Just a handful of races into the 2018 NHRA season, Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence is a man on a mission.
A career year last season saw the Texan win eight of the 24 races on the schedule, only to fall short of the championship in the final race of the year under the sport’s current points format. Without the season-ending playoffs, he’d have won the title by 149 points; instead, after Antron Brown eliminated him in the second round of the Auto Club NHRA Finals, it opened the door for Brittany Force to take the title.
But he’s lost none of the speed that made him the talk of Top Fuel last season, already taking two victories in the first four events of 2018. The first came over Scott Palmer in the Arizona Nationals in February; the second saw him defeat Brown, Doug Kalitta, and Tony Schumacher in Las Vegas’ first-ever four-wide NHRA event, just two weeks ago.
This week, he enters the SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway with a 33-point advantage over Schumacher, in the first of two races in his home state this year. He’ll do it with a family-owned squad that combines a home-track advantage with one of the most dominant records in the sport in recent years.
After leaving Tuttle Motorsports in 2011, Torrence Racing was born, with sponsorship from Capco Contractors, the company Torrence’s father (and part-time Top Fuel driver himself) Billy founded in 1995. In 2017, Team Capco either led or tied for the Top Fuel lead in wins, final rounds, round wins, and qualifying bonus points.
It’s an impressive record for any organization, especially one whose driver also has a full-time day job working for the company on the side of the dragster.
But while others might struggle to balance the challenges of running a race team, competing for championships in the cockpit, and working outside of the sport, anyone who knows Torrence’s story isn’t surprised by his character and resilience.
In 2000, Torrence was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, forcing him to step away from a budding racing career as he received chemotherapy and radiation treatment. After overcoming the disease, a victory he calls the “greatest of his life,” he resumed racing. But in 2016, the effects of the treatment caught up, and Torrence fought for his life a second time when he suffered a heart attack after a routine workout.
Doctors kept him out of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals after the medical emergency. The next year, he came back and won the final.
Beating two life-threatening challenges can have a way of taking the pressure out of other things, so perhaps it’s no surprise that 10 of Torrence’s 18 career victories have come since the start of last season. He’s even taken the wheel of Jim Beaver and Jolene Van Vugt’s Polaris RZR Star Car, joining Beaver and Brown for the iconic Mint 400 earlier this year despite the many differences between drag and desert racing.
For Torrence, it was just another challenge accepted. And given his record of conquering whatever’s placed in front of him, his first Top Fuel championship may be just over the horizon.