Steve Torrence understandably was monumentally disappointed that he didn’t close the 2017 season as the Top Fuel championship. He won eight times in 11 final-round appearances, was 56-16 on race day, led the standings on three separate occasions following 10 of 24 races, and won both the U.S. Nationals and Traxxas Nitro Shootout with all the momentum heading into the Countdown. But a massive crash at Dallas, from which he was blessed to escape unhurt, set his program back at the worst possible. He battled gamely but never recaptured the magic and watched Brittany Force take the title.

The emotional toll takes time to erase, And that’s true, as well, for Torrence’s loyal and hard-working Capco Contractors Dragster crew.  

Clutch specialist Gary Pritchett, whose wife Leah Pritchett dogged Torrence for Top Fuel supremacy all season long from the Don Schumacher Racing camp, said after the 2017 experience, “We’ve got something to prove this year.”

Never mind that they started last season with something to prove, too – and they did. And that was that a single-car team could compete seriously and contend for a championship. But once again, they will begin a season with a defiant attitude, not particularly as underdog but as a team with unfinished business. 

“[Car chief] Bobby Lagana says it best: If we have half the season we had last year, it’s a success,” Gary Pritchett said. “We won eight races. I mean, that doesn’t happen. So if we could reverse that, maybe win a couple, or we end the same. If we could just win the championship, that’d be great. I mean, in 2016, we finished third, in 2017 we finished second, now 2018 might be meant to be to finish one. Three, two, one.”

Of the 81-point deficit, he said, “It was close.” But it wasn’t Pritchett’s first such experience.

“In 2007, I was on Hot Rod Fuller’s car. Same deal, in Pomona we lost it,” he said. “Somebody else won it, and it was there for the taking, same deal. We were ahead. We had the bullseye on our back, and we lost it, you know, with Fuller. Pressure gets to you. What got us here was when we had that accident, when he [Torrence] wrecked. It hurt us. You know, it’s hard to recover from that. That’s what got us a lot.”

He agreed that the team recovered as well as possible: “We did.”

Still, the fact remains, he said, that “Brittany won four races last year. She won three of them in the Countdown. So I mean, they just came on at the right time.”

Torrence spoke out about the drawbacks of the Countdowns’ six-race format on that last day of the 2017 season. Pritchett said, “Oh yeah. You can argue it all day.”

Pritchett said, “Winning Indy last year and winning the Shootout, that was so special. Most of us have never won Indy, and then we won, we doubled up and that was just so special to do that, too. You know, that’s like winning the Super Bowl. It was awesome.

“We doubled up that year in ’07, too, with Fuller. And we almost won the championship. It’s like deja vu. I’m like, ‘Ah, man, we’re going to do it this year.’ It hurt. It hurt bad. A lot of us . . .the [newest] guy on this team has 11 years’ experience, maybe 10 years.”

And that’s a long time to wait to get that close and lose the opportunity on the final day of the season.