By Briar Starr, NHRA Staff Writer
It had been a long time coming for Steve Torrence and the CAPCO Toyota Top Fuel Dragster who had not been to the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series winner circle. In fact, the last time the Texas native won a Top Fuel race was last fall in St. Louis where he won over Josh Hart in the finals.
Since then, however, Torrence has been in a winless drought, with a first-round loss at Dallas, a quarterfinal loss at Las Vegas 2, and another first-round loss at the season finale for the end of the 2022 Top Fuel season.
At the start of the 2023 season, the Kilgore, TX native had been close a few times to victory lane but had some stumbles along the way. Some of the most notable losses this year included a final-round loss at the season opener in Gainesville to Mike Salinas and another runner-up at the Charlotte Four-Wide Nationals in April.
After the Charlotte race, Torrence had some early first-round exits. Fast forward a few races later, and the TX-based team finally found their way out of a slump and back to victory lane at the 34th annual Flav-R-Pac Northwest Nationals in Seattle on Sunday afternoon, breaking a long winless drought.
“Two rounds were stellar and two rounds were hard,” Torrence said of his day’s work, “but you’ve got to stay confident and it’s difficult to be as confident as you need to be to drive these things successfully when things are not going great.
“Sometimes, you just need to take a step back, re-evaluate the situation and acknowledge how thankful and grateful and fortunate and blessed we are to be able to do what we do with the great partners that we have.
“This is a great place to win,” he enthused, “and I feel like we’re getting some momentum going at just the right time. We’re getting that race car back that we had in years past.”
Torrence’s weekend began on Saturday with a win in the Mission Foods 2Fast2Tasty Challenge over Team Kalitta’s Shawn Langdon with a pass of 3.788 at 325.61 mph to Langdon’s 4.170 at 206.16 mph. While the win was good enough for Torrence to pick up some needed points for the Countdown to the Championship, the qualifying run was only good enough to be the No. 4 qualifier.
Following all three rounds of qualifying, Torrence posted a time of 3.764 at 327.98 mph for a first-round match with No. 11 qualifier and familiar foe, Josh Hart. In that race against Hart, Torrence won with a pass of 3.736 at 328.38 mph to Hart’s 3.750 at 331.12 mph, good enough to move to the quarterfinals to face last year’s Top Fuel champion, Brittany Force.
Force advanced with a win over her teammate Austin Prock to meet Steve in the quarterfinals. Unlike the first race, Torrence won easily over Force after the John Force Racing driver smoked the tires. The CAPCO driver still ended up posting a respectable time of 3.752 at 328.78 mph, continuing his consistency throughout the eliminations.
For the semi-finals, Torrence squared off against another former champion of the field, which was Team Kalitta’s, Shawn Langdon. Both faced one another on Saturday during the Mission Challenge. With Langdon looking for redemption, both drivers began peddling their dragsters down the track.
Due to the peddling, it created a close race between the two. However, the victory ultimately went to Torrence with a time of 4.016 at 272.28 mph to Langdon’s 4.074 at 272.12 mph. The semi-final win helped Torrence to the final round and faced longtime Top Fuel veteran, Doug Kalitta, who was also seeking his first win in quite some time.
For Kalitta, the final-round appearance was the first back-to-back final-round appearance in 60 races. His last victory also came against Torrence in St. Louis during the 2020 season.
In the final round, it was Torrence, who was off the line first with an uncharacteristic reaction time of 0.104 while Kalitta also had similar times of 0.112. The two were side-by-side for a brief moment until Kalitta’s dragster clicked off and Torrence pulled away with a pass of 3.940 at 289.26 mph. The victory was extra special for the CAPCO team, as they gave Toyota Racing their 200th overall victory in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series.
“We are honored to have achieved our 200th victory in NHRA competition,” said David Wilson, president, Toyota Racing Development. “Our NHRA teams constantly deliver for Toyota on and off the drag strip. Their hard work and tireless effort to succeed has allowed us to achieve this incredible milestone in our Toyota Racing history. We look forward to celebrating this achievement with them and continuing to work towards the season-long championship titles.”
Kalitta earned his second runner-up of the season after scoring wins over Ron Smith and Denver winner, Clay Millican. With the small car count of 13 dragsters, Kalitta had a bye run as well.
“It was really a good weekend for us,” Kalitta said. “Going to the final again – all my guys are working really hard on this thing, and I couldn’t be more proud of what we have going on. It was there for the taking in the final, and it was one of those deals where we let one get away. For Mac Tools, Revchem, Toyota – definitely appreciate everyone’s support. We’ll give it another shot next week, and maybe Sonoma will be our time.”
Official NHRA Top Fuel Results Following Seattle
- Steve Torrence
- Doug Kalitta
- Clay Millican
- Shawn Langdon
- Justin Ashley
- Mike Salinas
- Brittany Force
- Austin Prock
- Josh Hart
- Leah Pruett
- Tony Schumacher
- Ron Smith
- Antron Brown
Official NHRA Camping World Top Fuel Points Standings
- Steve Torrence, 821 points
- Justin Ashley, -4
- Leah Pruett, -136
- Brittany Force, -137
- Austin Prock, -167
- Doug Kalitta, -184
- Antron Brown, -197
- Mike Salinas, -199
- Josh Hart, -250
- Clay Millican, -253
Up Next: The NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series concludes its Western Swing at Sonoma Raceway, July 28-30 for the 35th annual, DENSO Sonoma Nationals.