The Top Fuel final round of the NHRA Arizona Nationals was a battle between reigning champion Steve Torrence and Doug Kalitta, the man he defeated by a mere three points for his second straight title last November.
It was a showdown between the class dominator who didn’t enter the season-opener at Pomona two weeks ago and the perennial contender who did show up at the Lucas Oil Winternationals and won for the third straight time.
It was a juicy match-up the fans at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park wanted to see Sunday at Chandler, Ariz.
And once again, Torrence got the better of Kalitta.
Even though they had identical reaction times of .066 of a second, Torrence earned his 37th victory with a 3.679-second elapsed time at 321.27 mph in the Capco Contractors Dragster. It was his 29th in 68 starts and the team’s 34th in the past 69 events, dating back to 2017. It also marked the third straight year a Capco Dragster-driving Torrence has won this second event on the schedule.
Kalitta covered the 1,000-foot course in suburban Phoenix in 4.052 seconds at 218.90 mph in the Mac Tools entry in pursuit of his 49th triumph.
“It felt good to be back in the car,” Torrence said after joining Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) in the winners circle.
“There’s always more work to be done and more history to be made, but I am blessed with what we have been able to accomplish the past few seasons. Two championships would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of Richard Hogan, Bobby Lagana Jr., Gary Pritchett and all the rest of these bad-to-the-bone Capco Boys, along with favorable blessings from the Lord.”
Torrence expressed great respect for Kalitta.
“When you look at another driver and what you want to emulate, he’s the guy. I have tons of respect for Doug Kalitta,” Torrence said. “He’s a genuinely good person. You watch what he does and just the way that he drives the car, how he stays calm, how he handles situations.” He said that at the Winternationals, Kalitta “won that whole race just on driving ability, because they didn’t have the best car. But he went out and got it done. Doug’s the greatest. He’s one of the best drivers there’s ever been.”
Meanwhile, Kalitta said, “Man, we are off to a great start. I would have loved to have gotten another win today, but you look at our performance and we got stronger every run. We had a great day today, even if we didn’t get our second win of the season. Our performance all day just kept getting better and better. We had some tough competitors, and just about every round we were racing a championship-caliber team. It looks like we might have given it a little too much in the final, but we can correct that. We have the points lead and we are giving the fans and our sponsors like Mac Tools, Toyota, Mobil 1, NGK, Sealmaster and WIX Filters a great show. We got three win lights, and we’ll head to the Gatornationals with some momentum.”
Kalitta will enter the March 12-15 Amalie Oil Gatornationals with a 59-point lead over second-place Brittany Force as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series heads to the Southeast.
Torrence was the No. 1 qualifier. Nevertheless, he said he was experiencing “a little bit of the jitters” Sunday morning. And he got a challenge immediately, when first-round opponent and hometown hero Jim Maroney, of nearby Gilbert, launched in a eye-popping .026 seconds.
Torrence had told his crew before even getting in car on race day, “I just feel like somebody’s going to try to mess with me a little bit today. I think it was a complete accident, but Jim Maroney puts the top bulb out, and I’m lookin’ over there and not paying attention and went .095 [on the tree]. I just got out and laughed about it. Great guy. It just is what it is. But when you go through what you went through at Pomona, you just kind of expect for some of that to go on.”
But Torrence prevailed, then survived a bit of a wild quarterfinal against Shawn Langdon.
Torrence had a late light (.143 of a second), but Langdon lost traction right away.
“Versus Langdon, I go in and the bulb just kind of flickers and flickers and flickers and won’t stay on. I have a whole brain-fade there, as well,” he said.
Torrence started smoking his tires, so Langdon got back on the throttle. Torrence had to pedal the car and managed to hold off the Kalitta Motorsports driver.
“Fortunately, I was able to get it down through there,” he said.
It was crazy, too, from Langdon’s viewpoint. He said, “We were going to get after it but smoked the tires. I got off the throttle and saw Steve having some issues. That is when it gets exciting. I got back on the throttle, but I just couldn’t catch up to him.”
In the all-Torrence semifinal, Steve Torrence eliminated father Billy, last year’s winner here – just like he did in the 2018 semifinals en route to his only other Top Fuel victory at this facility. That put Steve Torrence in his 56th overall final round.
That was a bit of a surprise. the winner said: “I thought they had a better car. I thought they would outrun us. I needed to be on my game at the tree. It was close at the end, but I did my job on the tree.”
Kalitta’s march to his 103rd final round began with a freebie from Shawn Reed, who left before the Christmas tree starting device activated. Then Kalitta matched up once again with Brittany Force, whom he beat in their Winternationals semifinal. This time the stakes were a little higher, for in Round 1, Force won with a 3.643-second pass at 337.92 mph that reset both ends of the track record that was the second-fastest and sixth-quickest in Top Fuel history. He won handily in the semifinal Sunday against Antron Brown, clocking his career-best E.T. (3.672 seconds) and fastest speed of the year (330.55 mph).
Torrence said, “I knew that they had just run their career-best and we were going to throw down in the final.”
To win a third straight championship, Torrence knows he has the car, crew, and driving ability to do it. He also knows he has to keep focused and not let off the gas – although he knows full well Kalitta is one of those who would love to break that concentration with a few victories along the way, too.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t continue to do well,” Torrence said coming into the weekend a race later than expected, “but to win a championship, everything has to fall into place. It’s a difficult thing to do just one time. And it gets more difficult when you’re trying to win a second time, because you’ve got a target on your back. And now we’re trying for a three-peat.
“It’s a long season, and we know how the system works. But our philosophy hasn’t changed. We still want to win every race. There’s always room for improvement. The goal is to try and be as perfect as possible. That has to become a habit. And that’s why we race just as hard in the regular season as we do in the Countdown. Our mindset is to win every race,” Torrence said.