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Top Fuel Ace Torrence Honored In Kilgore

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, December 3 2021

Steve Torrence became a 50-time winner in 2021. And a winner of four-straight championships in Top Fuel.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

As might be expected, the pace of holiday traffic is especially brisk along “Steve Torrence Way” in Kilgore, Texas.

City officials have recognized their native son by temporarily renaming Kilgore Street in honor of NHRA’s record-tying/four-time Top Fuel world champion.

Mayor Ronnie Spradlin presented Torrence one of four red-and-white “Steve Torrence Way” street signs commissioned for the occasion during a ceremony on Saturday. For the second time in four years, Torrence, served as Grand Marshal of the city’s annual Christmas Parade on Tuesday.

Three additional “Steve Torrence Way” signs were placed along the parade route at the corners of Danville and Kilgore, Kilgore and Main and Kilgore and Kay streets, where they will remain until the end of the year.

“Each and every championship has its own uniqueness and this one was the most difficult,” said Torrence, who won 11 of 20 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series national events this season. “The competition just continues to strengthen. Brittany Force really brought on the pressure at the end of the year. And I think the more you win, the more success you have, the more people gun for you. So to win four championships, much less four consecutively, makes it more difficult.

“We’ve been able to keep the momentum going, keep the team and the car and everything moving in the right direction. To have the success we’ve had, it’s just hard work from these guys because every year that target gets bigger and people are gunning for you even more. So it’s not any more or less special but it’s definitely probably more difficult.”

Torrence is the first professional driver in any NHRA class to win more than half the races in the series since seven-time Top Fuel world champion Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher did so in 2008. As a result, Steve is just the seventh driver in NHRA history to win as many as four straight pro championships, joining Schumacher; Funny Car icons John “Brute” Force, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Kenny Bernstein and Pro Stock stars Bob Glidden and Lee Shepherd.

People have asked me what I think about what this Capco team has done,” Torrence said, “and I’ve told them it isn’t about what we’ve done, it’s about what we still want to do. Fifty-one Top Fuel race wins and four world championships are incredible, but we’re not done yet. There will be plenty of time to look back and reflect on our accomplishments after we’re done racing. I can’t wait to get started again in 2022.”

As announced in mid-October, “them Capco Boys” are going corporate. Torrence Racing will join Team Toyota beginning with the 2022 season. The additions of Steve and teammate/father Billy Torrence will expand Toyota’s nitro-powered partnerships to include five Top Fuel dragsters and two Funny Cars. 

“It’s just the right situation, the right opportunity, the right fit. Mainly the right fit,” Torrence said during a post-season interview. “The way the company works _ just the passion and the family environment Toyota brings _ is something we wanted to be part of. There’s so much alike between Torrence Racing and Toyota in the background that people don’t get to see and people don’t realize. When you do get to see a glimpse of that, it’s really special.

“I got to see a glimpse of that earlier in the year and I said, ‘We want to be part of that, that fits us, that’s who we are’ and I respect that.”

Torrence said he believes the on-track information Toyota provides its teams will be “invaluable.”

“I mean, having someone out there all day, every day, collecting data, analyzing it and relaying that to the teams is one of the biggest benefits to us,” Torrence said. “We do have a guy that we’re doing that with now, but he also has multiple jobs on the car and the team so it’s not dedicated solely to that.

“And then just recognition. When you partner yourself with someone like Toyota, they’re one of the biggest. We’ve been very selective about who we partner with _ Red Line Oil, Mac Tools and now Toyota. And so we have the luxury and are blessed and fortunate enough to be able to choose who we partner with. Toyota will definitely be another feather in our cap.”

Over the last five seasons, Torrence has won a remarkable 43 of 101 tour events. Billy Torrence has eight wins during that same period running a partial schedule. Steve said no decision has been made as far as an increased schedule for his 63-year-old father, or the addition of a fulltime teammate in 2022.

We’ll assess that as it goes,” Steve said. “He’s (Billy) done really well. I told him he’s dropped the ball on me a couple times this year with those hole shots but definitely pulled one out when we needed and it made us look good.”

Steve Torrence secured his fourth title with a first-round win over upset-minded Brandon Welch at the 56th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., on Nov. 14. That victory ended the title chances of Brittany Force, the 2017 world champ and only driver with a mathematical shot of overtaking Torrence. Billy Torrence stepped-up two pairs of cars later when he trailered Force, of John Force Racing.

“We did win the championship by winning that first round,” Steve said. “But when you have that matchup _ when it’s your team car against the championship contender (Force) and that guy is able to take them out _ It puts an exclamation point on where we stand and the power that we do have as Torrence Racing and as the Capco Boys. You don’t ever want to win and just get by with the skin of your teeth. You always want to dominate and leave no doubt and that was something I felt like was just the exclamation point on winning the championship, winning the race and going head-to-head and taking that team out.”

Torrence remains the only driver in NHRA history to have swept the six races of the NHRA Countdown to the Championship playoffs (2018). Steve’s victory in the 2021 season-ender at Pomona raised his national event total to 51 Wally trophies _ and a reluctance to discuss his legacy.

“Hey man, I never have really looked at that,” Steve said. “You start looking at those things and you see how difficult it is to amass 51 wins and four championships and you look at guys like…I talked to Greg Anderson and he has 99 wins and five (Pro Stock) championships.

“You do the math and look at how many race wins we have as opposed to championships and how long we’ve been out here doing it. I think I saw a stat where we won 43 races in the last five seasons. I don’t want to look at that and get caught up in it because when you’re looking behind you it’s hard to focus on going forward. I think you look at a dynasty or a legacy or whatever you want to call it when you’re done and you can say, ‘Man, look at what we did.’^”

Torrence and wife Natalie are parents of a 9-month-old daughter, Haven Charli.

“Being a dad is the greatest thing ever…you make time for that,” Steve said. “That’s the No. 1 priority in my life right now and I’m so thankful for my wife because I get to enjoy the fun parts and she has to do all the work.

“As time has gone by and we’ve gotten the team that we have _ this group of guys has been together ever since 2013 _ the load that Bobby Lagana and Dom (Lagana) and Richard Hogan takes off me allows this to be something I can check on a couple times through the week, my dad checks on a couple times through the week and we’re just the support system for one of the best teams ever.

“It allows me to focus on work (at Capco Contractors), come to the racetrack and completely unwind, knowing there’s pressure and stress and high-intensity situations where we’re racing for race wins or championships. But that’s the only thing I’m focused on because the guys at Capco are taking care of stuff.”

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Ron Capps’ post-season exit from Don Schumacher Racing has reduced that one-time NHRA juggernaut to an army of one.

Capps, who clinched his second Funny Car world championship at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., on Nov. 14, confirmed his rumored exit from DSR via a social media post on Nov. 19. 

“It’s been an incredible 17 years,” Capps said in the post. “I went there to join my buddy (Gary) Scelzi and have had the best teammates and sponsors throughout the years I could ever ask for. There is a lot of NHRA Wallys scattered throughout the house and we’ve raised a lot of NHRA championship banners up at the DSR shop.

“The best part though, without question, has been the people I’ve been lucky enough to be around for the last 17 years. From Don Schumacher and his wonderful family, management, our great people at the track with us, the front office group, the hospitality people, the fab shop and of course all the team members past and present and their families. Thank you everyone at DSR for an incredible ride.”

Capps hinted at his impending career change during a television interview moments after clinching his second Funny Car title at ACR. A major announcement concerning his future is expected during the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Show in Indianapolis on Dec. 9. NHRA’s second-winningest Funny Car driver with 68 victories, Capps apparently will remain sponsored by NAPA Auto Parts, his primary backer since 2008.

A 56-year-old resident of Carlsbad, Calif., Capps won his first championship with DSR in 2016. This title was a first for the newly-formed Capps-Dean Antonelli-John Medlen trio, who began working together in January 2020 after Rahn Tobler announced his retirement ahead of the 2021 season.

That group guided Capps to two national event wins, three runnerup finishes and four poles in 2021. Capps also advanced to the semifinals or beyond 11 times in 20 events, led the category in round wins (36) and held the point lead five times throughout the year, including on three occasions during the expanded seven-event Countdown to the Championship.

Antron Brown, a three-time Top Fuel world champion, will field his own team (with DSR support) in 2022. In addition, three-time Funny Car world champ Matt Hagan and Top Fuel regular Leah Pruett have joined three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Tony Stewart Racing’s start-up NHRA organization.

Those moves currently leave DSR as a one-car team featuring the return of seven-time NHRA Top Fuel world champion Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher, Don’s son.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

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Final 2021 Countdown to the Championship point standings (top-10) following the 56th annual Auto Club NHRA Finals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif.:

Top Fuel _1. Steve Torrence, 2,873; 2. Brittany Force, 2,637; 3. Mike Salinas, 2,614; 4. Justin Ashley, 2,556; 5. Billy Torrence, 2,498; 6. Antron Brown, 2,427; 7. Leah Pruett, 2,401; 8. Clay Millican, 2,384; 9. Shawn Langdon, 2,310; 10. Doug Kalitta, 2,290.

Funny Car _ 1. Ron Capps, 2,676; 2. Matt Hagan, 2,639; 3. Bob Tasca III, 2,586; 4. Cruz Pedregon, 2,555; 5. John Force, 2,543; 6. Alexis DeJoria, 2,526; 7. J.R. Todd, 2,498; 8. Robert Hight, 2,478; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 2,361; 10. Jim Campbell, 2,238.

Pro Stock _ 1. Greg Anderson, 2,752; 2. Erica Enders, 2,645; 3. Dallas Glenn, 2,575; 4. Kyle Koretsky, 2,532; 5. Aaron Stanfield, 2,415; 6. Troy Coughlin Jr., 2,393; 7. Mason McGaha, 2,378; 8. Chris McGaha, 2,361; 9. Matt Hartford, 2,353; 10. Deric Kramer, 2,311.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Matt Smith, 2,721; 2. Angelle Sampey, 2,590; 3. Steve Johnson, 2,586; 4. Eddie Krawiec, 2,511; 5. Karen Stoffer, 2,499; 6. Scotty Pollacheck, 2,407; 7. Angie Smith, 2,327; 8. Joey Gladstone, 2,267; 9. Andrew Hines, 2,259; 10. Ryan Oehler, 2,230.

FINAL 2021 COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE/PROFESSIONAL WINNERS

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa. Billy Torrence (Top Fuel); Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 19 _zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C. Josh Hart (Top Fuel); Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car); Kyle Koretsky (Pro Stock); Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel); Matt Hagan (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock).

Sunday, Oct. 10 _ Texas Motorplex, Ennis. Justin Ashley (Top Fuel); Ron Capps (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Oct. 17 _ Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway. Mile Salinas (Top Fuel); Alexis DeJoria (Funny Car); Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Oct. 31 _ The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel); Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car); Dallas Glenn (Pro Stock); Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Nov. 14 _ Auto Club Speedway, Pomona, Calif. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel); Bob Tasca III (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, December 3 2021
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