The Torrence father-son duo are like the carnival game “Whack-A-Mole.”
Just when the other NHRA Top Fuel contenders think they’ve driven them into their underground bunkers, the Texas tandem pops up again and causes havoc.
In Friday night qualifying at the AAA Midwest Insurance Nationals, No. 10-ranked Billy Torrence claimed the provisional No. 1 spot in his part-time Capco Dragster that’s a full-time menace even to his reigning-champion son Steve. He clocked a 3.699-second elapsed time at 321.88 mph on the World Wide Technology Raceway 1,000-foot course at Madison, Ill., near St. Louis.
Billy Torrence had started out the day in seventh place and didn’t appear to be on a roll, having finished as runner-up to Doug Kalitta at the U.S. Nationals, then losing in the opening round of the Countdown, at Reading, Pa., two weekends ago.
Meanwhile, Steve Torrence had looked almost unstoppable again this season until recently. Since a runner-up finish at Seattle that put him at eight victories in 11 final rounds, he hasn’t advanced past the quarterfinals and lost in the first round at Reading (for only his second Round 1 defeat all year). With that, he lost the points lead to Kalitta. But he improved Friday from fifth place to second after his first qualifying attempt, vaulting from fifth place in the tentative order to second with a 3.717-second pass.
“The run felt good all the way,” Billy Torrence said of his chart-topping effort Friday – that crossed the stipe on only five or six of his engine’s eight cylinders. “It left good. I knew the car was running really well.
“Before the finish line, it put out two or three holes and I was having to drive it around. And interestingly enough, for some reason the parachute mechanism malfunctioned. They didn’t come out. And I noticed I was going a little too fast. I had a hold of that brake handle. I probably should have pulled that manual lever, but I wasn’t letting loose of the brake.
“It didn’t scare me too much at the time, because I was going too fast,” he said. “I knew what I had to do. I got the car shut down. I hit the button twice down through there. And you know, I might have been late getting [the parachutes] out, anyway, but I could tell it wasn’t out. I didn’t feel ’em hit. It’s a sudden stop – when they come out, you know it. So as the car started to unload, I pumped the brakes several times and used a little bit of experience and got ’er shut down.”
He said he wasn’t afraid he’d land in the sand trap: “I knew I had plenty of room. I probably ruined a new pair of brake pads.”
He said he wasn’t counting on his 3.699-second E.T. to be the best of the class, for he said son Steve and crew chief Richard Hogan “if they had wanted to, could have lowered that deal, because what we were working on was just calibration between the two cars. They knew what I had. They saw that. They probably could have run two- or three-hundredths quicker, but they chose to leave them just alike to see what the difference was. And it was about a hundredths. So that’s about as close as you can get ’em together.”
Billy Torrence, though last among the title-eligible Top Fuel racers, has a 20-9 race-day record, victories at Phoenix and Sonoma and a final-round spot at Indianapolis in only 10 regular-season appearances. So he’s as dangerous as any higher-seeded driver.
He said Hogan tests constantly and just might be tinkering with some aspect of his tune-up when the weekend’s final two qualifying sessions kick off Saturday.
“That’s what he does. He’ll have my guys testing something. [Steve]’ll test something, too. We’ll try to stay on opposite sides of the ladder and see what we can do [in Sunday’s eliminations],” Billy Torrence said. “We’ll go out tomorrow [Saturday] and try to make some representative passes. It looks like the weather is going to be very similar all weekend.”
One of his main goals, he said, is “try to stay away from Steve. Maybe we can stay on opposite sides of the ladder and win and runner-up this week. If I run across him, chances are he’ll beat me. He usually does. I did beat him one time – they had an engine failure. It’s my wife’s race team, so I don’t do any bragging. Every now and then I sneak up on him.”
And that’s why Billy Torrence can play a mean game of “Whack-A-Mole.”
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019