With a battle-hardened crew of CAPCO boys at his back and a potent Top Fuel Toyota beneath him, Steve Torrence hopes to take a giant first step toward his fifth Top Fuel World Championship this week when he competes in the 38th Pep Boys Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway.
The No. 1 qualifier at two of the last three events leading into the NHRA playoffs, including the Labor Day U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., the 40-year-old Texan is cautiously optimistic about an event he has won only one time in his career (2018).
“One thing we know is that it’s going to be fast and quick,” the 54-time tour winner said of a track on which Brittany Force set the current NHRA national record (3.623 seconds) in 2019.
“When you come to Reading, if you don’t bring a big stick, you’re going home real quick,” he said. “We’re coming into fall, the air’s starting to get cooler, and these hot rods, they really like to run in cool air. We’ll just have to see how low we can go.”
Although he won just once during a highly-competitive, 15-race regular season, Torrence starts the six-race Countdown as the No. 2 seed. When qualifying begins Friday, he’ll be 30 points behind Justin Ashley and a handful ahead of close friend and fierce rival Antron Brown, to whom he lost in the final round at Indy.
“It is what it is,” Torrence said of the Countdown. “It doesn’t make any difference what happened in the regular season, if you can’t bring it for the playoffs, it’s gonna be a long winter. These CAPCO boys know the drill, and there’s nobody else I’d want behind me going into this fight.”
Although his distaste for the Countdown format is well-documented, Torrence has learned how to play the game. He is the only driver in any pro category to have swept the races in the Countdown, which he did in 2018 en route to his first title.
In addition, he is second in Countdown Top Fuel race wins with 13 and last year extended to seven the number of consecutive seasons in which he has won at least one Countdown race. That’s the sport’s longest active streak.
Torrence begins his quest in a pair of Friday qualifying sessions (2 p.m. and 5 p.m., Texas time) in which he will be trying to coax his CAPCO Contractors entry to its first No. 1 start at the Pep Boys Nationals. Qualifying highlight show No. 1 at 10:30 pm ET, Friday followed by a Sunday qualifying wrap-up at 12:30 pm ET, both on FS1. Coverage of final eliminations on FOX broadcast network beginning Sunday at 4:30 pm ET. Check local listings for possible NFL football conflicts.