With a third consecutive NHRA Top Fuel title hanging in the balance, Steve Torrence rolls his Capco Contractors dragster onto the all-concrete surface at the Texas Motorplex this week for the first of two back-to-back races in his home state that could determinine who hoists the trophy in the most bizarre championship chase in drag racing history.
Despite a legal battle between the NHRA and long-time series sponsor Coca-Cola that resulted in the latter’s mid-season exit from the sport, despite the cancelation of some of the biggest events in the series due to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite Torrence Racing’s absence from the season-opening Winternationals and despite the NHRA’s suspension of the traditional playoff system, the battle for this championship, whatever you call it, has been one of the most riveting in history.
Torrence, who has dominated the tour the last four years, winning a remarkable 31 races over that span, will lead veteran Doug Kalitta, considered by many to be the best driver who never won a championship, by a scant two points when qualifying begins Saturday in the 35th annual AAA Texas FallNationals.
Two points! And that’s after the 37-year-old Texan held off the driver of the Mac Tools dragster to win by just three points a year ago. In the eight races contested thus far in an abbreviated season, Kalitta has been to four final rounds, as has Torrence. Torrence has three wins, Kalitta has two and in head-to-head finals, they’re 1-1, Kalitta winning just two weeks ago in the Midwest Nationals at St. Louis.
“We’re looking forward to racing in front of friends and family,” Torrence said. “There’ll be a lot of those ‘Capco Boys’ out there supporting both me and my dad (Billy) along with our friends from the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation. Hopefully, that will give us a little edge ‘cause those Kalitta boys are tough as nails.”
Nevertheless, there is some dispute as to how much the home track advantage means given Torrence’s checkered history at the Motorplex where he has experienced both agony and ecstasy.
It was at the Texas track in 2017, with his first pro championship clearly in sight, that the Kilgore native was involved in the biggest crash of his career, one that destroyed his race car and, he admitted later, shook his confidence. The upshot is that he didn’t reach the semifinals in either of the season’s final two events as Brittany Force raced past him for the title.
Using the disappointment of 2017 as motivation, he returned a year later and left nothing to chance, qualifying second and beating Tony Schumacher and Terry McMillen in the final two rounds to win his first pro race at one of the two Texas tracks he calls home. It was his third win in what would be an unprecedented sweep of the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.
Last year, though, it was agony once again as he was upset by Shawn Reed in the first round. As a result, it will be Billy Torrence who rolls to the starting line Saturday as the defending Motorplex champion.
Significantly, the founder and CEO of Capco Contractors is the only driver who has beaten the reigning series champ on more than one time this season. In fact, in the last seven meetings, the elder Torrence is 4-3 against his son; 1-1 in final rounds.