Despite conditions being “hotter’n donut grease,” Steve Torrence’s Top Fuel career came full circle Sunday with his Virginia NHRA Nationals victory.

The Texan earned his career 20th Wally trophy in his 200th race since debuting at this very track in 2006, driving Dexter Tuttle’s dragster.

Along with this fourth victory of the season for the Capco Contractors Dragster team and first at Virginia Motorsports Park, it marked the start of a team tradition: wearing authentic Resistol-brand cowboy hats.   

“This is one of the best racetracks I’ve ever been down. This thing’s like glass. You go out through there, it’s so smooth. It’s too bad it was sweltering while we were here racing, because I think you could have seen some really good numbers,” Torrence said.

“I enjoyed coming back here. This was my 200th race, but this is where every bit of it started back in 2006. It was an eerie feeling, coming out underneath the tower. Really, I hadn’t gotten nervous in a long time driving one of these things. I came out and all those emotions came back, looking up there and seeing those same grandstands. I had put this place out of mind and forgot about it. You couldn’t have scripted it any better,” he said.   

About a month or two ago, the Brownsburg, Ind.-based team came down to Kilgore, Texas, to visit Torrence for a week. And, he said, “they all decided they wanted to be bull riders.” Torrence took them over to Tyler, Texas, to visit his buddy, professional bull rider Robson Palermo. Said Torrence, “They changed their minds real quick after the first guy rode. They said, ‘Nah, this is a terrible idea. But we do need cowboy hats.’”

Torrence called the folks at the famous cowboy-hat company Resistol. “The lady there was so gracious to send us cowboy hats,” he said. She asked in what shape he wanted the company to form the hats. He told her, “You just shape ‘em, because these guys don’t know that they even have a shape. They’d want a round dome and a flat [brim], like they’re in the 1880s.” Instead of distributing the hats among the crew members, they decided to keep them boxed up until they recorded their next victory.

So when Torrence defeated Doug Kalitta with a 3.812-second elapsed time at 322.96 mph to the Mac Tools Dragster driver’s 3.844, 309.56, on the 1,000-foot course at North Dinwiddie, Va., just south of Richmond, they broke out their new hats. And they whooped it up in the winners circle, which they shared with Courtney Force (Funny Car), Tanner Gray (Pro Stock), and L.E. Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

His victory margin was .0146 seconds, or about seven feet (about one-fourth of the length of a dragster). But his lead in the standings expanded from 25 points to 108 over No. 2 Clay Millican.

Torrence began the weekend trying desperately to hold off Millican and protect his 130-point edge over No. 3 Leah Pritchett. He had his eye on No. 4 Tony Schumacher, the top qualifier this weekend who was trying to make up a 134-point deficit. His challengers all were gone by the second round. But Doug Kalitta lurked behind them, in fifth place, 142 points out. And even though Torrence knows the points are reset when the Countdown begins after Labor Day, naturally he wants to dominate as much as possible.

He didn’t do anything terribly notable in qualifying (partly because a promising 3.7-second pass was shut off on a judgment call by the crew Friday night). He bounced from eighth in the order to 13th to sixth.

“We didn’t qualify as high as we want to,” Torrence said, “but at the end of the day we were in the right spot to win the race. So I was proud of [the team]. They went out there and threw down an .81 in the final, just did their job all day long.”

With the quickest time in each elimination round, Torrence advanced by defeating associate Scott Palmer, hole-shotting Terry McMillen, and taking advantage of Antron Brown’s red-light foul.

Torrence also won at Phoenix and at the four-wide events at Las Vegas and Charlotte.

He said that previous experience at this facility gave him no advantage. Back then, he said, “We ran the big tires on the back, and we had parachutes. That’s about the only thing that relates to what we’re doing today.”

No. 4 qualifier Kalitta, making his 94th final round, did so past Dan Mercier, Pritchett, and teammate Richie Crampton (against whom he already was 5-1 in this season’s first seven races).

The Pomona winner was seeking his second victory of the year and 45th overall and 99th for his team-owner uncle Connie Kalitta. Heading into this event, three of his eight round-losses this year had come to Torrence.

Kalitta, the Top Fuel winner here in 2007, said afterward, “It was a great weekend for the Mac Tools team. We almost picked up that second win of the season. This track was great all weekend, and I cannot thank the Franklin family enough. I am excited to get to Bristol and see if we can get the win there."

The Mello Yello Drag Racing Series moves down the road to Bristol, Tenn., this coming weekend.