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S. Torrence Looks for Chi-Town Rebound

Mark Rebilas photos

After a couple of uncharacteristic starts in a four-wide discipline he has dominated, four-time Top Fuel World Champion Steve Torrence will try to flip the script this week when the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series returns to a more traditional format for the 24th Gerber Collison and Glass Route 66 Nationals.

Despite qualifying issues in recent four-wide events at Las Vegas and Charlotte, the just-turned-41-year-old driver of the CAPCO Contractors Top Fuel Toyota will be among the favorites this week on the strength of a Route 66 Raceway track record (3.677 seconds) and victories in two of his last four Chicago appearances.

Coming off a second-place finish to Doug Kalitta in last year’s championship chase, the talented Texan started the season from the No. 2, No. 4 and No. 1 qualifying positions while twice reaching the semifinals.

However, in consecutive four-wide events, he was the No. 9 qualifier at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and No. 10 at ZMax Dragway in Charlotte, N.C., where he was bounced in the first round of a race he had won four times since 2016.

Qualifying outside the quick eight may not be that unusual for most drivers, but it is for Torrence, the only driver in history to have swept the races in NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship (2018). In fact, until the two most recent four-wide events, it had been eight years since he and his CAPCO boys had started back-to-back races without lane choice in the opening round. 

In 171 races from 2016 through this year’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Phoenix, the 54-time tour winner had qualified outside the quick eight on just five occasions.  Nevertheless, the former Top Alcohol Dragster World Champ (2005) insists that there is no cause for concern. 

“We were pretty aggressive (pushing the performance limits),” Torrence said of the last two events, “and when we didn’t get (the anticipated results), it put us behind the curve. We got better, but so did everybody else and we were always just a tick off the pace. Don’t think these CAPCO boys have lost their edge. They know the game better than anybody and we’re looking forward to Chi-Town.”

As has been the case all year long, Team CAPCO will send a pair of cars after the points, the cash and the Wally trophy at Route 66. Billy Torrence, the founder and CEO of CAPCO Contractors, again will be at the controls of a second Toyota dragster prepped by the crew chief tandem of Jason McCulloch and Joe Barlam.

Theirs actually was the better car at Charlotte where the elder Torrence made four solid qualifying runs to start fifth and reached the second quad to solidify his hold on fifth place in points, one position behind his son. An eight-time Top Fuel event winner who also has won at the national level in Super Comp, Billy will be making just his third appearance in Chicago where he lost in the first round in 2014 and the second in 2018.

For the first time this year, there will not be a CAPCO car in the Mission-backed #2Fast2Tasty Challenge, in which semifinalists from the previous event get a do-over with a chance to win bonus money and points applying to the Countdown.

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Qualifying begins Friday with Top Fuel sessions at 3:30 and 6 p.m., Texas time, and continues at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Eliminations begin at 11 a.m., Texas time, on Sunday.

This story was originally published on May 14, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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