After winning his semifinal round of Seattle's O'Reilly Northwest Nationals, Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence said, "We're living lucky, and The Good Lord's looking after us."
That certainly was true Sunday, for the Capco Contractors Inc. Dragster owner-driver from Kilgore, Texas, as he went on to earn his third victory in his fifth final round in the past nine events, beating overdue Shawn Langdon in the Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster.
And Torrence capped the weekend in which he clinched a berth in the National Hot Rod Association's Countdown in qualifying by enjoying the attractive company in the winners circle.
With a 4.168-second elapsed time at 261.98 mph on the Pacific Raceways 1,000-foot course, Torrence beat Langdon's 4.329, 254.57 to join Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Erica Enders (Pro Stock) and Super Street's Megan Ellingson in the post-race celebration.
It didn't matter to Torrence that his victory might be overlooked in the fête of female winners. He was more concerned that he was the oldest of the three pro winners.
"I was sitting in the car in line to run and saw Erica win and then Courtney. I knew I definitely wanted to be the guy to stand in the middle of them. There was no way I wanted to lose this one," the 29-year-old single driver said. "The funny thing is we get in the cart coming back, Erica is there and Autumn [Robert Hight's daughter and Courtney's niece] and Courtney's in there -- and it dawned on me that I was the oldest one in there."
Torrence said he supported the women in their final-round battles.
"I was really cheering for Erica, and it's really cliché when you say, the hardest is the first win. After that, they are a lot easier. Erica is a great racer and driver, [has] been out here for a long time. They got their first win, and now she is confident and knows she has the car to do it. And then Courtney, that's [three] finals. She's got a super-good hot rod over there at John Force Racing, and she's a good driver."
As for his wild pedaling, tire-smoking victory, Torrence said, "Today I just won the coin toss. Any time the driver is in there, doing all he can to get down the track and beat the guy alongside him, that takes it away from the tuners and puts it in the hands of the driver.
"Shawn Langdon is a great driver, and I knew he'd be on the tree. I definitely tried to step my game up. When we went in there, I was ready. I went up there expecting the conditions to not be able to handle what we were going to throw at it. If we didn't, we were going to lose. I was ready for it when it happened, and I was sure he was, too," Torrence said. "Shawn is a great driver and friend. I've grown up racing with him all of my life.
"We were definitely working for that win today," Torrence said after beating Steve Chrisman, Khalid al Balooshi, Doug Kalitta, and al Balooshi's teammate Langdon.
"I wouldn't have story-booked it to be as good as it's been," the No. 4-ranked driver in the standings said of his first full season as an owner-driver. "We've just got a real good handle on the way things are going.
"We've been fortunate and blessed to have the means to get parts and pieces that we've needed to be here, the right people into place -- and let them do their jobs, don't micro-manage it. We're very thankful to be where we're at," he said.
He and crew chief Richard Hogan have received the highest endorsement from no less than drag-racing legend "Big Daddy" Don Garlits: "I'm real proud of him. He's a nice young man, too. And Richard is exceptionally smart."
Langdon, a Mira Loma, Calif., native living in Avon, Ind., had some big shoes to fill and some big tasks ahead of him as race day dawned.
His crew chief, Brian Husen, and team manager Alan Johnson, had tuned Del Worsham to a victory here and to the series championship last season. Langdon was seeking his first Top Fuel victory in his fifth career final round.
Before this race, he said, "With three races left in the regular season, we can move all the way up to fifth or we could drop as low as ninth. So we really need to pick up the pace a little."
He improved one place in the standings, to sixth. He's 63 points behind No. 5 Doug Kalitta and 10 ahead of No. 7 Morgan Lucas.
"It was a good day for the Al-Anabi team. It's just a little disappointing, because when you get into the final, you have your hopes set on winning the race," Langdon said. "The Al-Anabi team is definitely headed in the right direction, and the best thing about this weekend is that the Al-Anabi car ran really well. We qualified well, we were among the quickest if not the quickest in some qualifying sessions, and the car made good runs today. The race track was very tricky in the semifinals and finals. We won a tire-smoking semifinal and lost a tire-smoking final. We are continuing to learn, and we all know our first win will be here shortly. We just have to try our best and keep at it."
The 16th of 23 races on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour will be at Brainerd, Minn., in two weeks. It is the last race before the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, where the pro-class fields will be sealed for the six-race playoff that criss-crosses the country through Charlotte, Dallas, Reading (Pa.), St. Louis, Las Vegas, and Pomona (Calif.).
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