The NHRA Top Fuel father-son duo of Billy and Steve Torrence celebrate with lunch at their favorite Mexican restaurant every Monday after one of them wins a race.

Maybe this week they ought to invite fellow Top Fuel racer Josh Hart.

Steve Torrence defeated Mike Salinas in Sunday’s final round of the Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway to take back the points lead he saw Brittany Force swipe from him the week before at Charlotte. And he can thank Hart, in part, for that.

Hart defeated two of the top three in the standings, nemesis Force and No. 3-ranked Justin Ashley. Then in the semifinal round, Torrence had to beat the driver who had done him those favors. And he did, reclaiming the No. 1 ranking that he clearly has believed never should have been vulnerable in the first place.

He and his Capco Contractors Dragster team had 411 points on Force and her Monster Energy / Flav-R-Pac Dragster group at the end of the regular season, and the NHRA – in the Countdown-spawned “points adjustment” that the Torrence camp has referred to as “pencil parity” – handed her back all but 20 points. But Torrence knows those are the rules everyone must play by. And he didn’t harp on it at all Sunday after recording his 49th victory which ties him with Doug Kalitta for fifth on the class’ all-time winners list. 

Torrence simply said, “We’ll just see if we can take advantage of the opportunities we get. I’ve been here before. I know what the stress and pressure are. We’ll count on what got us here, and that’s those Capco Boys.”

And as the Camping World Drag Racing Series moves south to Dallas for the Oct. 7-10 Texas Fall Nationals as part of the Texas Motorplex’s Stampede of Speed, Torrence is just one victory shy of hitting the No. 50 plateau – a particularly remarkable feat, considering he has competed in Top Fuel just since 2012.

That’s on his mind right now only because it means he would be one step closer to locking down his fourth consecutive series crown. Only six pro drivers in the sport’s history so far have won four straight championships: Don Prudhomme, Bob Glidden, Lee Shepherd, Kenny Bernstein, John Force, and Tony Schumacher.

At least until his lunch at El Charro at Tyler, Texas, has time to digest Monday, Torrence can savor his ninth victory in the season’s 16 races. It came at the expense of early conquests Shawn Langdon and Antron Brown, as well, and finally Salinas. Torrence won with a 3.736-second elapsed time at 328.78 mph on the Madison, Ill., 1,000-foot course against Salinas’ 3.996, 226.70 in his wounded Scrappers Racing Dragster.

But No. 1 qualifier Salinas – who moved up to fourth place in the standings, was no pushover, by any means. He cut an outstanding .011-second light, while an admittedly distracted Torrence left the starting line with an abysmal .142.

“There he went,” Torrence said of Salinas’ spot-on launch, “and I’m like, ‘Oh, s---, boys, we got to go!’ And so I saw Scrappers for a loooong way! And I’m like, ‘No way am I going to catch this guy. And then his car quit. We got around him, and I’m like, ‘Oh, Lord, I’m glad you’re on my side today, because I did a lot to screw that up.”

With the addition to the original schedule of the Bristol, Tenn., event right after the one at Ennis, Texas, the 2021 Countdown to the Championship consists of seven races rather than the customary six. That means a lot of racing still is left – and more time for Torrence’s challengers to take more shots at his points lead. That’s what propped up Force’s spirits after her disappointing day Sunday.

She called her result in suburban St. Louis a “tough day for this Monster Energy / Flav-R-Pac team, getting beat in the second round. We had a hole out, but I also wasn’t there on the starting line. There’s still four races left in this Countdown, and that’s plenty of time for us to regroup and move forward.”

She’s second in the order, 36 points behind Torrence after a 57-point swing for the weekend in his favor. Her results stained an otherwise stellar performance that saw her set low E.T. and top speed of the meet at 3.641 seconds and 337.66 mph, despite watching Salinas end her No. 1 qualifying streak at eight. She fell one short of matching Gary Beck’s early-1980s record.

Billy Torrence improved to third place in the standings. Justin Ashley dropped from third to fifth and Leah Pruett from fifth to sixth. The rest of the top 10 remained the same.

Hart, a rookie who missed the Countdown only because several of his R+L Carriers Dragster crew members had a scare with COVID mid-summer and the team sat out two races Hart had planned to attend, said, “We’re in it. We’re going to race for it, to upset the championship as much as we can.” Hart indicated he doesn’t consider himself a part-time team, especially with victories at Gainesville in the season opener and during the Countdown at Charlotte: “Look at how many times we’ve been in the semifinals.”

Following their semifinal match-up Sunday, Torrence came over to Hart and the two exchanged words of respect. “Lot of respect there between both of us. We’re on the same page that way. He’s good people, one of the very few real ones out there. Lot of respect for him.”  

And maybe the Torrences can think of Hart when they’re enjoying their enchiladas.