Reigning Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence’s performance Sunday at the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals was as simple as 1-2-3-4:
First victory of the year and first since sweeping all six Countdown races in unprecedented fashion
Second final-round appearance of the season
Third consecutive victory at the four-wide race here and fourth in his past five visits to Charlotte, counting the 2018 fall Countdown event
Fourth straight four-wide triumph
The road to his winning 3.778-second, 323.19-mph victory might have appeared easy as he sped away from runner-up Clay Millican on the 1,000-foot zMAX Dragway course at Concord, N.C. What it took was a serious conversation the Capco Contractors Dragster driver had to have with himself.
Torrence said he hadn’t been angry that he couldn’t regain that crushing power he had displayed last fall.
“I’ve kind of learned some things about myself,” he said after earning his 28th total victory. “I can’t be relaxed and happy-go-lucky. I’ve got to have a chip on my shoulder, maybe not directed at anybody, maybe directed at somebody. That’s the way I seem to race better, just an aggressive stance, just going for it instead of just sitting back and letting it happen. Maybe I’d been driving on the defense instead of on the offense. Changed my mindset and just went out there and tried to do what I knew how to do instead of thinking about it.”
He said that at the Las Vegas four-wide event “I let my mind get in front of my foot.” That was earlier in the month, and he had a nagging feeling he needed to fix that.
“This morning I woke up and had a conversation with myself and said, ‘We’re going to get this deal done,’” Torrence said.
That chip on his shoulder has been missing the past five races, but he said he realized it was there for all 24 races of last season, when he was perfect in 11 finals and added six semifinal finishes.
“It’s just a mindset that I as a driver have to be in. You learn what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. I know what doesn’t work, and I figured out what does. It’s just the way that I race,” he said.
That might signal a warning for the rest of the class. Torrence probably didn’t even have to say, “These ol’ Capco Boys, we don’t give up. We might be down for a little bit, but we’re back up. And we’re ready for a fight.”
He didn’t get a huge fight in Sunday’s final-round quartet that was almost identical to last year’s Top Fuel Final Four – except this time Leah Pritchett replaced Doug Kalitta.
Clay Millican, in the Parts Plus/Strutmasters Dragster for Straightline Strategy Group, trailed Torrence by a sizeable 0.2156 seconds, or about 98 feet. Millican made his third final-round appearance of the season in search of his fourth NHRA victory. And thanks largely to an outstanding .019-second light, he was runner-up with a 4.035, 310.48.
Amalie Oil Dragster owner-driver Terry McMillen had hoped to give wife Cori career trophy No. 3 trophy for her birthday Sunday in his first final-round appearance of the season. He was looking for his first victory since the U.S. Nationals last September. But he lost traction and finished third at 4.349, 219.08.
Pritchett advanced to her second final-round appearance of the year, going for her eighth overall victory in the Pennzoil/Mopar Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing. She also raced in the two-wide Factory Stock Showdown class here. She lost in the first round to eventual winner Bill Skillman in her Mopar Drag Pak. “This weekend for me,” she said beforehand, “is truly about being the driver I know I am and turning on win lights for our dedicated fans who have shown support for our teams, no matter what colors we adorn. Running the chrome Pennzoil car again feels good and I can’t wait to get some redemption for the Pennzoil nation.” Since her runner-up finish to Billy Torrence at Phoenix, Pritchett had not advanced past the second round but remained a top-five driver. In the Top Fuel final, she was last off the starting line and last across the finish line.
“The bad news is that we didn’t get a win out of the final. The good news is, we’re done with four-wide racing for the year,” Pritchett said. “I don’t think the four-wide particularly had too much to do with the result of our day. We raced in a lane we only previously had one run in, since we had last pick. The highlight is first round we had the race car and driver come together and we were able to sweep past the competition and into the second round. It’s progress. Four-wide throws a lot of curve balls at you as a driver and a crew chief.
“T-minus five days we’ll be in Atlanta, and we’re definitely looking forward to that. It’ll be warm so we’re going to take everything we learned here and apply it there. I can personally say I’m frustrated. I’ve tried a lot of things, physically and mentally, to be where the competition is at with reaction times, and frustrated because it’s not working. I will continue to work towards a solution, and I can’t wait to show out in Atlanta.”
Evidently zMAX Dragway is just a Torrence-friendly venue.
“I like this place,” Torrence said. “At first, I was pretty open about not being a fan of the four-wide. But I have retracted that statement. I enjoy it. We do really well here. I like racing here. This is a cool place to come. Bruton [track owner Smith] has built unbelievable facilities. But this just happens to be one we do really well at. We could race all of ‘em here.”
The Kilgore, Texas, native said, “It’s not been the way we wanted to start the season. We hadn’t had the car we had in the Countdown, but that’s not because of anything other than trying some things and testing some stuff. We came in third in the points, so we weren’t doing too bad. But we have a high level of expectation that we carry. I have a really good group of guys behind me. [Crew chief] Richard Hogan, [car chief] Bobby Lagana, and every one of those Capco Boys just instill confidence in you. So it makes it even more gratifying to come here and kind of turn the tables on things and see if we can get some momentum going.”
Torrence celebrated in the winners circle with Shawn Langdon (Funny Car) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) – and promised, “We’re going to do some celebrating [tonight]. I can hear a train horn in the background.”
What made it sweeter was it was dad Billy Torrence’s 61st birthday. Cementing the memorable day was the fact Langdon will bring a trophy to his own father, Chad Langdon, who’s recovering well from a liver transplant just a few weeks ago.
“Go win this one for your Pops,” Torrence told Langdon as they awaited the final round. Later he told Langdon, “Shawn, I’m glad you could win this one for your dad. That’s pretty special.”
Next on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule is the May 3-5 Arby’s Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019