Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence will roll into the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals presented by Tri-Cities Area Ford Dealers at Bristol Dragway sporting a different look on his Capco Contractors dragster this weekend. In honor of the late John Mitchell, Torrence’s car will be wrapped for this race to resemble one of Mitchell’s Montana Express dragsters from the 1990s. The Montana Express played host to several up-and-comers on the NHRA tour in those days, many of whom are now some of the biggest names in the sport. Torrence’s current crew chief, Richard Hogan, was one.
Torrence dedicated his latest win in Englishtown to Mitchell and wanted to do more after hearing of his passing.
"Even though I didn’t personally know John, he was an integral part of so many careers out here," Torrence said. "He certainly was a huge part of what Richard is doing now. Mitchell’s team was a lot like Torrence Racing; they were a single-car team out here racing the big names of that day. I can tell you from personal experience, that isn’t easy. I have a lot of respect for what he did."
Hogan is looking forward to having one more chance to put the Montana Express in the winner’s circle.
"It is a pretty big deal for all of us who knew John," Hogan said. "It’ll be neat; that was the same paint scheme that was on the car when I started working full time with John. It’s brought back a lot of memories seeing the car with Montana Express on the side of it."
One of Hogan’s fondest memories of racing with Mitchell came at the expense of Cory McClenathan and his then-tuner Mike Green at the Gatornationals in 1998. Mitchell’s team struggled in qualifying and only earned the No. 13 spot for driver David Grubnic. Mitchell and Hogan knew they had to try something to make up the difference between them and No. 4 qualifier McClenathan.
"Everybody was messing around with timing back then," Hogan said. "We tried pulling the timing out way earlier than we normally would, and it worked. The car ran hard to half-track, but then it burned some valves and caught on fire the rest of the way down the track. We still ran a 4.573, which was a pretty good run at that time, and we beat Cory.
"The best part was Mike’s reaction," Hogan continued. "He said something like, 'You just outran us, and your car was on fire for half of the race.' John was pretty proud of that run. We even pulled the pistons and rods from that pass out of the car and mounted them so they could sit on John’s shelf. We had a lot of good laughs over the years looking at those parts.
"I owe a lot to John," Hogan concluded. "I moved to Montana to work on his car, and I never left. He ran a top-notch team, and we always had the best parts and plenty of them. We didn’t run the full schedule, but when we went to a race, we were ready. Even after he quit racing, he still kept up with it, always asking me what was new with the cars and how things were going. John will be missed. I hope we do his memory proud this weekend."
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