After Brittany Force tamed the seemingly unconquerable Capco beast that is reigning Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence Sunday in the final round of the NHRA Dodge Nationals at Las Vegas, she needled him.
“Bet you Steve-o is shaking in his boots right now,” the Advance Auto Parts Dragster driver said with glee after beating him with a track-record 3.652-second elapsed time to his 3.719.
Force’s 3.652-second blast clocked a speed of 334.73 mph. Torrence’s 3.719 final-round E.T. came with a 330.63-mph speed.
Back at the starting line, Force’s crew chief, Dave Grubnic, summed up the Countdown to the Championship chase: “It’s sure getting exciting, isn’t it?”
Yes, it is.
She’ll go the last race of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in second place, trailing Torrence by just 16 points in the standings.
“We’re still in the fight,” Grubnic said, looking ahead to the Auto Club Finals at Pomona, Calif., but he conceded, “They’ve got years on us.”
The Capco team certainly has statistics on its side. Although they’re tied at two victories apiece in head-to-hear final rounds, Torrence had won two-thirds of their meetings at previous races. He has won 28 times since the start of 2017 for a 169-42 elimination record and claimed the No. 1 seed entering the past three Countdowns. That means he has won 80 percent of his race -day matches.
But Force warned beforehand, “We’re looking to do some damage.” And she did, even though she actually trails Torrence by three more points than she did entering the Las Vegas race. But she achieved her goal to capture a victory on the 1,000-foot course at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
She shared a “double” victory for the NHRA’s “Women of Power” with Pro Stock winner Erica Enders, as well as “the two Matts” – Funny Car’s Hagan and Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Smith. Enders’ victory was the 150th by a female driver, and Force’s was No. 151.
Making her 23rd career final round, fourth of the season, and second at this event, Force claimed her 10th Top Fuel Wally trophy. It was her second this season and her first at this fall event on the northern outskirts of Las Vegas.
But even as the confetti swirled around her on the winners’ podium, Force was thinking about taking it to Torrence again at Pomona. Her mind already was drifting to dreams of stinging him again on the final weekend of the year on her home track at Pomona.
In 2017, Force shaved his lead to 20 points and triggered his understandable anti-Countdown tirade by denying him the title. He got what he was looking for the following year by leaving every opponent in the dust as he won every round of the six-race playoff.
Torrence said his goal had been to win the last two races of the year, so “everything else will take care of itself.” But it didn’t unfold that way Sunday. And he is resolved not to let her ambush him again.
“We still control our own destiny,” Torrence said, “and that’s all you can ask for. The bottom line is the same: if we win Pomona, we win the championship. So that’s our goal.
“They had a great car this weekend,” Torrence said of Force’s team.
She did. Force set the national speed record at 338.17 mph in qualifying. In the semifinals, she beat Billy Torrence by an even smaller margin in what may some regarded as the race of the day. She came to Las Vegas trying to hold off Billy Torrence as much as she was trying to catch Steve Torrence. Only 25 points separated her and Billy Torrence at the start of the weekend.
“She beat both me and my dad [topping No. 4 Billy Torrence in the semifinals], so my hat’s off to them. But I couldn’t be prouder of these Capco boys. We had some adversity, especially with my dad’s car, but they kept us in the hunt and gave us a chance.”
Torrence equaled his personal record for elimination-rounds victories in a single season with 58, almost twice as many as Force. But in the Countdown Era, as he knows all too well, what counts is how good a title-eligible racer is in the last six events.
Nobody had better brush aside Mac Tools Dragster driver Doug Kalitta, who’s 55 points off Torrence’s pace in third place.
He reached Sunday’s semifinal for what looked like the showdown of the Countdown, a battle between the first- and second-seeded contenders. But in stunning fashion, Kalitta never got the chance to run side-by-side with Torrence. He beat first-round foe Shawn Reed, who was driving the dragster that carried Jordan Vandergriff to the Dallas final. Then he knocked off top qualifier Leah Pritchett in the quarterfinals.
However, calamity struck for Kalitta in his semifinal against Torrence as he had a perfect opportunity to win and assume the points lead. But something in the safety box broke and released the parachutes during the burnout. Torrence used Kalitta’s misfortune to solo into his 14th final in 23 events.
Kalitta said, “I don’t know what happened. I was going forward, and the thing just shut off. It’s a very sinking moment when you see your parachute release like that. It is just real unfortunate. We were definitely going to give it our best out there to see if we could get by Steve. We are just going to drag it out to Pomona and go after the championship there.”
“Doug Kalitta is a hero of mine,” Steve Torrence said. “That’s heartbreaking for those guys. That’s not the way we wanted to win the round, but that’s drag racing. Those guys will be back after us at Pomona – and the Capco Boys will be back, too. It’s a battle, and we’re in it. So you can’t ask any more.”
But the Top Fuel class’ four leading contenders are within 86 points of each other. And they’ll provide more, all right, in two weeks.