Billy Torrence looked the part on Sunday at the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties. He qualified in the No. 2 position, right behind his son, and left on defending Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence. Billy did everything in his power to end his son’s five-race winning streak, but to the dismay of the rest of the Top Fuel field, he came up short.
The elder Torrence will not be around to take down his son at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals this weekend. He’s taking Father’s Day off, presumably because he’s working at Capco Contractors. No, that’s not much of a vacation, and it also means the full-time Top Fuel teams are left with the unenviable task of beating the seemingly unbeatable Torrence themselves.
Of course, we know Torrence can be beaten because, well, it wasn’t all that long ago that he went five races without a win. That seems like forever ago (April 14, to be precise) because, dammit, it was forever ago by his standards. Torrence has won 11 of the last 16 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Races and that darn air horn the team blows in the winner’s circle is giving everyone tinnitus quicker than the 22,000-horsepower blown apart at the starting line 30 times on Sunday.
No one has stepped up to issue a bounty on defeating Torrence yet, perhaps because they don’t want to give the Texan any extra motivation and perhaps because they don’t need any themselves. The reality of the situation is this: Torrence is almost certainly going to be the No. 1 seed as we enter the Countdown to the Championship, but that doesn’t mean everyone has given up with eight races before the Dodge NHRA Nationals in Reading.
So, who’s it going to be? The smart money is on Doug Kalitta. The soft spoken pilot out of Ypsilanti, Michigan is driving the best Top Fuel dragster he’s had this side of “The Run,” and while that’s spoken about with bated breath and hushed tones, we don’t have to whisper about the Mac Tools driver. He’s averaging a .061-second reaction time. That’s better than Torrence and everyone in the Top Fuel category not named Antron Brown. Kalitta has a better dragster than Brown and everyone in the category … well, not named Torrence and Mike Salinas.
But it’s so close. Close enough that everyone in red shirts must be able to taste how close that first championship is for Connie Kalitta’s nephew. Kalitta is getting down the track on 78 perent of his runs at a 3.797-second clip. That’s merely a hundredth of a second slower than Torrence and Salinas, who are separated by a thousandth in e.t. average. Kalitta has both of those drivers covered in reaction time, meaning he just needs a few breaks to go his way for the Kalitta Motorsports driver to get to the promised land.
That’s just in Bristol, of course. Winning a championship requires a few more breaks or to simply beat the brakes off of everyone else in the category; Torrence had the privilege of both in 2018. Kalitta, for all his talent, has never been afforded with the amount of luck found in a knockoff rabbit’s foot, let alone in a genuine horseshoe. Perhaps that will change this year, but anyone who’s strapped into a Top Fuel dragster knows how cruel the sport can be.
Torrence knows both ends of the spectrum. He is enjoying an incredible streak both because he has the best team and because he’s had some breaks (a couple of 4-second wins in Charlotte come to mind). That’s drag racing. If anyone wants to beat him, they’ll need a couple of breaks, too. At this point, well, if you come at Capco, you best not miss.