Billy Torrence owns Capco Contractors.
But Steve Torrence owns the advantage on his Capco Dragster teammate father (9-4 in overall matches, 3-1 in finals) – and on every other Top Fuel racer as the 2020 season begins to wind down.
And deep in the heart of Texas, and deep in his own heart, Steve Torrence knows he raided Texas Motorplex of just about all of the loot he could carry home down the road to Kilgore.
The eyes of Texas and drag-racing fans were upon the Top Fuel dynamic that ended Sunday at the AAA Texas FallNationals with an all-Capco Dragster Top Fuel final for the second time in three races.
By defeating dad Billy Torrence, Steve Torrence stretched his points lead over closest competitor Doug Kalitta from two at the start of the weekend to 51 as the Camping World Drag Racing Series heads south to Baytown, Texas, near Houston for next week’s 10th of 11 events.
Steve Torrence covered the 1,000-foot course at Ennis, south of Dallas, in 3.716 seconds at 328.78 mph. Dad Billy challenged with a 3.810-second elapsed time and 323.43-mph speed.
Together the Torrences have won exactly half of the past 80 NHRA national events. They are the first father and son duo to compete against each other in more than one NHRA Top Fuel final.
For the younger Torrence, it was his fourth triumph this year and his 40th overall victory. It lifted him above Texas legend Kenny Bernstein for sixth place on the Top Fuel all-time list.
It also meant the scale of experiences at Texas Motorplex has tipped in Steve Torrence’s favor. This dragstrip, a “home track” for the Kilgore native, is where his seemingly certain 2017 championship unraveled with a ruinous race-day wreck. It also was on the route along which he steamrolled through the 2018 Countdown. On the other hand, it’s where Shawn Reed humbled him in the first round last October. But he left Ennis Sunday with a new black Cowboy hat and trophy that go to the winner.
“We don’t do the best all the time, but we try the hardest all the time,” Steve Torrence, on a roll toward a third consecutive title, said.
Most significantly, Torrence left with an extended points lead over fiercest rival Doug Kalitta. And he has another chance to build on that in less than a week, when the Camping World Drag Racing Series swings though Houston on the way to the season finale a week later at Las Vegas.
Kalitta remained in second place as the championship chase moves this coming weekend to Houston Raceway Park at Baytown, Texas, for the penultimate event of the season. The finale is the week after that, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – and the sanctioning body has raised the ante. The Las Vegas scoring will be points and half.
“It was an unbelievable weekend for the Capco team. To be able to go out and represent Capco well, to represent Texas well, and to put both cars in the final round, you can’t have a better weekend than that,” Torrence said.
The turning point, he indicated, was the semifinal round – Capco versus Kalitta, doubled. Steve Torrence took on upset-minded Shawn Langdon, who lost to the points leader but improved to fifth place in the standings. Then Billy Torrence took advantage of Kalitta’s traction trouble to help his son’s championship chances and to keep his hold on his own fourth-place status in the standings.
“The semi had huge implications,” Steve Torrence said with a touch of relief in his voice. “If we lost against Shawn or Billy lost against Doug, he [second-place Kalitta] would have gone rounds. It was teammates against teammates – huge race for both of us, really a tough race.”
Billy Torrence had reached the semifinal by eliminating Clay Millican and Tony Schumacher.
As for racing his father for the 13th time, the winner said, “My old man, he’s the toughest son of a gun out here. That sucker’s bad to the bone. He’s beaten me more than anybody else out here. He helped us out, and we had to do our job to get by him that [final] round. I don’t know what it was [that worked for him or didn’t work for Billy Torrence]. But that ol’ rattlesnake’s going to come up and bite someday.
“That car [Billy’s Capco Dragster] is a direct clone of ours,” Steve Torrence said. “So we basically equip somebody with ammo to get us. And he’s done a great job driving. I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen when we went up there [to the starting line]. The race wasn’t nearly as close as what we usually do. I don’t know – they may have missed the tune-up a little bit.”
Whatever the technicalities were, the result is that Steve Torrence is in command at the moment. And Kalitta knows – they both know – the Houston race will give neither of them any room for error. This twice-postponed race easily could be the cornerstone for Kalitta’s title run if he is to break his cycle of five Top Fuel series runner-up finishes. Or it could be a nail in Kalitta’s coffin if Torrence performs exceptionally well – like when he won from the No. 1 qualifying position Sunday and was quickest in three of the four elimination rounds (winning with times of 3.704, 3.726, 3.720).
Kalitta’s Mac Tools / Toyota Dragster has performed well all year, too. He had a strong start, winning the season-opening race at Pomona, Calif., in February and later that month recording a runner-up showing at Phoenix. At six of the season’s nine events, Kalitta has advanced to the semifinals or beyond, helping him lead the standings through much of the season. He has two victories, two runner-up efforts, and two semifinal finishes.
“We lost some ground today, but we have two races left to make that up. The last race will be 30 points a round,” Kalitta said, starting to calculate what must happen to claim his first Top Fuel championship.
“We will be in Houston next weekend, and I am not sure how similar the conditions will be. This Mac Tools / Toyota team was strong this weekend. We made some great runs today, and we got aggressive in the semifinals. We will put this race behind us and get ready for Houston,” he said.
That’s not comforting to Torrence. He said, “The Kalitta team is tough. [Rob] Flynn and all the guys on Kalitta’s car, they’ve been consistent probably more consistent, in my opinion, than they’ve been in any year I can remember. So we’re just battling toe-to-toe with them. I’ve said it multiple times: Doug Kalitta is probably the best driver who never won the championship. I have a ton of respect for him and for that team, and I think that’s why they bring out the best in us.
“We handicapped ourselves by skipping Pomona, so it was over 100 points that we’ve had to make up,” Torrence said. “We’ve really kept our nose on the grindstone and tried to make every round, every lap, every qualifying session count.”
He did this weekend.
“That run we made last night [a 3.662-second pass to clinch the top starting spot] gave us some momentum and a lot of data. Being No. 1 qualifier made the path to the final a little bit easier. We had Cameron Ferré in the first round, and you never know what those guys are going to do. That car can go out there and run good, and sometimes they struggle. But Cameron did a great job, and we had a good car. Second round we didn’t have anybody – we had a bye, and that’s the benefit of being No. 1 qualifier. We rolled into the semifinals with Langdon. And Langdon, he’s always there all the time. He’s always consistent. You never know what Connie’s going to do with that car. That was just a good drag race.”
And that was just a good weekend outing for this first race under the Camping World banner.
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