Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – NORWALK, OH – A year after winning eight races during a banner 2017 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, Steve Torrence has gone to several events this year as the defending event winner. It’s something that doesn’t get old for the Top Fuel standout and will include this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park.
Torrence has kept up that impressive pace from last season in his 10,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster, winning four races and holding the points lead through the first 11 events. As 2018 hits the halfway mark in Norwalk, Torrence looks as strong as ever as he races for his first career world championship. Another victory at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park would put him a step closer to his goal in a stretch that currently includes 12 wins in his last 30 races.
“As a whole, the season has gone very well for us,” Torrence said. “We faltered in Chicago, but we turned right around and got a win (in Richmond). We’ve recovered very well and I’m proud of that. It’s really neat to go somewhere as the defending event winner, but it’s something you only think briefly about going into the race. After Friday that goes out the window, but we won this race last year and we will try to do it again. We would like to leave our mark there again if possible.”
Torrence (Top Fuel), Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock) and LE Tonglet (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including final eliminations coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, June 24. It is the 12th of 24 races during the 2018 season and finishes a rigorous stretch of four consecutive races.
With that in mind, Torrence would like to end it on a good note after his win in Richmond and semifinal appearance on Sunday in Bristol. Being ready for the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship is the ultimate goal for the 20-time event winner, but Torrence knows that performing well in the heat and summer months puts his team one step closer to that objective.
“This stretch is a test of endurance,” Torrence said. “We would like to finish strong for sure, because it shows you and your guys have the grit and can stand the test of time. This is the same team we had all last year and the year before that, and they’ve shown the resiliency and drive. We’re going to try to keep moving forward, but these guys are tested. We’re where we want to be. We’ve won four races and gone rounds, so we’re in a good spot. We can always strive for more, but we hold the bar pretty high for ourselves.”
No Top Fuel driver has more than two wins at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park, so back-to-back wins at the fan-favorite facility would put Torrence with Larry Dixon for the most in the class. But doing so won’t be easy, as eight-time world champion Tony Schumacher broke through for the first time in 2018 at Bristol. Others to watch include Clay Millican, who has two wins this year, defending world champion Brittany Force, Atlanta winner Leah Pritchett and Pomona winner Doug Kalitta, but Torrence believes his team is capable of repeating its performance in Norwalk.
“We’re optimistic going into Norwalk,” Torrence said. “We’ve had success there in the past and it’s always a fun race. It’s a pretty neat place and there’s a ton of fans there. They do a great job of entertaining the fans there and it’s always a cool place to go. We’re looking forward to it.”
Jack Beckman aims to try and track down Funny Car points leader Courtney Force, who has four wins in 2018. Other standouts are Bristol winner Ron Capps and defending champ Robert Hight.
Points leader Greg Anderson will try to become the ninth different Pro Stock winner in 2018, joining a list that includes defending world champ Bo Butner, two-time winners Jeg Coughlin Jr., Tanner Gray and Vincent Nobile, as well as Erica Enders, Deric Kramer, Matt Hartford and Chris McGaha.
LE Tonglet is after his second win of the Pro Stock Motorcycle season as he tries to track down the likes of points leader Andrew Hines, defending world champ Eddie Krawiec and Matt Smith.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service makes its seventh of 12 stops in the 2018 season. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying, fans can watch the spectacular Hanna Motorsports “First Strike” Jet Funny Car driven by Rich Hanna and “Queen of Diamonds” Jet dragster driven by Sarah Edwards. Jet cars are thrust driven propelled by jet engines with exciting pre-run flame shows.
Those in attendance will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with some of the biggest names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This includes meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends scheduled to attend the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals include Shirley Muldowney and Mark Pawak.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series qualifying will feature two rounds at 5:15 and 8:15 p.m. on Friday, June 22 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, June 23, at 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 24.