TORRENCE BACK ON RIGHT TOP FUEL COURSE; SO IS RUNNER-UP PALMER
Steve Torrence was perturbed enough last November that he wound up second in the final Top Fuel standings after being in the catbird seat for so long. Then he became further annoyed in the season-starting Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., where he disqualified himself with a red light start in the second round.
So the tenacious Texan said he was looking for a “do-over” for the Capco Contractors Dragster team here this weekend at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
He got it Sunday, winning the Arizona Nationals at Chandler, Ariz. – against one of his closest nitro brothers, Scott Palmer, who was making his career-first final-round appearance in the Cat Spot Litter / Marck Industries Dragster.
Torrence, who won eight races in 11 finals last season, began his 2018 march with a 3.729-second, 330.72-mph pass on the 1,000-foot course for his 17th overall Top Fuel victory. He also has the points lead as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series prepares for the Amalie Oil Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., in three weeks.
Palmer, the easygoing fan favorite, experienced immediate tire smoke, cut off his engine, and rolled across the finish line in 6.449 seconds at 102.70.
“Anymore there’s not an easy round. There’s no room for error,” Torrence said after joining Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) on the winners podium to celebrate with what the NHRA called a sellout audience.
Torrence said he took advantage of lane choice to get past Steve Chrisman in the first round. Blake Alexander, the Funny Car convert who Torrence called “hungry” and “a young kid fighting for his position out here, was next in line. Torrence indicated he was glad to dismiss him, because, he said that Bob Vandergriff-owned dragster is running well and Alexander is adapting nicely to his new class.
By the semifinal round, the Top Fuel class had a 75-percent chance of welcoming a new winner. But Palmer and Torrence reduced the odds to 50 percent. Palmer ended the Cinderella career-second start of Greg Carrillo, who opened the day by beating traction-plagued top qualifier Tony Schumacher. And Torrence defeated his 2018-debuting dad with 3.722 seconds of elapsed time to 3.726, or a victory margin of about seven feet.
“The only way that could have been better was if we were in the next round, if it was the finals,” Torrence said of the father-son match. He said it was the “toughest race of the day. He’s been getting more and more comfortable the car – and that’s a problem. He’s going to race more this year, and I know I’m going to have to race him some more. He did an unbelievable job. He’s keeping us on our toes. He taught me how to race. I’m really proud of him. That was the coolest thing.
“I think some people were anticipating me to win and him to smoke the tires or whatever, but we’re not that way. We’re going to race heads-up,” he said. “That guy right there is my biggest opponent. Not only if I lose to him I have to hear about it today, but I’ve got to hear about it for the duration of time until we race again. I live close to that guy, and he’s going to talk trash to me every opportunity he gets. It was good race – whether we won or lost, I didn’t care. That puts my dad going to the final, and not only is he my dad, he’s my sponsor and he has spent a lot of money out here, doing this. I want him to have success.
“And it was cool having Scott Palmer in there [in the final] with us,” Torrence said.
So Palmer knew if he could get past Carrillo (which he did), he would be facing a Torrence one way or another. Would it be Steve Torrence, who has shared manpower, equipment, data, and – in his words – “millions of dollars’ worth of information” with him? Or would it be Billy Torrence, whose wife Kay sends Palmer Bible verses and devotions every morning?
“That guy’s a third car to our team,” Torrence said of Palmer. “He’s going to run all 24 and my dad’s not, but when we run together, we run together. And he has a lot of our parts and pieces and all of our information. And we try to make sure he does as well as we can get him to do. And that teams’ doing really good over there. I’ve known Scott Palmer since I was 15 years old. So I’ve known him 20 years.
“I asked him when we were going up there for the final, ‘Man, 20 years ago, did you think we’d be here?’ He said, ‘No, I thought we’d be painting cars’” and that Torrence would be digging ditches and laying pipe in them. Said Torrence, “I’m still doing that, but we’re both racing. The round with my dad was cool, but racing Palmer in the final was awesome in its own right. It’s a heck of a day.”
Palmer, whose primary sponsor is a cat-litter company, used his typical humor to highlight his emotions at reaching a final for the first time: “It’s what we do it for. I’m lucky. If this doesn’t make you want to go get a cat, what does?”
FOX TV analyst Bruno Massel said in Palmer’s pit, “It’s almost like you went to a party and a drag race broke out.”
Palmer didn’t get a trophy for making the final, but he regarded the day as successful nevertheless. He advanced past Richie Crampton in a first round that saw half of the eight match-ups decided by upsets, then beat Leah Pritchett and fellow upset-minded racer Carrillo.
Torrence did get the trophy, but maybe he “won” when he came to terms with his 2017 finish.
“We had a pretty good car in Pomona [last fall]. We had a half-ass driver,” he said. “I went up there and – I’ll just be honest with you – I didn’t have my mind right since the wreck [at Dallas]. I wasn’t really in the right place in Pomona, not that you’re scared. But I was kind of pissed that it didn’t go the way I wanted it to. I finally sat down and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to suck it up. This is going to happen to anybody and everybody out here.’
“I think not only did we outrun everybody last year, but I left on pretty much everybody we raced. And I had the best team and the best race car. I just had to remind myself of it. So we showed up today and done what we needed to do."