NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Torrence has the horse beneath him again to lasso a fifth world championship

After winning four straight Top Fuel world championships, Steve Torrence has had to watch others take the championship stage the last two years, but the way things have started this season, he may be ready to be back on top.
09 Mar 2024
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
Steve Torrence

Steve Torrence walked into the Gainesville Raceway media center Friday night after qualifying and joked, ‘Hey, I’m the points leader,” as if people forget that he won four straight champions, 2018-2021, but he hasn’t forgotten that it’s been way too long since he’s worn the No. 1 on the wing of the CAPCO Contractors dragster.

Last year it went to Doug Kalitta, who finally won his first after six championship runner-ups, and as happy as pretty much everyone – including Torrence -- was for the long-suffering Kalitta, it’s still eating at him.

“There's a lot of mixed emotions,” he admitted. “Doug won the championship and I'm very happy for Doug because he deserved to win it. That guy has as been in the in the fight numerous times and just not gotten there, but I wanted to win that championship and I didn't like we lost that chance, and when I say we, it's the guy sitting in this seat right now, because there were a couple of rounds that I lost on holeshots that would have won that championship. 

“I burden that. I keep that very close in my mind because I did not perform like the Steve Torrence of the four championships. There's a certain burden that I carried that with, but I'm very happy for Doug, Those guys came out. They performed when they needed to perform and they've done a great job, and I'm happy to see him win that championship."

As dominant as the Torrence team was in those four seasons, they knew they needed to refine their tune-up to stay there, and crew chief Richard Hogan and assistant Bobby Lagana Jr. made the tough decision to work their way through it knowing that the end would justify the means, which seems to have paid off late last season and here at the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, where they had the best run of both sessions and sit in the No. 1 qualifying spot.

“Those two runs, right, there are a product of the last year and a half, two years, coming to fruition,” he said. “It’s been one of the most difficult things of my career is to have a car that was as dominant and as strong as what it was, and say, 'OK, we're gonna put that on the shelf and try something new.' 

"But we had peaked with what we were doing. We could run .70-flat to .68 down a dirt road, but when everybody else was running .66, we could only run 67. It just wasn't where we wanted to be. Ultimately, it's just making power and getting into the ground. And that's what everybody is trying to do. As a driver, you don't do anything but drive the car. But mentally there's a lot that plays into how you perform based off of how your car performs. And if anybody tells you it doesn't matter, they haven't done it long enough. 

"I think I went to Hoagie a couple of times and said, ‘What the hell are you doing? We had a really good race car and now we can't outrun our own shadow. But we hired those guys to do a job and you stand behind them because the success that we had didn't just poof and appear. Richard Hogan and I've been together since 2011 and actually a year or two before that with Dexter Tuttle, when I brought Richard in. My dad's always told me my whole life, ‘You hire a guy, you put him in a spot, you support him the best you can, and let him do his job.’ And that's what we've done.”

“On any given day, my target kind of changes. And I figured out something about myself by watching the Michael Jordan documentary. I’ve got to have a target. In the years past have always been pretty vocal about the target. And then though, in recent years, I've just been a little more quiet about it and keep it to myself. But you got to have something that motivates you and something that drives you and it's different from day to day for me, even from round  to round. Every one of these guys and girls out here are the best or they wouldn't be here. And anytime you get a round win against any of them, it's good. It's better when it's on a holeshot. It's definitely more agonizing when it's on a on a holeshot loss, but it's what we do.”