Two weeks after rivals began the 2020 drag racing season without him, Steve Torrence launches his bid for a third consecutive Mello Yello Top Fuel championship Friday with the start of qualifying for the 36th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
Because the 36-year-old Texan opted out of the season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., he’ll put his Capco Contractors hybrid on the starting line for the first time this year trailing Doug Kalitta, last year’s second place finisher, by a whopping 117 points. He’s 99 points behind last year’s rookie-of-the-year, Austin Prock, and 87 behind 2017 champion Brittany Force.
Nevertheless, that early deficit is just the kind of challenge likely to motivate the man who, just 15 months ago, made history by sweeping all six races in the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship.
With crew chiefs Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana Jr. directing a crew that has remained largely intact for four-plus seasons, Torrence has no doubt that the 11,000 horsepower dragster he’ll bring to the starting line Friday is capable of putting him back in an NHRA winners’ circle in which he has celebrated 28 times in the last three years.
“For me, one of the big things is that we’re probably more relaxed now because we know what we’re capable of doing,” he said. “Before we won (the 2018 championship), we thought we could do it, but we didn’t have the hardware to prove it.
“You look back at the success we’ve had the last three seasons and it’s a big confidence booster, especially for the pilot, the guy sitting in the cockpit,” said the only driver to have won NHRA championships in both the fuel and alcohol categories.
“As a team, I think our ability to stay focused and overcome obstacles has been the key,” he continued. “We’ve won the championship in two completely different ways and we overcame a lot of things both times. I’ve been pretty proud of how well we’ve handled whatever’s been thrown at us.”
Although Torrence struggled at Wild Horse Pass a year ago, qualifying only 14th and exiting in round one, it still was a great weekend for Team Capco with Billy Torrence driving the team’s “other car” to a victory that laid the foundation for his eventual fifth place finish in points. He’ll be back to defend this week.
Meanwhile, despite the early deficit, few would be surprised to see the younger Torrence back at the podium this fall.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t continue to do well, but to win a championship, everything has to fall into place,” said the 36-time tour winner. “It’s a difficult thing to do just one time and it gets more difficult when you’re trying to win a second time because you’ve got a target on your back. And now we’re trying for a three-peat.
“The goal,” Torrence emphasized, “is to try and be as perfect as possible. That has to become a habit and that’s why we race just as hard in the regular season as we do in the Countdown. Our mindset is to win every race.”