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Torrence, Kalitta Pick Up Top Fuel Fight In Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 16 2020

Doug Kalitta takes on rival Steve Torrence in a Top Fuel top matchup at the Motorplex this weekend. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

ENNIS, Texas – NHRA Top Fuel protagonists Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta are delivering a degree of normalcy, albeit at 300-plus mph, to an NHRA season severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Torrence, the two-time/reigning world champion from Kilgore, has fashioned a two-point (642-640) lead over Kalitta heading into professional qualifying Saturday at 12:30 and 4:45 p.m. (CDT) for the 35th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex. Recall that Torrence won the 2019 championship by three points over Kalitta after a 24-race grind that included a six-event Countdown to the Championship playoff.

In contrast, Sunday’s eliminations on International Drag Racing Hall of Famer Billy Meyer’s all-concrete racing surface will cap Race No. 9 of a revised/realigned 11-event schedule that began during the pre-COVID innocence of early February.

In addition to losing more than half of its original schedule to the pandemic, 16-time Funny Car world champion John “Brute” Force _ arguably drag racing’s marquee personality _ opted to park his four-car juggernaut (two in Funny Car/two in Top Fuel) once racing resumed in mid-July. 

NHRA management since has imposed two reductions in prize money payouts in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle. Meanwhile, a legal battle between the California-based sanctioning body and corporate partner Coca-Cola resulted in Mello Yello’s exit as series title sponsor. The rebadged NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series was introduced mid-race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., two weeks ago.

“It has been a crazy year. Nothing has been left unscathed,” said Kalitta, 56, nephew of 82-year-old team-owner/drag racing icon Conrad “Connie” Kalitta. “What an election year, that’s all I can say. The 24 events down to 11, I mean, that’s a big change. But my motivation level is real high. I love drag racing, I love everything about it. I’m just fortunate that the NHRA is seeing their way through all of this. The drivers and owners are pulling together the best we can under the circumstances.”

Torrence’s weird season has seen him compete in one fewer race (seven) than Kalitta. Torrence began defense of his title by skipping the season-opening Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., while attempting to settle “unresolved issues” with NHRA over a disciplinary action stemming from the 2019 season-finale.

“This has been a crazy situation for everyone,” said Torrence, a 37-year-old cancer survivor. “That lead doesn’t really matter. But it goes to say we’ve been more consistent and more strong because we’ve got one less race than everybody.”

Kalitta’s final-round victory over Torrence on Oct. 4 in Madison, Ill., outside St. Louis, ended a mild slump, shaved 20 points off Steve’s lead and basically saved Doug’s relentless pursuit of a first Top Fuel title.

“Yeah, that definitely helped immensely,” said Kalitta. “The last few races we’d lost ground so I was very relieved to win that thing, recover the points we lost and we’re hoping to get ahead of Steve at the end of Dallas. I mean, it’s the end of the season and it’s a matter of going out there and beating those guys.

“Steve and his family are a great family, a great racing family, and we’d love to beat them this year. I’ve been second more times (five) than I’d like to admit. The championship is definitely still a goal of mine, way up on the list of things I’d like to accomplish. I’ve got a great opportunity this year, it’s just a matter of putting it altogether on Sunday. Our organization has put a lot into making it just as good as we possibly can. Obviously Connie, he’s been racing forever. Sixty-one years and he’s still out there doing his thing, which is cool.”

Torrence is well-aware of Michigan-based Kalitta Motorsports’ place in NHRA history and Doug’s desire to add to its championship legacy.

“I’ve said it multiple times _ Doug Kalitta is probably the best driver never to win a championship,” said Torrence. “I have a ton of respect for him. Not only is he a great race car driver, he’s just a great guy and somebody that I’ve watched my whole life. I remember all the times they’d get there and just don’t quite get it done. Whether it’s me or the next guy it’s probably very disheartening and frustrating to him.

“But we’re racing just as hard as they are for a championship and we don’t want to relinquish any of that either. This one here, if we can get it done, it’ll be three in a row. That’s a feat not many have been able to accomplish.”

Indeed, a third consecutive championship would allow Torrence _ winner of 31 races over the last four years _ to join Top Fuel legends Joe Amato and Tony Schumacher in an exclusive club.

“So, we’re going to fight Doug tooth-and-nail to the end,” Torrence said, “if it’s to the end of the earth or wherever.”

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Point standings (top-10) following the ninth annual Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals presented by Pennzoil at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., eighth of 11 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series:

Top Fuel _1.  Steve Torrence, 642; 2.  Doug Kalitta, 640; 3.  Leah Pruett, 562; 4.  Billy Torrence, 506; 5. Terry McMillen, 436; 6.  Justin Ashley, 433; 7.  Antron Brown, 425; 8.  Shawn Langdon, 415; 9. Clay Millican, 347; 10.  Tony Schumacher, 234.

Funny Car _1.  Matt Hagan, 659; 2.  Jack Beckman, 643; 3.  Tommy Johnson Jr., 625; 4.  Ron Capps, 527; 5.  Tim Wilkerson, 480; 6.  J.R. Todd, 473; 7.  Bob Tasca III, 465; 8.  Alexis DeJoria, 375; 9.  Paul Lee, 319; 10.  Cruz Pedregon, 303.

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Point standings (top-10) following the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway. Finals from the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Midwest Nationals in Madison, Ill., will be completed during the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis:

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.

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REVISED REMAINING 2020 NHRA SCHEDULE:

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 Friday, October 16 2020
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