Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – LAS VEGAS, NV – On the cusp of winning his first NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championship, Steve Torrence is keeping the status quo. It has worked perfectly through the first four races of the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship and the Top Fuel points leader is continuing to rely on that mindset heading to this weekend’s 18th annual NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
It marks the penultimate race of the 2018 NHRA season and Torrence is firmly in command in his 10,000-horsepower Capco Contractors/Torrence Motorsports dragster, currently holding a 169-point lead over Clay Millican. Torrence has won the first four races of the Countdown to the Championship – the first time in NHRA history that has happened in Top Fuel or Funny Car – and he can close out his first world title this weekend in Las Vegas.
“To be honest, we don’t change anything,” Torrence said. “We just keep going. We just need to stay focused on the task at hand, try to qualify well and go some rounds. That’s what has worked well for us and you’ve got to keep your eye on the prize. We’ve gotten to where we’re at staying extremely focused, taking it one race, one round at a time. I think that’s the only way you can do things. We’ve learned to stay focused on the task and not let anything deviate you.”
Terry McMillen (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1 (FS1), including final eliminations coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, Oct. 28. It is the fifth of sixth races in the Countdown to the Championship and the 23rd of 24 races in a 2018 season where Torrence has been even more dominant than a year ago.
He won eight races in 2017, finishing second in points, but Torrence has been even more impressive in 2018, winning nine races and staying perfect in final rounds this year. Four of them have come in the playoffs as his team, led by crew chief Richard Hogan, has found another level. With the maximum number of points achievable at the season-finale in Pomona being 191 points, one more strong showing in Vegas could mean an early celebration for Torrence.
“It’s remarkable to sit back and just watch,” Torrence said of his team. “What they’re able to do time and time again, it’s impressive. The guys are just tough. They work hard to keep this thing going, and it’s a passion and what they love to do. Everybody sets out and wants to be a winner and champion, but it’s difficult to get there and it takes a team to get there. It takes a lot of determination and these guys put in the work. If they get knocked down, they just stand back up.”
Torrence believes he’s become a more mature driver and able to handle stressful situations better than in the past, and that’s been obvious during this incredible run in the Countdown to the Championship. But he’s also only focusing on the immediate task at hand and that’s racing well in Vegas. If he does his job there, a championship will be imminent, but Torrence is confidently headed to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with no stress and free of distractions.
“It helps that I’ve been in the situation before,” said Torrence, who has 25 career Top Fuel wins. “We still have to do the same thing at the last race as the first race. Your job doesn’t change. If you look at it that way, it makes it easier. But you need to enjoy the moment. I’m having so much fun. At the end of the day, I’m driving a Top Fuel dragster and racing for a championship. We’re going to stick to our guns, race hard in Vegas and I would love to put it to sleep there.”
Defending Funny Car world champion Robert Hight will look to get closer to a second consecutive world championship in Vegas, currently holding a slim 11-point lead on J.R. Todd.
In Pro Stock, second-year star Tanner Gray has posted seven victories in 2018, as he looks to claim his first world title. He leads Jeg Coughlin Jr. by 130 points heading to the final two races.
Matt Smith has two playoff wins in Pro Stock Motorcycle and the points lead, as he holds a 41-point lead on LE Tonglet and 56-point advantage on defending world champ Eddie Krawiec.
The NHRA Toyota Nationals also features thrilling competition in the season-finale of the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, as well as the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport. After Nitro qualifying on Friday, watch five spectacular jet cars run during a special “Night of the Jets.” The five jet cars slated to run on Friday include a pair of Lucas Oil “Muy Caliente” jets, the “American Freedom Fighter,” as well as “The Majestic” and “The FireStarter.” Known for exciting pre-run flame shows and after burner pops, jet cars are thrust driven vehicles propelled by jet engines.
Those in attendance will also 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 NHRA Toyota Nationals include Joe Amato, Don Garlits and Jim Dunn.
As always, fans can 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 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 11:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Oct. 27, at 11:45 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28.