in a Don Garlits tribute dragster.

Driving a modern-day version of Don Garlits’ famed “Swamp Rat 14” dragster, Steve Torrence did “Big Daddy” proud with a victory over his daddy in the Top Fuel final of Sunday’s COVID-19-delayed 51st annual AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.

Garlits, 88, watched from the starting line at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway as Steve Torrence defeated father Billy in an all-Team Capco final. Steve Torrence, the two-time/reigning NHRA Top Fuel World Champion, ended a career of disappointment in Florida at the wheel of a tribute version of “Swamp Rat 14,” the Garlits-designed rear-engine dragster that revolutionized the class upon its debt in 1971.

Steve Torrence covered the 1,000-foot distance in 3.809-seconds/322.11 mph to edge his dad, who ran 3.810-seconds/320.74 mph after outqualifying his son for the first time this season. Steve Torrence now has won two-of-three finals contested between the two, ironically gaining the advantage at the same track on which Conrad and Scott Kalitta became the first father/son to reach an NHRA Top Fuel final in 1994.

Additionally, Torrence’s 39th national event victory propelled the 37-year Texan into the point lead for the first time this season. When qualifying begins Saturday for the 23rd annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., Torrence will lead Doug Kalitta by 22 points and Leah Pruett by 33. Billy Torrence sits fourth with four races remaining on an abbreviated 11-race Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

“To come out here and have the opportunity to run the ‘Swamp Rat 14’ and have (Garlits) here with us, it’s icing on the cake for anything you want to do,” Steve Torrence said. “We’ve got some good momentum and to be in the points lead, that’s just a testament to how hard (co-crew chiefs) Richard Hogan, Bobby Lagana and every one of these Capco Boys work.

“For my dad to go to the final round, both of us are doing well. We’ve just got to stay focused and concentrate on what the task at-hand is, and that’s trying to win a championship. These guys give me an unbelievable race car and you just try not to screw it up.”

Ron Capps (Funny Car), Alex Laughlin (Pro Stock) and Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won in their respective categories at the seventh race of the season and first outside the Indianapolis market since February. After resuming its season in July, the past four NHRA races had been contested at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in Clermont, Ind. The Gatornationals, NHRA’s traditional East Coast season-debut, were run in September for the first time in history after being postponed six months.

Until Sunday, Gainesville had been the only series track on which Steve Torrence had a losing record. He corrected that shortcoming with a semifinal win over Pruett that was payback for her hole-shot victory in the same round during the U.S. Nationals over Labor Day Weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway. In that race, Torrence posted an 0.037-second reaction time to Pruett’s 0.038 but still lost the round.

With Sunday’s victory, Team Capco now has won half the NHRA races contested over the last 41 months beginning with Steve’s win in the Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., on April 30, 2017. That’s 37 wins in 74 events including this year’s Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., in which neither Torrence participated.

Steve Torrence now is one step closer to becoming just the third driver in history to win three consecutive NHRA Top Fuel championships. That’s something not even the legendary Garlits accomplished during a career that led to his being voted the No. 1 driver during NHRA’s first 50 years.

As dominant as “Swamp Rat 14” was upon its debut, it did not carry Garlits to victory at the 1971 Gatornationals, a race won by Jimmy King after “Big Daddy” lost in the second round to eventual runnerup Sarge Arciero. The Garlits’ tribute car in which Torrence won on Sunday _ a car that will go into the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Fla. _ was created to celebrate Garlits’ storied career. Included was Garlits’ rivalry with the late Charlie “The King” Hogan, father of Torrence crew chief Richard Hogan, whom Garlits mentored early in his career and with whom he still remains close.

“Don, I just want to say thanks for giving us an opportunity to run your car and to just celebrate the greatness of Don Garlits,” Torrence said after winning his third race of the season. “I never won here at Gainesville before _ never even been to a final. But today, we had magic. We were racing ‘Big Daddy’s’ car and we got a win for ol’ Dom.” That was a reference to friend and Capco crewman Dom Lagana, who remains hospitalized with injuries suffered in a traffic accident last month.

In Funny Car, Capps bagged his fourth career win at Gainesville with a clutch performance, running the 1,000-foot distance in 3.937-seconds at 323.12 mph in his backup NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat to squeak past Tim Wilkerson’s 3.945 at 325.92. Don Schumacher Racing 10th straight Funny Car win was notched by Capps in a backup car after an explosion during his semifinal victory against DSR teammate Matt Hagan.

Led by crew chief Rahn Tobler, Capps’ team quickly got the backup car prepared. Capps, who also scored round-wins against John Smith and Alexis DeJoria, delivered his second victory of 2020 and 66th in his career.

“To be able to win four (Gatornationals) is pretty wild,” Capps said. “We put a spare car together that went out on its first full-run and went 3.93 and won the Gatornationals. To run that well and have it be in the final round of the Gatornationals, it’s unbelievable. Rahn had it perfect and I felt pretty good about it. The best part is keeping the streak alive for Don Schumacher Racing. The guys on this team bring out on the best in me, and those semifinals were a big round. We had to make points up and we came through.”

Wilkerson reached his first final this season and 45th in his career after by beating Terry Haddock, Tommy Johnson Jr. and Bob Tasca III. Championship-wise, DSR’s Jack Beckman maintains a four-point lead over Hagan.

Pro Stock’s Laughlin turned around his season by racing to his first victory of 2020 in his Havoline/Laughlin Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro with a quarter-mile run of 7.068-seconds at 204.76 mph against Aaron Stanfield. Laughlin’s first final of the season was payback for a crushing loss in the final at Gainesville over a year ago. The native Texan beat Kenny Delco, Kyle Koretsky and No. 1 qualifier Deric Kramer to reach the championship round before cruising to his fourth career win.

“After the first qualifier, I thought we were going to win the race this weekend,” Laughlin said. “This track has always been really good to me. I was amped (in the finals) and I just went nuts when I saw the win light come on. What a weekend. More than anything, I just needed that this year with how awful a year it’s been. We had a completely brand new crew this weekend and we were just trying to find a routine. Everything just paid off.”

Stanfield reached his first career final in Pro Stock via round-wins against Bo Butner, Cristian Cuadra and championship leader Jason Line, now two points ahead of three-time/reigning world champion Erica Enders.

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Matt Smith finished off a dominant weekend with his first win of the season aboard his Denso/Stockseth/MSR EBR, covering the quarter-mile in 6.843-seconds at 196.99 mph to beat six-time/reigning world champ Andrew Hines. The win gave Smith, the No. 1 qualifier, his 25th career victory while continuing a stretch that also saw him win the Mickey Thompson Pro Bike Battle at the most recent race.

Smith knocked off Kelly Clontz, John Hall and Scotty Pollacheck to reach the final before his wire-to-wire win against Hines. Smith also moved into the point lead with his first win at Gainesville, celebrating a special weekend that also saw his dad, Rickie, prevail in Pro Mod.

“I’ve tried since 2006 to win this race and I’ve never been able to do it,” said Matt Smith, a three-time world champion. “I’ve watched my dad do it a couple times and it means a lot to win it. I’ve always wanted to win Gainesville and leave with the points lead, and I was able to do it. Right now, I think Team MSR has the best team out here and we have the power to win this thing. We’ve just to keep everything together, but we have the power to win races and win a championship.”

Hines reached his 98th final with victories against Hector Arana Jr. and Harley-Davidson teammates Eddie Krawiec and Angelle Sampey.

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Working within approved state guidelines, Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex will host the 35th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals with up to 50 percent fan capacity. NHRA’s annual visit to Ennis, south of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, is scheduled for Oct. 14-18.

Texas continues to “re-open” during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic under updated guidelines issued by Gov. Greg Abbott. “Since late July, the spread of COVID has steadily and significantly declined (in Texas),” Abbott said during a recent news conference. Measures that went into effect one week ago allow 75 percent capacity for restaurants, office buildings, manufacturing facilities, museums, libraries and gyms. Bars, however, remain closed.

The Motorplex will be operating under standard COVID safety measures from the governor’s office and Ellis County health officials. 

“We will be encouraging fans to wear masks when social distancing isn’t an option,” Motorplex General Manager Andy Carter said in a release. “We have the advantage of 500 acres of outdoor space to host the NHRA FallNationals with our pits open to the public, which provides a lot of space for our fans to spread out and enjoying great racing action.

“I want to thank Governor Abbott and his staff for the support they have shown us since we started racing in May. We have had over a dozen events with fans and could not be more excited to host a national event for North Texas.” 

The Motorplex will provide masks for any fan needing one courtesy of TMS Titanium, and multiple hand sanitizing stations will be available throughout the property. The pit area will be reconfigured to allow more wide open traffic flow and behind the scenes access to NHRA’s professional competitors. 

“We are being very vigilant about health and safety concerns for our racers and our team members,” Carter said. “We have new racer and fan guidelines for the pit area. We are excited to get the pros back on one of the most historic race tracks in the country. We have been working towards this for months so the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series racers can race and our fans can have some fun while still being safe.”

For tickets and additional safety information, visit www.texasmotorplex.com or follow any of the Texas Motorplex social media channels.

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NHRA management and FOX Sports have announced a multi-year extension of their agreement to telecast all NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competitions across FOX, FS1 and FS2 well into this decade. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

“FOX is thrilled to extend our relationship with the NHRA as we enhance our coverage for drag racing fans,” said Mark Silverman, president, National Networks, FOX Sports. “The NHRA on FOX has achieved record audiences for the sport, and we look forward to working with the NHRA to continue to expand the audience and grow the sport beyond the middle of this decade.” 

The NHRA and FOX relationship began in 2016. The updated deal will see NHRA and FOX Sports continue collaboration in the production and telecasting of NHRA competition in the United States and Canada, including expanded coverage on the FOX broadcast network and FS1, an NFL adjacent event, and five hours of Finals coverage at the NHRA U.S. Nationals over Labor Day Weekend each year.

“The FOX broadcast team understands motorsports and consistently delivers an incredible production to racing fans across the globe,” NHRA President Glen Cromwell said. “With expanded coverage on the FOX broadcast network and FS1, and an NFL adjacent event, we think we’ll not only bring our fans the drag racing coverage they expect but also ignite entirely new NHRA fans over the next years.”

The multi-year extension continues FOX carriage of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, Lucas Oil Sportsman, and E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod Series on FS1 and FS2 and multiple encore telecasts of all events designed to enable motorsports fans to watch the NHRA at their convenience. The NHRA and FOX will each market advertisements in NHRA programming to NHRA national sponsors, race sponsors, and other advertisers.

Final results from the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway, seventh of 11 events in the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _Steve Torrence, 3.809-seconds, 322.11 mph def. Billy Torrence, 3.810-seconds, 320.74 mph.

Funny Car _ Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.937, 323.12 def. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 3.945, 325.92.

Pro Stock _Alex Laughlin, Chevy Camaro, 7.068, 204.76 def. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 14.002, 60.60.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ Matt Smith, EBR, 6.843, 196.99 def. Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson, 6.927, 194.63.

Pro Modified _ Rickie Smith, Chevy Camaro, 5.801, 249.63 def. Mike Janis, Camaro, 6.868, 127.14.

Top Fuel Harley _ Randal Andras, Harley, 6.272, 216.27 def. Chris Smith, Dixie, 6.317, 229.24.

Top Alcohol Funny Car _ Sean Bellemeur, Chevy Camaro, 5.463, 266.11 def. Doug Gordon, Camaro, 5.492, 267.16.

Point standings (top-10) following the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway:

Top Fuel _1.  Steve Torrence, 548; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 526; 3.  Leah Pruett, 515; 4.  Billy Torrence, 433; 5. Justin Ashley, 402; 6.  Shawn Langdon, 383; 7.  Terry McMillen, 377; 8.  Antron Brown, 373; 9. Clay Millican, 337; 10.  Doug Foley, 216.

Funny Car _1.  Jack Beckman, 569; 2.  Matt Hagan, 565; 3.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 512; 4.  Ron Capps, 486; 5.  Tim Wilkerson, 448; 6.  Bob Tasca III, 434; 7.  J.R. Todd, 420; 8.  Alexis DeJoria, 296; 9.  Cruz Pedregon, 266; 10.  Paul Lee, 258.

Pro Stock _1.  Jason Line, 515; 2.  Erica Enders, 513; 3.  Jeg Coughlin Jr., 481; 4.  Alex Laughlin, 359; 5.  Matt Hartford, 329; 6.  Greg Anderson, 323; 7.  Chris McGaha, 301; 8.  Aaron Stanfield, 284; 9.  Bo Butner, 281; 10.  Deric Kramer, 280.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1.  Matt Smith, 348; 2.  Scotty Pollacheck, 327; 3.  Andrew Hines, 320; 4.  Angelle Sampey, 300; 5. Eddie Krawiec, 284; 6.  Ryan Oehler, 237; 7.  Angie Smith, 198; 8.  Hector Arana Jr., 190; 9.  Chris Bostick, 181; 10.  Steve Johnson, 169.

REVISED REMAINING 2020 NHRA DRAG RACING SERIES SCHEDULE:

Oct. 2-4 _ Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Pennzoil, World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill.

Oct. 14-18 _ AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Ennis

Oct. 23-25 _ Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil, Houston Raceway Park, Baytown, Texas

Oct. 30-Nov. 1 _ Dodge NHRA Finals presented by Pennzoil, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, September 29 2020
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