Talk about a generation gap.
When longtime racer Pat Dakin made his Top Fuel debut way back in 1971, current Top Fuel superstar Steve Torrence hadn’t even been born yet. In fact, it would be another decade and then some before Torrence would enter into the world.
On Sunday at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, Torrence and Dakin met in the final of Top Fuel in a battle of two racers separated by 35 years of racing experience and 37 years of age.
“I was rooting for Pat Dakin. Man, I’ll tell you what, that guy is just a cool dude,” said Torrence of his final round opponent. “We are good buddies with Dakin and most of the guys that work on his team also work on my old man’s car. It was pretty cool to race him in the final round at his home-state race. We needed the points, but he probably wanted the win just to kick my butt. You couldn’t have had a better final round.”
In one of the more unlikely finals of the season, Torrence took down the veteran racer competing in his first NHRA final since 1998 in what turned out to be a tremendous drag race. Torrence nipped Dakin at the tree and held him off with a 3.832-second pass at 323.27 mph in the Capco Contractors dragster. Dakin, meanwhile, crossed the stripe with a 3.909 at 301.40 mph.
The win gives Torrence his sixth Wally in the past seven races and the 33rd of his career. It was also Torrence’s second win at Summit Motorsports Park, breaking a streak of nine different winners in the last nine races at the track.
“How about those Capco boys. We are out here doing this and it is pretty unbelievable to have the success that we’ve had,” Torrence said. “All the glory goes to God because I’ll tell you what, there were some rounds today where the driver was terrible and the boys saved us. But at the end of the day, you don’t win one of these things without a little bit of luck on your side and we had that today.”
Torrence had to navigate a tricky afternoon on a track that wreaked havoc on many of the racers in multiple classes – from Top Fuel to Pro Stock. In a game of survival, Torrence had wins over Jordan Vandergriff, Doug Kalitta and Brittany Force. While many of those matchups, at least on paper, looked lopsided in his favor, it was far from the case.
In his second and third round matchups, Torrence ran into issues in both. He put a hole out in his win over Kalitta – a 3.836 to a 4.077 – and then got a little squirrely on the top end in his race against No. 1 qualifier Force. Torrence had a 3.820 at 326.71 mph in his win over Force, who slowed at the top end with a 4.114 at 272.89 mph.
But in both he advanced, propelling him to his 49th career final round.
“Coming through qualifying I think I averaged a 56 light in the four runs and today I wasn’t in the 50s (on the tree) except for in the final round. Some days you come out here and you feel really on top of your game and some days you are a little slow feeling. Today was one of those slow days,” Torrence said. “And unfortunately, it was one of those days where I needed to be really on top of my game. When track conditions are like they are where it is a little bit tricky and you have to count on the crew chief to go down through there, those guys had my back.
“It went down four laps in a row and the guy in the other lane just made a mistake. This is completely a team sport. Without those guys that are turning the knobs and working on it and giving Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana a car to tune, it is nothing. I am just the hood ornament for the Capco boys. I am pretty happy and proud to drive it.”
Dakin ran into similar issues in his path to the final, running laps of 3.806, 7.378 and 4.603 to reach his seventh career final in wins over Mike Salinas, Terry McMillen and Leah Pritchett.
Dakin’s last NHRA final occurred in Atlanta in 1998 in a loss to Cory McClenathan.
Meanwhile, Torrence was in his seventh consecutive final, with only a loss to Mike Salinas one week ago in Bristol keeping him from seven-straight wins. But the team was able to put that hiccup behind them and came out swinging in Ohio.
“We had a parts failure. It broke a crank. Not taking anything away from him, but we left on (Salinas). We had four hundredths on him at the starting line and we were ahead at half track and the car just didn’t last,” Torrence said. “That is part of Top Fuel racing. It is a wonder that they even crank sometimes. It didn’t really do anything to us mentally. You know, at some point something is going to happen even if everybody does their job perfectly. It is racing.
“We just took it and rolled with the punches and came back out here ready to go to work.”
Torrence will try to keep that momentum going – having won 25 of the last 56 races – when the team travels to Epping, New Hampshire in two weeks for the NHRA New England Nationals.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019