Steve Torrence still has a ways to go before he matches his 2018 season, where he went 11-0 in final rounds en route to the first of his three straight Top Fuel world championships, but he’s off to a great start. The Capco driver has now won three of the first five races of the 2021 season after stopping Doug Kalitta in the final of the rain-delayed Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil. This win meant more than most since the Texas-based Torrence has been trying to win the Houston event since his Top Alcohol Dragster days nearly two decades ago.
“We’ve run well here in the past, but we get to the final round and something always seems to happen. We’ve been snake bit,” Torrence said. “I don’t know if I’ve had win repellant on me or what. The Kalitta boys did an awesome job. This is also the first race I’ve ever won on Monday other than Indy. I just think it’s unbelievable to have the success we’ve had this year, and to win in Texas in front of our Capco crew and fans is even more special.
Torrence needed just a 4.00 to earn career win No. 43 after Kalitta’s Mobil 1/TRD dragster smoked the tires early. Torrence has lost just two rounds this season and has 14 round-wins to extend his lead in the NHRA Camping World Top Fuel standings.
Coming off a convincing win a week ago in Charlotte, the Capco crew had no problems adjusting to the warm and muggy conditions present in Houston for much of the weekend. A 3.727 was more than enough to land in the top spot, but Sunday and Monday’s final rounds were far from smooth sailing. In addition to his off-pace performance in the final, Torrence slowed to a 4.04 in the opening round, but that was enough to cover Mitch King, who was making his first start since 2008.
Torrence was quick when he needed to be, including a 3.703 in his semifinal win against Clay Millican. Torrence also ran a 3.71 on his quarterfinal bye run.
Kalitta was just about to take on Brittany Force in a crucial round-one match on Sunday when rain interrupted the event and pushed final eliminations into Monday. The battle, normally reserved for late rounds, went to Kalitta with a 3.76 at just 281 mph, after Force’s Monster Energy dragster smoked the tires.
“That was worth the wait,” said Kalitta. “Just before the finish line, it was coasting. At that moment, you’re just hoping they’re not going around you. You can kind of see it, but you’re not totally sure.”
Kalitta, wearing a special wrap highlighting the Kalitta team’s relationship with Mobil 1 and Toyota Racing Development, made a similar run in the quarterfinals with a 3.77 at just 291 mph in his win against Antron Brown’s Matco Tools dragster. Kalitta didn’t top 300 mph in the semifinals, either. He managed just a 3.99 after dropping cylinders at half-track, yet it was enough to hold off teammate Shawn Langdon’s tire-hazing 4.18.