Out West, in the Midwest, down South, against any challengers, against each other, after skipping events or buzzing through consecutive final-round appearances, the duo of two-time and reigning NHRA Top Fuel king Steve Torrence and dad Billy Torrence always seem to find a way to dominate. Together they had won exactly half of the previous six races in their Capco Dragsters before arriving at this weekend’s Amalie Oil Gatornationals.
Steve Torrence tipped the scales for a third championship in his favor Sunday by conquering Florida’s Gainesville Raceway at his dad’s expense. He used a 3.809-second elapsed time (curiously, his slowest of the day) at 322.11 mph on the 1,000-foot “Kenny Bernstein Way” course to top Billy Torrence’s 3.810, 320.74. (The finish wasn’t as close as it might look on paper, thanks to Dad’s sluggish 0.104 reaction time on the launch).
With that, Steve Torrence overtook season-long points leader Doug Kalitta after his semifinal victory over Leah Pruett, who’s third in the standings, only 33 points off the pace.
Torrence has a 22-point advantage over Kalitta as the series prepares for the Oct. 3-4 Mopar Express Lane Midwest Nationals at suburban St. Louis.
“We’ve got some good momentum. This is our seventh race, and we skipped the first race. So to be in the points lead, that’s just a testament to how hard [crew chief] Richard Hogan, [car chief] Bobby Lagana, and every one of these Capco Boys work,” he said. “And then for my dad to go to the final round, both of us are doing well. We’re leaving here No. 1 and No. 4 in points. We’ve just got to stay focused and concentrate on what the task at hand is – and that’s trying to win a championship.”
The Torrences repeated the spectacle of a father-son Top Fuel final round 26 years after Connie Kalitta beat son Scott in 1994. Kenny Bernstein (1998) and Brandon Bernstein (2003) also won the Top Fuel trophy this race five years apart. Another dad-son combo – Matt Smith (Pro Stock Motorcycle) and father Rickie Smith (Pro Modified) – shared the winners circle Sunday.
Steve Torrence took a 2-1 edge in head-to-head final-round races with his father but overall has won two-thirds of their match-ups (8-4).
Billy Torrence advanced to his second final of 2020 past Todd Paton, Shawn Langdon, and Terry McMillen, who set low E.T. of the meet in the first round at 3.747 seconds in the Amalie Oil Dragster at his sponsor’s title-sponsored race.
After winning, Steve Torrence hopped out of his car with re-created Swamp Rat 14 livery from “Big Daddy” Don Garlits’ heyday to accept his 39th Wally statue. And he paid tribute to the 88-year-old Florida favorite son and drag-racing legend: “Don, thank you for letting us have the opportunity to run your car, to come here and celebrate Don Garlits. All the history is Don Garlits. He’s a hero.”
Moments later, he connected with Garlits for a celebratory conversation.
“You can’t put it in words,” Torrence said of the experience, barely able to complete a sentence. “This is my hero right here. This is everybody out here’s hero. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be here – he invented this stuff. To have the opportunity to come out and run the Swamp Rat 14 and have him here with us and the support . . . It was bad-ass to me years ago, when he would come by the pit and he knew my name. So now, to call him a friend and to be able to do this . . . I’ve never been to the final round in Gainesville, much less win the race, and to do it in his car, that’s icing on the cake for anything you want to do.
Torrence hadn’t reached the final round here before, and Gainesville Raceway was the only venue at which he had had a losing record (8-10 before this weekend.) But he changed that Sunday.
“We had a good day today,” he said. And he certainly did. He started the march to his third victory of the season by eliminated Tony Schumacher. Torrence evened the score at 18 victories apiece with the five-time and class-leading winner of the Gatornationals. Then he posted a 3.761, second-quickest time of the rain-interrupted day, in dismissing Doug Foley before coming back with a 3.772 to ward off Pruett.
“Every round was pretty tough,” Torrence said. “The round against Leah was really, really a momentous round. That was going to decide who leave here with the points. And then going into the final – I already had a little pressure, because I saw my dad win right in front of me and you want to get in that final with him . . . Any more pressure you add: You say, ‘Big Daddy is here. You’re running his car. You need to win the Gatornationals for Big,’ It was an unbelievable day.”
Torrence said he had no premonition that he would have such a successful day that checked off so many boxes on his wish list.
“You come in here and you try to be as confident as possible driving the car and just go do your job, because at the end of the day, I’m the only monkey who can get in that seat and I can make or break a whole lot of stuff. These guys give me an unbelievable race car. And you just try not to screw it up.”
Away from the racetrack, his entire team, as well as the drag-racing community, keeps a prayerful watch on seriously injured crew member Dom Lagana, who remains hospitalized at Indianapolis following a car accident.
“They told me before this round that Dom is kind of showing a little bit of good sign and he’s watching us [on the FOX TV / FS1 broadcast]. So we got one for ol’ Dom Lagana! Whoo!”
So the Torrence family prevailed Sunday . . . in sickness and in health.
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