Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – EPPING, NH – Steve Torrence heads to New England Dragway, the site of this weekend’s seventh annual NHRA New England Nationals, as the defending event winner and the defending Top Fuel world champion.
Both were impressive parts of an incredible 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, but Torrence seems set on topping himself in 2019.
The standout has been on a torrid pace through the first half of this year, winning half the 12 races and advancing to eight final rounds in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster. Torrence also received a Best Driver nomination at the 2019 ESPY Awards, putting him on another remarkable path this year. But despite the outstanding winning percentage heading into New England Dragway, Torrence, who has a massive points lead, isn’t looking too far ahead.
“That’s pretty good odds, but I really don’t want to think about that,” said Torrence, who has 33 career Top Fuel wins. “We’ll look at the points and the stats at the end of the season, and probably not look at them too hard then. That’s probably something you’ll look at when you finish your career and try to relish those moments. For now, we just want to keep moving forward. We just want to stay on our ‘A’ game and try to run with that through the end of the year.”
Torrence (Top Fuel) and Matt Hagan (Funny Car) were last year’s winners of the event that will be televised on FOX Sports 1, including live finals coverage starting at 1:00 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, July 7. It is the 13th of 24 races during the 2019 NHRA season, and Torrence will look for a repeat win in Epping while trying to stay dominant in the talented-filled Top Fuel class.
Torrence has been a step ahead of everyone thus far, winning six of the past seven races, posting 12 wins in the last 18 events dating back to the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. He’s won 25 times since 2017, praising a team, led by crew chief Richard Hogan, that has given him a consistent car for the last several years. Mike Salinas stopped his five-race win streak in Bristol, but Torrence shrugged it off and rebounded with a victory at the most recent race in Norwalk, showing the type of resolve that’s necessary to compete at the top in the class.
“It didn’t do anything to us mentally,” Torrence said of the final-round loss in Bristol. “You know at some point something’s going to happen even if everyone does their job perfectly. It’s racing. We just took the punches and came back out here. That’s all you can do. You go back out and race. We want to win every race we go to. You’re not trying to play strategy and get into the top 10. We want to win all of them. That’s the mindset that we have.”
That’s been clear as Torrence continues to rack up accolades, including becoming the first driver in NHRA history to win all six playoff races. As impressive as that was, Torrence is far from satisfied with what he wants to accomplish. In Epping, there will be a host of stars trying to keep him from the winner’s circle, including Doug Kalitta, Antron Brown, Clay Millican, Terry McMillen, 2017 world champ Brittany Force, rookie Austin Prock and Richie Crampton. But Torrence has plenty of lofty goals remaining as he seeks to defend his world title in 2019.
“You still want to win championships and we’re still motivated to go out there,” Torrence said. “Yeah, we’ve set some records and done some things that are neat and prestigious, but there’s always those guys that are ahead of you. There’s still a long ways to go and a lot of success we need to try to achieve to be in those ranks with Tony Schumacher and John Force, and the legends of the sport. We’re going to do as much as we can and enjoy it because at some point this ride will come to an end. We’re going to try to have a good time doing it.”
Defending Funny Car event winner Hagan will look for his second win of the year in a loaded class that includes the surging Bob Tasca III, an area native who has won back-to-back races in Funny Car. Others to watch include defending world champ J.R. Todd, points leader Robert Hight, John Force, who is seeking his 150th career win, Tommy Johnson Jr., Ron Capps and Shawn Langdon.
Making its last of four NHRA appearances in 2019, the Mountain Motor Pro Stock class will race in Epping, bringing their popular and powerful 800-plus cubic-inch engines to New England Dragway. Previous winners are John DeFlorian, Todd Hoerner and Chris Powers. The event also features thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, showcasing the future stars of the sport, as well as the Mickey Thompson Tires NHRA Top Fuel Harley Drag Racing Series.
NHRA fans can take part in the Mello Yello Walking Tour to see the cars and teams hard at work in the pits. Fans can also attend Nitro School to learn more how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. New England Dragway will host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Cruising with Castello Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. A can’t-miss experience of any NHRA event is the winner’s circle celebration on Sunday after racing concludes. NHRA fans are invited to congratulate the winners of the event as they celebrate their NHRA New England Nationals victories.
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 4:30 and 6:00 p.m. on Friday, July 5 and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, July 6, at 2:00 and 4:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 7.