ADVERSITY ONLY INSPIRES TF POINT LEADER STEVE TORRENCE
Dealing with pressure is nothing new for Top Fuel point leader Steve Torrence. After all, regarding a world championship, Torrence has been there and done that. He even has the t-shirt to prove it.
Torrence, who won the 2005 Lucas Oil Top Alcohol Dragster championship, says this season's run for a Top Fuel title is eerily reminiscent of that memorable season.
"You don’t think about anything other than just winning the race and winning rounds," Torrence explained. "The rest of that crap is going to take care of itself. I reflect back on that actually quite a bit myself, just to make sure that I don’t get distracted from what we’re trying to do here, and we’re just trying to win rounds."
And for Torrence, the Texas Motorplex, his proclaimed home track, has been notorious for creating distractions in the middle of his championship runs.
Though Torrence declines to mention which round he needed to win to secure his championship, he cannot help but remember a conversation with the opponent.
"I remember very clearly when I was racing the round that we clinched the championship and that guy walked over to me and said, ‘I hear if you win this round, you win the championship."
"And I said, ‘Yes, sir."
"And he said, ‘Well it looks like you’re going to have to go somewhere else."
Torrence paused and added, "I actually ran 5.20 at 276 and crushed his ass, and walked down at the end and told him, ‘Good race."
Fast forward to last Sunday, and in a second-round victory over Richie Crampton, Torrence experienced a far worse distraction than an opponent playing mind games.
As Torrence drew close to the finish line, he admits he felt a tire let go. Sunday's horrific accident marked his first accident in drag racing.
"The biggest question you get from somebody that doesn’t know a whole lot about racing is, ‘You drive a race car, you’re a Top Fuel driver, have you ever had any bad crashes?"
"And my response is always, ‘No, not yet."
"Unfortunately I don’t get to answer that question with ‘No, not yet. Instead, yes I have, and it was a good one."
Torrence believes a tire came apart leading to the accident, and there was nothing any of his crew could have done to prevent it.
"I always say, ‘If you drive a Top Fuel car long enough, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when you have a wreck."
"Because something is going to fail. And I feel like I handled the situation well, I knew that the tire, I felt the tire go, and instantly knew what was wrong. I knew that; I mean not being crazy and weird but it just, that’s the first thing that came to my mind was the tire just, I just lost a tire. And I’m trying to steer it, well you know I’m steering into it, and I hit the wall."
Torrence said the impact didn't knock him out, but it did leave him a bit dazed.
"The next thing I know, I’m off the wall going across the other lane. And at that point, I’m thinking, ‘I got to steer this thing, I’m headed towards the other wall."
"I’m looking for the steering wheel, and there’s no steering wheel. I’m like, ‘Crap; it knocked that off."
Torrence said he instinctively reached for the steering shaft, but it too was gone.
"I wasn’t completely out of control," Torrence continued. "I felt like, given the situation, I did all I could. I was pushing the chutes out right as the tire went down. The tire was going away at half track but didn’t actually give up completely until 700-800 feet. So I was pushing the chutes, and I think that was something that saved it from being even more catastrophic going over the wall or something like that. At no point did I ever feel completely out of control, it’s just it wasn’t flipping over, it wasn’t rolling around or anything like that, so I was still upright, I was still pointing at the direction that I should be, I just was along for the ride."
Torrence, who afterward watched the video of the incident, said the crash looked much worse from the outside than it did from the inside.
"The main concern I had was getting out to let my Mom and Dad and my team know that I was okay," Torrence said.
In a moment of channeling his inner Raymond Beadle (from the 1982 Gatornationals), Torrence unbuckled himself from the wreckage and jumped out, immediately raising his arms in the arm to the roaring approval of the spectators.
"When something bad happens, you get out immediately saying, ‘Hey, we’re good," Torrence said.
In what would have been an acceptable distraction, Torrence and his crew went immediately to work, taking advantage of the 1989 Eddie Hill Rule which allows a backup car to be brought into competition following an accident.
Not only did the crew produce a competitive car in time for his semi-final match against Brittany Force, but he also had the quicker reaction time and came within .006 of duplicating his elapsed time from the previous round.
The bottom line for Torrence, is he was not going to leave anything on the table regardless of the circumstances he and his team faced from the crash.
"I’ve said all along, I’ve got all the faith in the world in those guys and I truly believe that my race team is better than any other race team out there, hands down," Torrence said. "I mean day in, and day out, there are times when another team does better at this and does better at that, but as a whole, those guys right there, I’ll put up against anybody out there, and I think that they will prevail."
Torrence heads into Las Vegas with a 57-point lead over Brittany Force with just two races left.
For Torrence, refusing to acquiesce to mind games in the heat of battle or the challenge of crashing a crash, is indicative of his focus when it comes to winning a championship.
"Yeah, that’s what we do," Torrence said. "We’re race car drivers, and we’re racing for a championship, and we needed to stage that car in the semi-final, and we needed to get that win, and that’s what I was there to do. We’re there to race, I was there to win, and if you’re not there for that, and if you don’t want to get back in that car after that, it makes you question why are you there."
There's no question why Torrence is here.