TORRENCE TOPS FIELD AT U.S. NATIONALS FOR FIRST TIME
At this point in his illustrious career, it is hard to find many “firsts” left for four-time Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence.
Amid a nearly unstoppable streak from 2018-21, Torrence won all of the big races. He put together incredible winning streaks. He dominated the class like few before him. But one minor achievement did elude the Texan during that run, an achievement that he checked off his career bucket list on Sunday.
Despite a pair of wins at the granddaddy of them all, Torrence had never paced the field at the biggest drag race in the land until Sunday where the 2017 and 2021 U.S. Nationals race winner drove his Capco Contractors dragster to the top of the field to lead the class into race day at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.
“Honestly, I feel like these No. 1 qualifier hats sometimes are bad luck,” Torrence said. “Typically in the past we haven’t done as well when we were No. 1 qualifier. But the car’s so consistent and I’m driving pretty good, so we need to just go up there and do our jobs.
“I have had a very successful career to this point, so it is hard to get firsts again. A first number one at Indy, that’s really special to me. Now we’re just going to go see if we can win this thing.”
Torrence came out firing on all cylinders Friday night under the lights during the first of five qualifying sessions, laying down a 3.708-second pass at 329.42 miles per hour to pace the field, a number that would hold despite a few challenges thrown his way.
Brittany Force was Torrence’s closest challenger, missing the top spot by one-thousandth of a second during that same session as the defending class champion slotted in behind Torrence with a 3.709 at 333.25 mph. Points leader Justin Ashley was the only other driver to make a run at the top spot during one of the other four qualifying sessions, laying down a 3.714 at 334.73 mph during Q3 to move up to third.
Doug Kalitta (3.717) and Mike Salinas (3.721) round out the top five.
“We made a really good run on the first one and we were able to hold onto it for the last four,” Torrence explained. “We ran 70 with an eight in the first round. We went up there like always to try to flicker the bulb and that could have been the difference because Brittany was 70 with a nine. I didn’t actually realize this was my first No. 1 qualifier at Indy. I’ve won here a couple different times and had a lot of success and gone quite a few rounds. After a long time, it kind of all runs together, but I enjoy coming here. This is the big go. This is the U.S. Nationals, so it’s a little more prestigious. This yellow hat here will go to my little girl and we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”
Torrence added three other top three times in his qualifying runs on Friday and Saturday, but shared that it was a pair of tire-smoking, abandoned passes on Sunday that might actually mean the most on race day.
“We’ve had a pretty consistent racecar, but today I was visiting with Richard (Hogan) and Bobby (Lagana) and we utilized the track conditions to prepare for tomorrow and push the envelope as much as we thought we could get away with,” Torrence said. “I feel really confident that the two runs we made today, even though we didn’t go down the race track, I feel like we learned a lot of information that will be useful for tomorrow.”
While Torrence would love to add a third Indy trophy to his collection, he is more focused on getting his team back on track after a rocky regular season. While it has been a Torrence-like season in the championship standings - sitting second behind Ashley - it has admittedly been an un-Torrence-like season in the win column with only one victory in 2023. Torrence hopes to turn that around starting this weekend, and hopefully overcome a few personal gremlins as he prepares to contend for a fifth title in six years.
“I have a hard time looking back at what we’ve done and using that to build confidence,” Torrence said. “I’m a ‘you’re only as good as your last pass’ kind of guy. The racecar is really good, but the last few races Steve Torrence has not been really good. Instead of driving, I was thinking and so you doubt yourself. A great thing (this weekend) was we did have five qualifying runs. We got to go up there and drive the racecar and get back to doing what I do and building that confidence back up. I’ve said it a few times, I’ve got to get that Steve Torrence swagger back. That’s what I’ve been working on and I’m pretty close. We’ll see if I can keep it built up and get going through the Countdown.”
Torrence will get his quest for a season turnaround underway on Monday against Will Smith in round one.
“This is the U.S. Nationals and we put so much emphasis and so much pride into winning it,” Torrence said. “Like I said a couple of days ago, you can have a very successful career and do a lot of stuff, but if you don’t win at Indy, it’s really not complete. I’m so thankful for all of the accomplishments and the team and the people that have supported us and got us to this point. Right now I’m just still living the dream.”