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Torrence Puts Brakes on Skid; Eyes Yet Another Top Fuel Title

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 24 2022

Steve Torrence’s hopes for a fifth-straight Top Fuel championship are still alive.

Steve Torrence has ended the second-longest victory drought of his NHRA pro career, launching a late-season bid to secure a fifth consecutive Top Fuel world championship.

Nine months removed from hoisting his most recent Wally Trophy, Torrence drove past eight-time Top Fuel world champ Tony Schumacher during Sunday’s finals of the 40th annual NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota.

Remarkably, the win was Torrence’s first since prevailing last November at the 2021 season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif.

Torrence’s 52nd career win may wind up among his personally most satisfying, as his dragster trailered fellow-Texan Schumacher in a showdown between two of the most dominant drivers in Top Fuel history.

Torrence’s second straight win at BIR propelled him past Justin Ashley and into third place in driver points with just one race remaining in NHRA’s “regular season,” before points are adjusted for the Countdown to the Championship Playoffs.

“We knew that if we kept putting ourselves in position that eventually we’d get another one of these little gold men to take back home to Kilgore,” said Torrence, referring to the NHRA hardware. “It’s amazing.  You get used to winning and then you have a year like this one and it puts everything in perspective.

“It’s not easy to win out here. But there’s nobody I’d rather be fighting the battle with than these Capco boys. They stuck with it and now it looks like maybe we’re peaking at just the right time.  I can’t wait to get into the Countdown and see if we can hurt some feelings. It’s gonna be fun.”

Funny Car’s Bob Tasca III also won at the 15th of 22 races during the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season.

It was the second final round in as many weekends for Torrence, who avenged last week’s loss to Antron Brown at Topeka, Kan., by winning a second-round pedal-fest against the three-time world champ.

As was the case in Topeka, traction was an issue at BIR all day as evidenced by Torrence’s winning times of 4.945-seconds and 5.400-seconds in Rounds 2 and 3, the latter enough to get past No. 1 qualifier and point-leader Brittany Force of John Force Racing.  In the final, Torrence powered past Schumacher’s dragster with a solid 1,000-foot pass in 3.866-seconds at 322.04 mph.

Torrence said that for a driver, patience is the key when dealing with traction issues. “When it starts smoking the tires, you have to let it settle down before you get back in the throttle, and that’s very hard to do,” Torrence said. “Your first instinct is to jump back on the gas. I’m just glad I was able to do my job a couple rounds to give Hoagie (Richard Hogan) and Bobby (Lagana Jr.) a chance to figure it out for the final.”

Torrence posted his ninth win in 11 final-round meetings with Schumacher, who returned to fulltime competition in 2023 after racing an abbreviated schedule the last two seasons. Torrence improved to 5-0 against Schumacher in eliminations this year, while also picking up his first win in four final-round appearances.

The win was the third in the last four Brainerd races for Team Capco, which prevailed in 2018 with Billy Torrence, Steve’s father and the founder/CEO of Capco Contractors. The elder Torrence made the most of his fourth appearance of the season by beating Austin Prock of JFR for his 100th round-win in Top Fuel.

Steve Torrence took out a ladder of standouts, including Salinas, Topeka winner Brown and 2016 world champ Force before facing Schumacher.

“We didn’t forget how to win but, dang, it sure felt like it,” Torrence said. “I have all the confidence and faith in the world in this team because that car is always bad to the bone. Maybe we’re getting our stuff together at the right time because we’re charging for that (fifth world title).

“A day like today is one you’re most proud of a driver. On days like today when the car doesn’t do quite what it’s supposed to do, you have to earn your keep as a driver. It’s wins like this you’ll always cherish and remember as a driver.”

Brit Force’s championship lead now stands at 94 points over Salinas.

Schumacher advanced to his second final in the past three races and 156th in his standout career via round-wins against Doug Kalitta, Josh Hart and Justin Ashley. The semifinals featured another pedal-fest between Schumacher and Ashley, with the 86-time winner relying on his two-plus decades of driving experience to set off the win light.

“Pedaling the car every single run, until the final round, it just kicks your butt,” said Schumacher, a three-time Brainerd event champion. “These cars are beautiful machines but violent as the day is long, and it was epic.

“Second round, we couldn’t even get our car to start. We didn’t even fire the thing up on nitromethane before we went up against Josh Hart. I thank him for waiting, he’s a class act. It was one of those things where you pretty much knew you and whoever you’re racing, you’re both going to smoke the tires so you’ve got to focus on what you’ve got to do; the track was so bald.

“Situational awareness is important. Understanding who you’re racing, understanding what the track is going to do, and what the car is more than likely going to provide for you, and being able to react to it is key to going rounds and reaching the finals on a day like today.”

In the final, Schumacher moved first and was charging before his machine started to haze the rear tires near the eighth-mile mark, allowing Torrence to pull ahead for the win.

“By the time we got to the final round I thought, ‘Man, if we can get down this track, we’re going to win it,’^” Schumacher said while debriefing with his Maynard Family Racing crew. “I swore at half-track, I thought we had it won. We were so far out and it started spinning the tires and I still thought, ‘No way two of us are going down this racetrack; it’s too hot, too slippery.’ But we got some good points this weekend and had a good run; we’re happy. I’m proud of my guys, they work so damn hard, it’s simply insane what they had to go through.

“We’ve got momentum, we’ve got a good car. We’re going to go back, go through our parts and get everything ready because the sole thing on our mind right now is winning Indy.”

Schumacher was referring to the prestigious Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals set for Aug. 31-Sept. 5 at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. The event will feature a unique points-and-a-half format. Schumacher returns to Indianapolis for the final event of NHRA’s “regular” season as a 10-time event winner _ most of any NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series competitor.

Funny Car’s Bob Tasca III continued his incredible summer run by winning his second straight race and third in the past four events. Tasca was the only driver in both nitro categories to make clean runs on every pass Sunday, finishing the final with a 1,000-foot lap in 3.945-seconds at 329.42 mph in his Ford Mustang against Ron Capps.

While most teams struggled during the second and third rounds, Tasca got better _ making four three-second runs to knock off Dale Creasy Jr., Chad Green and point-leader Robert Hight to reach the final.

Tasca, who now has advanced to the final round in five of the past six races, followed with another stout performance against two-time/reigning world champ Capps to win for the first time in Brainerd. With the Countdown to the Championship approaching, Tasca and his team appear to be peaking.

“I’ve said this many times but what we’ve done lately has been amazing,” Tasca said. “We’ve not backed into any win and performed at a high level throughout. This is incredible execution by the team, and I mean every single person. This team has performed flawlessly. The package we have is unlike anything I’ve ever had in my driving career. (My team) always has an answer and when that happens, as a driver you just have to go out and do your job.

“All weekend, I was fighting the car down the track. It was spinning and moving around. If you let it get out of the groove, it will spin the tires. Keeping it in the center of the groove is critical, especially today. I’m so proud of what we’ve done. We have a lot of unfinished business ahead of us and we’re all chasing the same trophy at the end of the year.”

Capps reached his 135th career final via wins against longtime rival and 16-time world champ John Force, Bobby Bode and Alexis DeJoria to stay third in points. Hight, a three-time world champion, maintained a comfortable point lead over fellow-three-time champ Matt Hagan of Tony Stewart Racing, while Tasca moved to fourth.

“This whole weekend at Brainerd was a lot of adversity,” said team-owner/driver Capps, a six-time Brainerd event champ. “We always talk about Brainerd being integral in a championship run because we’re into the Playoffs and the Countdown in just a couple of races. The thing about Brainerd is that it has such a great track surface and when conditions are great, you can throw anything at it as we saw in qualifying. And when it’s hot out like race day, you have to be savvy and that’s what Guido (Dean Antonelli) and (John) Medlen and our entire NAPA AutoCare group did all day long.

“We almost won and that would have been fantastic. This was a great, feel-good weekend for our team. You have to be Countdown-ready at Brainerd and I don’t care where you are in the points, you need to be ready for the Playoffs. We needed this.

“We’re going to Indy and I’ve never won that race. We have a great Toyota race car and a lot of confidence. For me as a driver, to get to drive this NAPA GR Supra, I can’t wait to get there to IRP.”

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Final finishing order (1-16) at the 40th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway. The race was the 15th of 22 events on the 2022 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series schedule:

Top Fuel _ Steve Torrence; 2. Tony Schumacher; 3. Justin Ashley; 4. Brittany Force; 5. Shawn Langdon; 6. Billy Torrence; 7. Antron Brown; 8. Josh Hart; 9. Clay Millican; 10. Krista Baldwin; 11. Leah Pruett; 12. Austin Prock; 13. Mike Salinas; 14. Doug Kalitta; 15. Scott Farley.

Funny Car _ 1. Bob Tasca III; 2. Ron Capps; 3. Alexis DeJoria; 4. Robert Hight; 5. Chad Green; 6. J.R. Todd; 7. Matt Hagan; 8. Bobby Bode; 9. Cruz Pedregon; 10. Dale Creasy Jr.; 11. John Force; 12. Steven Densham; 13. Blake Alexander; 14. Jim Campbell; 15. Tim Wilkerson.

Final Pro and Sportsman results from the 40th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at BIR:

Top Fuel _ Steve Torrence, 3.866-seconds, 322.04 mph def. Tony Schumacher, 3.942-seconds, 286.50 mph.

Funny Car _ Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.945, 329.42 def. Ron Capps, Toyota Supra, 4.007, 327.66.

Top Alcohol Dragster _ Shawn Cowie, 5.218, 276.75 def. Matthew Cummings, 5.282, 267.27.

Top Alcohol Funny Car _ Shane Westerfield, Chevy Camaro, 5.529, 265.53 def. Bob McCosh, Camaro, 6.117, 203.28.

Competition Eliminator _ Brett Speer, ’23-T Ford, 7.272, 180.67 def. Bruno Massel, Chevy Cobalt, 7.023, 195.17.

Super Stock _ Mike Mans, Pontiac Firebird, 8.807, 138.61 def. Wyatt Wagner, Chevy Camaro, 9.697, 133.50.

Stock Eliminator _Tracy Fairchild, AMX, 10.904, 110.79 def. Ron Feist, Ford Fairlane, Foul/Red Light.

Super Comp _Tony Leonard, Dragster, 8.903, 162.82 def. Craig Anderson, Dragster, 8.920, 188.12.

Super Gas _Trevor Larson, Chevy Camaro, 9.890, 164.69 def. Kevin Dyck, Chevy Corvette, 9.881, 171.34.

Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers _ Brian Antony, Dodge Avenger, 6.904, 199.79 def. Michael Chitty, Chevy Cavalier, 6.702, 196.59.

Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers _ Dylan Hough, Dragster, 6.823, 191.43 def. Anthony Bertozzi, Dragster, 7.197, 177.88.

Pro Modified _ Rickie Smith, Ford Mustang, 5.791, 250.92 def. Doug Winters, Chevy Chevelle, 5.997, 240.34.

Mountain Motor Pro Stock _ JR Carr, Chevy Camaro, 6.345, 221.05 def. John DeFlorian Jr., Camaro, Broke.

Pro Mod Snowmobile _ Robbie Lowe, Thunder Cat, 5.014, 134.52 def. Louie Wirbel, SRX, 5.081, 136.00.

D-Wagon Pro Mod Shootout _ Kris Thorne, Chevy Camaro, 5.762, 250.88 def. Steve Jackson, Camaro, 6.864, 126.85.

Final round-by-round results from the 40th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at BIR:

TOP FUEL

ROUND ONE _ Josh Hart, 3.710, 334.73 def. Scott Farley, 14.412, 36.59; Antron Brown, 3.688, 328.22 def. Clay Millican, 3.721, 327.51; Brittany Force, 3.646, 333.58 was unopposed; Justin Ashley, 3.720, 331.94 def. Krista Baldwin, 3.817, 319.52; Shawn Langdon, 3.760, 329.34 def. Leah Pruett, 3.822, 279.85; Steve Torrence, 3.755, 313.37 def. Mike Salinas, 5.286, 136.36; Tony Schumacher, 3.940, 292.27 def. Doug Kalitta, 5.349, 118.13; Billy Torrence, 4.050, 236.38 def. Austin Prock, 4.480, 237.21;

QUARTERFINALS _ Schumacher, 4.227, 201.16 def. Hart, 10.848, 78.57; Force, 4.394, 255.63 def. B. Torrence, 4.586, 213.40; S. Torrence, 4.945, 255.19 def. Brown, 5.335, 247.25; Ashley, 3.726, 330.63 def. Langdon, 3.807, 324.44;

SEMIFINALS _ S. Torrence, 5.400, 276.07 def. Force, 10.392, 66.09; Schumacher, 4.336, 226.32 def. Ashley, 4.936, 292.71;

FINAL _ S. Torrence, 3.866, 322.04 def. Schumacher, 3.942, 286.50.

FUNNY CAR

ROUND ONE _ Matt Hagan, Dodge Charger, 9.940, 71.63 was unopposed; Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.891, 330.63 def. Dale Creasy Jr., Charger, 3.967, 327.43; Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.874, 329.02 def. Steven Densham, Mustang, Foul/Red Light; Ron Capps, Toyota Supra, 3.931, 325.45 def. John Force, Camaro, 4.022, 284.99; Bobby Bode, Mustang, 3.931, 316.08 def. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.947, 322.65; Chad Green, Mustang, 3.975, 311.85 def. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 9.807, 99.47; J.R. Todd, Supra, 3.898, 327.90 def. Jim Campbell, Charger, 4.637, 181.57; Alexis DeJoria, Supra, 3.967, 299.80 def. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 4.241, 295.21;

QUARTERFINALS _ Capps, 8.539, 87.94 def. Bode, Broke; Tasca III, 3.945, 326.24 def. Green, 4.089, 284.15; Hight, 4.356, 284.27 def. Todd, 4.451, 221.16; DeJoria, 5.712, 229.31 def. Hagan, 6.187, 259.81;

SEMIFINALS _ Capps, 3.955, 329.99 def. DeJoria, Foul/Red Light; Tasca III, 3.926, 326.08 def. Hight, 4.646, 200.44;

FINAL _Tasca III, 3.945, 329.42 def. Capps, 4.007, 327.66.

Point standings (top-10) following the 40th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at BIR:

Top Fuel _1. Brittany Force, 1,206; 2. Mike Salinas, 1,112; 3. Steve Torrence, 1,076; 4. Justin Ashley, 1,070; 5. Josh Hart, 797; 6. (tie) Shawn Langdon, 761; Leah Pruett, 761; 8. Tony Schumacher, 703; 9. Doug Kalitta, 692; 10. Antron Brown, 668.

Funny Car _1. Robert Hight, 1,411; 2. Matt Hagan, 1,161; 3. Ron Capps, 1,105; 4. Bob Tasca III, 1,043; 5. John Force, 1,033; 6. J.R. Todd, 789; 7. Alexis DeJoria, 775; 8. Cruz Pedregon, 752; 9. Tim Wilkerson, 645; 10. Chad Green, 524.

Pro Stock _1. Erica Enders, 1,156; 2. Aaron Stanfield, 1,030; 3. Kyle Koretsky, 798; 4. Greg Anderson, 781; 5. Troy Coughlin Jr., 696; 6. Dallas Glenn, 668; 7. Mason McGaha, 604; 8. Camrie Caruso, 570; 9. Matt Hartford, 553; 10. Bo Butner, 528.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _1. Joey Gladstone, 724; 2. Angelle Sampey, 660; 3. Eddie Krawiec, 628; 4. Steve Johnson, 621; 5. Matt Smith, 615; 6. Angie Smith, 577; 7. Jerry Savoie, 541; 8. Karen Stoffer, 534; 9. Marc Ingwersen, 378; 10. Ryan Oehler, 298.

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 (1995) 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 includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, August 24 2022
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