Steve Torrence is known to save his best for last, especially last drag races, which is why the four-time World Champion and his CAPCO Contractors Top Fuel Toyota are on everyone’s radar this week as Heartland Motorsports Park plays host for the 34th and final time to the Menard’s Nationals presented by Pet Armor.
It’ll be the eighth time in his pro career Torrence has raced in a venue’s final NHRA tour event, the third time he’s done so this year alone.
In the previous seven, he won more rounds than any other racer in any pro category (18), won 75% of the two-car heats in which he was involved, and never failed to at least reach the semifinals.
Combine that stellar record with his recent history at Heartland Park – runner-up last year to close friend Antron Brown, a 2019 victory over his dad, Billy, in an all-CAPCO final round, and six straight semifinal appearances, and it’s easy to see why the spotlight shines so brightly this week on the 40-year-old Texan and his “CAPCO boys.”
“The biggest thing is that we’ve finally got a car again that responds to what Hoagie (crew chief Richard Hogan) and Bobby (Lagana Jr.) tell it to do,” Torrence said. “We won four championships on consistency, and that’s what we’re getting back to, being able to make the adjustments that give us the best chance (for success) whatever the conditions are.”
Victorious last month at Seattle and winner of the last two episodes of the Mission Foods/US 2Fast/2Tasty Challenge, which features the semifinalists from the previous Camping World tour event, Torrence will start the qualifying process trailing Justin Ashley by a mere 32 points. That the 54-time tour winner still is in contention for his fifth regular season Top Fuel championship is directly attributable to the team’s enhanced consistency.
Even though Ashley has won five times and Torrence but once, Team CAPCO never has slipped further than second in points, and its driver has been atop the standings after just as many races as his chief rival.
“Like I’ve said, the only time it’s important to lead the standings is on November the 13th – after the (In-N-Out) Finals,” Torrence said. “Right now, whatever happens, you know the pencil-pushers are gonna redo the points after Indy, and then it’s just a six-race shootout to the championship with a whole lotta teams in the mix – not just mine and Justin’s.”
Menard’s Nationals qualifying begins with a single nitro session at 8 p.m., Texas time on Friday. Saturday’s 3 p.m. Top Fuel qualifying session will be followed at 3:20 p.m. by the first round of the 2Fast/2Tasty Challenge with Torrence facing off against Brown on one side of the ladder and Ashley opposing Josh Hart on the other. Final round of the Challenge will follow the final qualifying session at 5:30 p.m., Texas time. Sunday eliminations begin at 11 a.m., Texas time.
In addition to his 2019 Top Fuel win at Heartland Park, Torrence won twice at the Topeka track in 2005 en route to the Lucas Oil Series Top Alcohol Dragster World Championship. He is the only driver to have won NHRA championships in both the Top Fuel and Top Alcohol categories.