In an Auto Club NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., that was packed with plenty of other drama, Top Fuel’s Steve Torrence carved a piece of history for himself and his Capco Contractors Dragster team Sunday.
The Kilgore, Texas, native completed an unprecedented sweep of the six-race Countdown, spoiling Tony Schumacher’s plan to give the U.S. Army a Wally trophy in its final race in the 19-year marketing partnership with Don Schumacher Racing.
Torrence made it six-for-six and perfect record in 11 finals this season.
He joined other first-time champions JR Todd (Funny Car) and Tanner Gray (Pro Stock) and three-time series champion Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) in another rare occurrence – each won both the championship and the event.
Torrence had secured the Top Fuel championship two weeks before, at Las Vegas, but for him the drama was whether he would achieve Countdown perfection. At 3.702 seconds and 330.07 mph on the 1,000-foot course, the Richard Hogan-tuned driver became the lone racer in any class to achieve playoff perfection since the playoff format began in 2007.
“We wanted to set that precedent. No one can beat us. They can only tie us, and that’s a pretty cool stat,” he said. “We’ve been doing stuff nobody’s been doing.
“I’m living a dream,” Torrence said.
Six consecutive victories mean Torrence will return to Auto Club Raceway when the Mello Yellow Drag Racing Series reconvenes Feb. 7-10 to kick off the 2019 season with the Lucas Oil Winternationals with 24 straight round-wins.
“I don’t know how we did it,” Torrence said of the Countdown dominance. “We’ve won some rounds we probably shouldn’t have won, but we’ve been in the right place at the right time.
“I have to credit the Good Lord, Richard Hogan and [assistant crew chief] Bobby Lagana Jr., and the best crew on the planet,” he said. “Richard Hogan, he’s a bad, bad man. That guy probably wasn’t the most confident, but he’s very, very talented. And I’ve believed in him from the time we first hired him in 2011.
“We’ve had a very unique friendship and working relationship, and this is what happens when you hire a man to do his job and stick with him and support him. It’s been a recipe for success,” he said. “The confidence that I have seen build in Richard this year, every round of every race, it’s been neat to watch.”
The victory, which also came at the expense of Cameron Ferre and Blake Alexander, included a quarterfinal victory over his dad, Billy.
“I’m very competitive. I’m very driven,” Steve Torrence, 35, said, “and I get that from my dad, so when we race, we race. It’s for bragging rights. I live across the street and work with that guy every day and the guys at Capco, where we both work, they’re not going to cut me any slack if I get beat by a 60-year-old man.”
His grand achievement was a disappointment for Tony Schumacher, his final-round opponent. Schumacher was making his last pass after 19 years with U.S. Army branding and had hoped to send off Don Schumacher Racing’s 19-year marketing partner with a Wally trophy on Veterans Day.
“He’s the best, and if you want to be the best you have to beat the best,” Torrence said of Schumacher. He said, “I’m living a dream,” and he said, “That’s because of the grace of the good Lord.”
Winning the event, he said, is “why we came here, But it’s a little disturbing to look over and see the winningest driver in Top Fuel history in the other lane. But to be the best, you have to beat the best. It’s truly been unbelievable.”
Schumacher put the outcome in perspective.
“It was a fantastic race,” Schumacher said following the race as he passed Clay Millican in the final standings to take the No. 2 spot.
“He did a great job. Just such a big round for both of us – it was miraculous. We both ran 330 [mph]. The winner of that round was the fans. It was close, just outstanding. I’ve been on both sides of those many, many times, and I plan on being on both sides of them many, many more.
“We won the first race the Army was ever here with us. We won 80 along the way. We wanted to win this one today for them. We gave it everything we had and came up a few inches short. At the end of the day, once you’re part of the Army life that we’ve been blessed to be a part of, you’re always a part of it. People will always say ‘Sarge.’ There won’t be any new nicknames. It’s just what it is. We’ve done a great job for each other. We’ve done miraculous things. We did everything we set out to do together 19 years ago. It’s been a privilege and an honor to represent the greatest men and women in the world.”