Back in the points lead and with a win under his belt heading into this weekend’s 35th annual Denso NHRA Sonoma Nationals at Sonoma Raceway, Top Fuel standout Steve Torrence is in an ideal situation.
He had put together a consistent season up until last weekend, sitting second in points, but didn’t have a victory to show for it. That changed in Seattle with an impressive performance that netted him an event win – his first in 13 races – as well as a victory in the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge bonus event.
While the points lead stands at just four points over Justin Ashley heading into the final race of the Western Swing, Torrence is thrilled with the continual progress his team has made on their 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors/Toyota dragster. Already a two-time winner at picturesque Sonoma Raceway, a third victory would further propel Torrence in the right direction as he gears up for the Countdown to the Championship and a run at a fifth world title.
“I don’t think (the car) is as good as it can be, but it’s definitely moving in the right direction,” Torrence said. “We just need to continue moving things forward, but I think right now we have a really good race car.”
Brittany Force (Top Fuel), Bob Tasca III (Funny Car) and Joey Gladstone (Pro Stock Motorcycle) won the 2022 event, and this year’s race will be broadcast on both FOX and Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including eliminations coverage starting at 1 p.m. PT on Sunday, July 30 on FOX. It is the 12th of 21 races during the 2023 season and Sonoma Raceway has consistently been good to Torrence, especially in recent seasons.
He last won at the popular facility in 2021 and Torrence appears to be rounding into championship form at an ideal time. But it’s not as though the 54-time event winner was far off, putting together three final-round appearances and four berths in the semifinals leading into Seattle.
The consistency helped Torrence stay high in the points, but the search for wins continued. The team didn’t show any complacency, continuing to move forward and performing at a high level in Seattle. It has Torrence excited for Sonoma, where he will take on the likes of defending event winner Force, who set a series of track records last year, Ashley, Antron Brown, Leah Pruett, Austin Prock, Mike Salinas and Seattle runner-up Doug Kalitta.
Torrence will also take on Shawn Langdon in Sonoma as part of the Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge bonus race on Saturday, while the other matchup features Kalitta and Clay Millican.
“Sometimes, you just need to take a step back and acknowledge how blessed you are to be able to do what you do with great partners, but I’d be lying if I told you (the winless streak) hasn’t been stressful,” Torrence said. “To drive one of these things successfully, you have to be confident and that’s hard to do when things aren’t going great.
“It’s not like we were lost. These CAPCO boys have given me a competitive car all year, but we just couldn’t seem to put everything together at the same time – until Seattle.”
In Funny Car, Bob Tasca III claimed the victory last season, beating the legendary John Force in the final round. He’ll face off against the likes of points leader Matt Hagan, back-to-back world champ Ron Capps, Cruz Pedregon, Seattle winner Tim Wilkerson, Alexis DeJoria and J.R. Todd.
Sonoma fans will also see exciting Pro Stock Motorcycle action all weekend, including the first appearance at the facility from current points leader Gaige Herrera, who is looking to sweep the Western Swing. The field also includes defending world champ Matt Smith, Hector Arana Jr., Eddie Krawiec, Steve Johnson and Angie Smith.
The category will also get the spotlight on Saturday with the Pro Stock Motorcycle All-Star Callout, pitting eight top riders against each other in a unique specialty race. The first seed will get the chance to select his opponent, followed by the second seed until all matchups are set in the exciting shootout race. The first-round selections will be made on the starting line at 7:45 p.m. PT on Friday.
The event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, featuring some of the top drivers in the sport. The weekend includes the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League Shootout, Street Legal and Top the Cops exhibitions as well, along with autograph sessions at the Toyota and Mission Foods Midway Displays. Pro Stock Motorcycle autograph sessions will take place at the Suzuki Display, while a special kids-only autograph session takes place at 2:30 p.m. on Friday under the main grandstands.
Race fans at Sonoma Raceway can enjoy the special pre-race ceremonies that introduce and celebrate each of the drivers racing for the prestigious Wally on Sunday and includes the fan favorite SealMaster Track Walk. The final can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes, where fans are invited to congratulate the Sonoma event winners.
Fans are invited to the Nitro Alley Stage all weekend, which will help create a festive atmosphere leading into Nitro Alley. The Nitro Alley Stage will be the main entertainment hub in the pits when the Camping World Drag Racing Series competitors are not on the track, hosting Nitro School, meet and greets and much more. As always, fans get a pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. Fans can see their favorite teams in action and servicing their hot rods between rounds, get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers, and more. They can also visit NHRA’s Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create an exciting atmosphere that includes interactive displays, merchandise, food, and fun.
NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:30 and 7 p.m. PT on Friday, July 28 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 29 at 12:40 and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. PT on Sunday, July 30. Television coverage includes qualifying action on FS1 at 12 p.m. ET on Saturday, 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, and then eliminations on FOX at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday.
The first round of the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle All-Star Callout takes place at 12:30 p.m. PT, with the semifinals at 2:15 p.m. and the finals at 3:40 p.m. It will be broadcast at 10 p.m. ET on FS1.