If you’ve been following along with the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series over the past few years, the name Steve Torrence has been a constant at the top of the standings.
The Texas native dominated most of the 2017 season before an untimely wreck in Dallas derailed his championship hopes, allowing Brittany Force to steal the title under the six-race Countdown playoff format. Torrence and the Capco Contractors team retooled and returned with a vengeance in 2018, becoming the first-ever team to sweep the Countdown as they earned their first championship.
“I think as we go into the Countdown, every one of us has been seasoned and tested by fire,” Torrence explained. “We’ve been in the thick of the battle and come out on top, and we’ve been in the thick of the battle and come out on the bottom. But we know how to stand up and fight, and we know how to take the test when it’s time. We just need to go into the Countdown with that mindset of one round at a time, and try to hammer it out.”
Torrence’s 2018 playoff performance was so dominant, in fact, that it earned ESPY recognition. Torrence was one of four nominees for Best Driver, joining rarefied air in NHRA circles as just one of a handful of drag racers to even be in contention for the prestigious award.
“To be in with the likes of those people—Scott Dixon, Kyle Busch, Lewis Hamilton—those are some of the biggest names of any in motorsports,” he said. “To be able to say I was nominated for Best Driver, it’s unique to get that kind of recognition from the panel and from your fans. The NHRA really rallied behind us and did over and beyond what I expected to try and push us to the front, so that’s really neat.”
Overall, 2019 has been more of the same for the Capco boys. Surprisingly, of the five different drivers to win the first five races of the season, Torrence wasn’t one of them; in fact, his father Billy gave the family its first win of the year with a triumph at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. But at the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, Torrence scored his first win of the year, kicking off a dominant run of eight victories in nine races.
That hot streak enabled Torrence to secure a playoff spot in July at New England Dragway—a full two months before the start of the Countdown—and eventually enabled him to clinch the top seed. Nonetheless, two things remained the same despite the early clinch: the team’s focus on keeping itself at the front of the field, and Torrence’s willingness to give his crew all of the credit.
“Honestly, we don’t even really pay much attention—it really doesn’t change anything we do,” Torrence admitted. “It’s pretty cool—I think we were probably the first to do that so quickly, but we’ll look at that some other time. Right now it’s just worrying about keeping the momentum going.
“These guys, they give Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana the same car week in and week out. And I can’t say it enough: it’s not me, it’s them. They just picked up where we left off at the end of the year last year, and you can tell. They go above and beyond, and put in the long hours of work to make it happen.”
Focused as they are, Torrence and company also won’t have one nagging demon in the 2019 Countdown that they faced in 2018: the memory of their 2017 wreck at Texas Motorplex. Torrence’s crash forced the team to go to a backup car in Dallas, and it changed the whole complexion of their title chase. Last year, they avenged the heartbreak as Torrence scored his third win on the way to the title.
“It was bittersweet—we had mixed emotions going there,” he added. “I hadn’t been back there since having that wreck in ’17. You go back, you’re in the same position, going there and doing the same thing, and you just want a different outcome than what you had in ’17. Not only was that in my mind and heart, that was in each one of these boys’ minds and hearts. And we went there, and we did it.
“I’d never won at Dallas, at home, in the Top Fuel car, and we got it done. That was really a monkey off our back, and we were proud to be able to do it.”
This weekend’s Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway kicks off the 2019 playoff chase, and puts the team’s focus back on another Top Fuel title. But even nearly a year on, Torrence doesn’t want to spend too much time reflecting on last year, no matter how historic the result.
“I don’t even want to look at that—that’s for somebody else to look at and judge,” Torrence said of the significance of his perfect playoff run. “I think you can easily get too caught up in the glory of what we’ve been able to do, and get sidetracked. Ultimately, we’re here to win races and try to win championships. I think if you deviate from that, you’ll trip over yourself. So we don’t really look at all that stuff.
“I talked to these guys before the banquet last year, and just told them how thankful and grateful I was for them and everything we’ve been able to accomplish together as a team. To look back at what we did, we were creating history, and to carry that momentum into this year and have some of that same success has really just been the icing on the cake for everything.”