Steve Torrence has immeasurable respect for veteran Top Fuel racer Doug Kalitta.
He appreciates all that he has done for the sport and looks up to the highly decorated racer as an icon in the sport.
But at the end of the day, he still wants to beat him.
Coming into this weekend’s NTK NHRA Carolina Nationals riding a six-race drought – an eternity for the winningest Top Fuel driver over the past three years – and sitting second in the Countdown to the Championship standings behind Kalitta, Torrence had the opportunity of a lifetime to return to the top of the heap. And he took full advantage.
Torrence defeated Kalitta in a thriller Monday at the rain-delayed race at zMAX Dragway, jumping out to a sizable lead thanks to a .031 reaction time and cruising to his ninth win of the season with a 3.772-second pass at 323.19 mph in his Capco Contractors dragster. Kalitta went up in smoke just past the halfway point in a 4.090 at 274.27 mph effort.
“Doug Kalitta is a legend. I have a whole lot of respect for him and I look up to him as a driver. He is always there. He is always consistent,” Torrence said. “When you go up against that guy and to have the backstory of coming in behind him in points, making up some points in qualifying, and then coming all the way down to the final round between No. 1 and No. 2 in points, it is easy to look over to your left or right and say, ‘that is Doug Kalitta’ and let it get to you.
“A few years ago I probably would have went up there and choked. I probably would have went up there and let that really affect me and get in my head. But with the success that we have had, you build confidence in yourself. You trust in your team and the good Lord and just do the best that you can.
“I knew that we had a car that could run with them. If I did my job, we could be right there with him on the tree. I just had to block out who that guy is. Whether it is Doug Kalitta or Tony Schumacher or Antron Brown, you can’t let who is in the other lane influence you. That is what I was able to do today.”
The milestones keep coming for Robert Hight. The day after the NTK NHRA Carolinas Nationals was scheduled to run final eliminations, Hight picked up his 51st national event victory and 500th round win in one fell swoop. – https://t.co/fYXcNseBlC pic.twitter.com/9RKN2ccWQi
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) October 15, 2019
With the win, Torrence’s ninth of the season and 36th of his career, Torrence retakes the championship lead by 30 points over Kalitta with three races remaining. Torrence was assisted by a solid weekend in qualifying, earning his first No. 1 qualifier since Denver. 2017 Top Fuel champion Brittany Force is third, 92 points back. Leah Pritchett and Mike Salinas round out the top five.
“It is a peripheral view (of the points). You know what you have to do. You need to go rounds. You need to win races,” Torrence said. “We lost first round in Reading, went to the final in St. Louis, went to the final here and were finally able to pull off a win. I think we need to win two more races to be pretty solid in having an opportunity to win this championship again.”
Torrence won his first race since Denver in July with a march through the Top Fuel ladder and wins over Lex Joon, Clay Millican and Top Fuel newcomer Justin Ashley before meeting Kalitta in the final. Overall it was a rather uneventful day for the defending champion as all three of his opponents ran into issues – a no-show for Joon and tire-smoking runs for Millican and Ashley.
Kalitta meanwhile had wins over Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett and Brittany Force to reach his fifth final of the season.
With the win, Torrence now has won four-straight at zMAX Dragway and five of the last six races at the Charlotte-area track.
“I just like this racetrack. Some places the crew chiefs and the guys have a real good handle on the tuneup and this just seems to be one of them,” Torrence said. “Fortunately, it is one of the Countdown races. It plays into our wheelhouse and I’m happy and fortunate that it is here.”
With three races remaining in the Countdown and back-to-back final round visits, Torrence is confident that his team is returning to championship form and looks forward to a trip to his home state next weekend in the only back-to-back portion of the postseason.
“I am looking forward to going to Dallas next weekend. It is home and it is a good time to have the momentum going back-to-back,” Torrence said. “We were able to go 6-0 in the Countdown last year, but you have to approach every race like you’ve never won one. You can’t let your mental focus get distracted by your success because you are only as good as the last run you make.”