Steve Torrence just couldn’t let it pass. The defending two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion had to respond. His reasoning probably wasn’t what most of his critics might expect.
A race fan had dropped an email to CAPCO contractors questioning why they would sponsor a driver who was essentially a p-word and a b-word who “didn’t deserve nothing.”
Torrence handed the email over to the company’s IT manager, who provided the author’s contact information by the end of the day.
“I go to work at 5:30 in the morning, and I call his ass about 6:45. It was in California,” Torrence revealed. “So I called and I asked, ‘Hey, is this so and so?”
“He goes, ‘Yeah.'”
“And I said, ‘This is Steve Torrence.”
“He goes, ‘Bulls***.'”
“And I go, ‘No, sir, this is Steve Torrence. I got your name and phone number on my desk that said you had sent in an email to the website, and I was just returning your call.”
There was a brief silence on the other end of the phone before the person responded, “Well, I think you’re a little b**** for the way that you handled that [Cameron Ferre] deal.”
“And I said, ‘Hey, man, I’m not proud of the way I handled it either. I apologize. Yeah, that wasn’t cool, man.”
Twenty minutes later, when they hung up, Torrence had another fan.
Fast forward to three days later, when Torrence was perusing social media, something a controversial driver shouldn’t do, when he happened across a not-so-flattering tweet.
“I was scrolling through Twitter, and this guy wrote, ‘Steve Torrence is a d-bag.”
“Every now and then I’ll get on, and I just like to talk crap. So I write back, I write back to this guy, and I wrote, “D-O-U-C-H-E. That way you will know how to spell it next time. And all 46 of your followers will be able to see it and laugh.”
The Twitterer responded, “I know how to spell. I wanted it in terms that you could comprehend. Followers are not a sign of intelligence, Steve. That’s obvious.”
They continued, “And most of my followers are fakes and bots, so really, it will be less than 46 laughing.”
Torrence found the perfect way to turn the adversarial scenario in a positive direction. He liked every response.
“He said,” Torrence explained. “You seem to be a good sport. Maybe you’re not a douchebag after all. Maybe I’ll give you a follow.”
Torrence took the opportunity to share a bit of insight. He pointed out 15-second interviews when following the rush of a three-second Top Fuel run, or a heartbreaking loss isn’t always the best way to judge a person’s character.
“He wrote back, ‘Very true. And we don’t have to act on perceptions of people, but I’m glad I did because mine changed for the good because you were cool and stepped up and made yourself approachable. Good conversation, and a new fan. Maybe I’ll get a shot at shaking your hand sometime.”
That’s how Steve Torrence is expanding his fan base. He’s trying to win the critics over, one at a time. As Torrence puts it, “I really don’t mind if people know I’m actually a kind-hearted person after all.”
Now that the cat is out of the bag about the drag racer from Kilgore, Texas being a good guy at heart, his intense attitude, which rubbed some wrong, was a matter of his upbringing. He was taught at a young age to go for the win every time, no matter whose feelings got hurt along the way.
“I am there because I love to race and because we are there to win, we’re not there to participate, we’re not there just to have fun, we’re there to win, and I want to be the best at everything that I do and that competitiveness, and that drive, is what motivates me, and that has been instilled into me my whole life,” Torrence said. “That has been instilled into me from the time I was a kid; I’ve won world championships in TaeKwonDo. I raced motocross. I have competed my whole life.
“I don’t want to come off as cocky, but you either win, or you don’t. And to me, there’s nothing more important than winning. That’s what it takes, and every one of my guys on my team shares that passion. I’m a high strung guy. I get wound up; I get motivated easily. And if you’re not that way, when you get out of a Top Fuel car, something’s wrong with you. There’s guys that do better at concealing it, but you just got in a rocket and went zero to 330 miles an hour in three and a half seconds. Your adrenaline is at an all-time high.
“I think the biggest misconception is people misconstrue my passion and competitiveness and drive to win as not being a good person. You see me on Monday through Friday or Monday through Saturday, and I’m a totally different person than when it’s time to go to try to win a race.
“It’s like trying to say [MMA Fighter] Conor McGregor is an a-hole. Well, I mean, hell he might be, I don’t know, but I don’t know him Monday through Friday, I just know when you see him on TV trying to beat the s*** out of a guy.”
The same intensity which often sends off the wrong impression might have actually saved Torrence’s life on more than one occasion. Twice Torrence has faced life and death situations, and his overwhelming passion for winning was channeled into a desire to live. He’s beaten cancer and overcome a heart attack along the way to win a new lease on life.
“If you lay down in a race, you will lose, but when it comes to life and death, if you lay down, you are going to die,” Torrence said. “At the end of the day, there’s things that have transpired in my life that will definitely create a sense of urgency. When you have been in a situation where you say ‘I’m dying,’ and you make it through it, it’s like starting a race because now death is so much more imminent and you’re not guaranteed the next minute, much less the next week or the next year. So you have a sense of urgency to do and achieve and accomplish.”
Torrence readily admits he started the 2020 season disappointed in some aspects of how major league drag racing was being run. He purposely missed the first race of the season, and at the time, didn’t put him at an overwhelming disadvantage because of the Countdown to the Championship format.
“It’s not that I was disgruntled or fell out of love with drag racing,” Torrence explained. “I mean, if we didn’t race within NHRA, my dad and I would race each other, somehow. We love racing. We love to do that. Many people don’t care or realize, or have a different opinion of me and don’t really know me as a person.
“I think that I’m not the only one, but you become frustrated with the way that things are being handled within our sport and not so much being considered with decisions that are being made that affect you.”
But as Torrence sees it, one can become frustrated but must not take the sport for granted, even when trying to prove a point.
“There’s a lot of things that you can be disappointed and disheartened with, but there’s a lot of things that you just can’t take for granted and say, ‘Hey, I’m getting to race. I enjoy what I’m doing,” Torrence explained. “We race for fun. And so, there’s a lot of things within NHRA that I disagree with and dislike, but you can’t let that ruin the good time. We’re racing as a family, and you got to remember that.”
The family aspect of the Capco team was dealt a disheartening blow when just hours after Steve Torrence won the Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals Top Fuel crown, tuner Dom Lagana was critically injured in a non-racing automobile accident. It’s a situation that still brings Torrence to tears despite Lagana’s significant recovery since he and Top Fuel driver Richie Crampton and Jacob Sanders were injured in the accident.
Torrence is a racer who uses targets for motivation, but watching a person he deems as family more than team member threw a curveball into his MO.
“That was difficult, man,” Torrence admitted. “That race, Indy, after Dom’s wreck was one of the most difficult races I’ve ever had to deal with because anybody that sees me on television knows that I have to have a target. I’ve got to have something to direct my everything at. And most of the time, it’s this person or this thing, and it’s a motivation where you got to beat somebody.
“But when it’s heartfelt and emotional, and you’re trying to do it for your buddy that’s fighting for his life? It changes the whole dynamic of it. I mean it was like, how are you? It’s like, I mean, we got to do this for Dom. We need to make all this perfect and go win this race. And then you just put so much pressure on yourself that it was a struggle.” Since Lagana’s accident,
Torrence has reached the finals in four of the last five races. He took the points lead following the pandemic-delayed NHRA Gatornationals.
Essentially, Torrence is in the driver’s seat for the championship with a 101-point lead over Doug Kalitta, a driver of whom he’s admittedly a huge fan.
“That guy right there is the best driver out there not to win a championship,” Torrence said. “I’ve been there and seen him in person. The deal where Tony makes the run, and last year with us. This year, whatever is going to happen. I hope that we pull it off again, but the guy is there every time, and it doesn’t seem to work for him.
“I hope that it doesn’t work for him this year, but he’s that guy, he’s always there and he’s always strong. I am a Doug Kalitta fan. I’m a Doug Kalitta fan probably as much as anyone.”
And if Kalitta pulls off a championship amid overwhelming odds, Torrence said, “I’m going to be the first guy to congratulate him.”
One of the reasons Torrence believes this season’s championship will have been a straight-up battle to the end without resetting the points. He’s never been a fan of the Countdown to the Championship format.
“I think that you show up and race every race,” Torrence said. “It’s been a pretty tight championship run between three or four people the whole year. Given we skipped Pomona, but who knows what would have happened had we gone? We could have lost the first round or not qualified or whatever. So you go out, and you race what you can, and do the best you can, and count the points. I think this fabricated drama doesn’t do any justice like what they want it to.”
Torrence understands the court of public opinion might be against him on the grand stage, but it will not stop him from being the hard-nosed competitor he’s always been.
“People are still bashing me for something that happened last year; they’re still bashing me for something to happen three years ago,” Torrence explained. “One of the sayings that will stick with me forever is, People will forgive you for anything before they forgive you for being successful. If we win this championship, people will bash us and say that it’s not a real championship, it’s not a real this, it’s not a real that. In my opinion, this is probably one of the most real championships, because you’re taking 11 races to decide a champion, instead of six. “I think the most misunderstood thing about me is that I’m a guy that wears his passion on his sleeve, and sometimes people misunderstand that passion for being a bad person.”
Haters are still going to hate, he understands, but this reality doesn’t mean Torrence won’t try to win a few of them over, one at a time.
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