After the way last season ended, Steve Torrence had gotten used to winning, which made it seem like his 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season was off to a slow start, despite sitting third in points, by going winless through the first five races. But the defending Top Fuel world champ won on Sunday in Charlotte, putting Torrence back on a familiar path heading to this weekend’s 39th annual Arby’s NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
The truth is, Torrence wasn’t far off from his 2018 championship form that included 11 total wins and a clean sweep of the six Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship races. His victory on Sunday in his 10,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster put Torrence back in the points lead – a place that’s been familiar over the past two seasons – and the Texan looks to continue that momentum at Georgia’s House of Speed, where he has two career victories.
“These Capco boys, we don’t give up,” said Torrence, who has 28 career wins. “We might be down for a little bit, but we’re back up and we’re ready for a fight. We haven’t had the car we had in the Countdown, but it’s just because we’ve been testing some stuff. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s been not the way we wanted to start the season, but you look at the grand scheme and we went into (Charlotte) third in points, so obviously we weren’t doing too bad. We have a high level of expectation at Torrence Racing and I’ve got a really good group of guys behind me.”
Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including finals coverage starting at 6:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. It is the seventh of 24 races in 2019 and Torrence seems to be rounding into championship form, not that he was that far off early in the season.
He had a runner-up in Pomona – stopping an incredible streak of 27 straight round wins – and had qualified third or better at four of the first five races before heading into Charlotte. But Torrence felt as though something was missing and it took a look in the mirror to change his attitude. Driving with an edge, Torrence grabbed his first victory of 2019 and found what he needs to be successful.
“I’ve kind of learned some things about myself,” Torrence said. “I have to get into a little different mindset. I can’t be all relaxed, happy go lucky. I have to have a chip on my shoulder, but it’s the way I seem to race better, just an aggressive stance and going for it instead of sitting back and letting it happen. It’s just a mindset that I have to be in. I think that as you go through this, you learn what works for you and what doesn’t, and I figured out what does and that’s how I race.”
It’s a mindset that has led to 20 wins since the start of the 2017 season, a dominant stretch that includes a win at Atlanta Dragway two years ago. To grab another, he’ll have to get past the likes of Clay Millican, Pomona winner Doug Kalitta, Mike Salinas, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, three-time world champ Antron Brown and Terry McMillen, but Torrence has the ultimate belief in his team, which has been spurred by crew chiefs Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana.
“Richard and Bobby, they just instill confidence in you,” Torrence said. “I hadn’t been driving with the most confidence. I think I had maybe been driving on defense and not on offense. So I changed my mindset and I went out there and did what I needed to do instead of thinking about it. It just instills confidence in you when your car goes down the track and it does what you need it to do.”
Funny Car’s Shawn Langdon won in Charlotte, but everyone is chasing points leader Robert Hight, who has three wins. Others to watch include Ron Capps and defending world champ J.R. Todd.
The Pro Stock Motorcycle class makes its fourth of 16 appearances in 2019 at the event, with everyone chasing Andrew Hines, who has two victories this season.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service has its fourth of 12 races in the 2019 season. Todd Tutterow, defending world champ Mike Janis and Stevie “Fast” Jackson both have wins this year, while the class also includes popular drivers Erica Enders, Alex Laughlin and three-time champ Rickie Smith. The event also features exciting competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport.
As always, fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Nitro School to learn more about how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Atlanta Dragway will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Cruising with Castello Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. A can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their Arby’s NHRA Southern Nationals victories.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 4:00 and 7:00 p.m. on Friday, May 3 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, May 4, at 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 5.
To purchase tickets, call (800) 884-NHRA (6472) or visit www.NHRA.com/tickets. Kids 12 and under are free in general admission areas with a paid adult.