Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – POMONA, CA – With 28 wins the last three seasons and back-to-back NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series world championships, Top Fuel star Steve Torrence has put together one of the most impressive stretches in recent memory.
Torrence has no plans of slowing down, but even he remains blown away with what has transpired since the start of the 2017 season.
Torrence will get the chance to continue his remarkable pace as the 2020 NHRA season starts Feb. 6-9 with the annual iconic opener, the 60th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com, his sights set on his third win at the historic facility. The Texan will begin the charge for a third straight world title in his 11,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster, realizing full well he’s accomplished a great deal the last two seasons.
“It’s been kind of surreal,” Torrence said. “You look back at the last couple years – and really the last three years – and see the success we’ve had and what the team has been able to accomplish, and it’s a big confidence-booster. We’re probably more relaxed than we were 4-5 years ago. But we just want to go to Pomona and do the best we can do. You don’t really think about all of it and what it means, you just go and do it.”
Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Bo Butner (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of a race that will be televised on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage beginning at 5 p.m. EST on Sunday, Feb. 9. It is the first of 24 events during the 2020 NHRA season and Torrence will look to pick up right where he left off during last year’s championship season.
That’s only possible thanks to a team that has stayed intact for a number of years. Crew chiefs Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana lead the charge, but it’s been a truly cohesive group for the last several seasons. It’s kept Torrence ahead of a talented Top Fuel field, but also able to work his way out of trouble when adversity hits. The team has weathered any storm in outstanding fashion the last two seasons and the results have proven that. He swept the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs in 2018, becoming the first driver in NHRA history to do so, and followed that with a dominant stretch of eight wins over a nine-race span in 2019.
“As a team, our ability to stay focused and overcome obstacles, it’s been pretty impressive,” Torrence said. “We’ve won the championship in two completely different ways, and we’ve overcome a lot of things to win them both. I’ve been pretty proud of how well we’ve continued to prevail with whatever’s been thrown at us. We’ve all been together 5-6 years and we know each other well. These guys are 100 percent behind me, and we’re the epitome of team and family.”
As much as Torrence hopes to continue his run in 2020, things won’t come easy in Top Fuel. Defending race winner Doug Kalitta has two straight wins in the opener and also won the season-finale in Pomona last year, finishing just three points behind Torrence in a heated championship chase. Other top-tier contenders include 2017 world champ Brittany Force, three-time world champ Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett, Clay Millican, Terry McMillen, Torrence’s father, Billy, and Shawn Langdon, but Torrence is once again ready to tackle the challenge starting in Pomona.
“I would like to think we’re confident we can continue this,” Torrence said. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t continue to do well, but everything has to fall into place to win a title. It’s a difficult thing to do. You have to try to be as perfect as possible. We’re excited to get to Pomona. At the end of the day we have fun and enjoy what we do, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Defending Funny Car world champ Robert Hight has enjoyed tremendous success at his home track, as the Southern California native won for the fifth time at Pomona at the season-opener a year ago. His year ended with a third world title and will look to open 2020 with a win facing off with the likes of Matt Hagan, Ron Capps, John Force, 2018 world champ J.R. Todd and Jack Beckman.
The 60th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com marks the kickoff of the 50th anniversary celebration of Pro Stock, and class legends, as well as special nostalgia Pro Stock cars, will be on hand for the marquee event. Bo Butner will try to make it three straight event wins against the likes of defending world champ Erica Enders, Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Alex Laughlin, Deric Kramer and Jeg Coughlin Jr.
To celebrate the 60th annual Winternationals event, NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel and Funny Car machines will be on site and making exhibition runs throughout the weekend. Additionally, the Little Red Fire Truck Wheelstander will be performing with special passes during the event. Fans at the Winternationals will get to launch the yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of Pro Stock, highlighting Pro Stock milestones and seeing special nostalgia Pro Stock cars hit tThe event also will feature thrilling competition in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, where future stars of the sport hone their skills.
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 Pro Stock School and Nitro School to learn how the cars operate and reach their thrilling speeds. Auto Club Raceway at Pomona will also host a Mello Yello autograph session and allow fans to meet their favorite drivers as well as the Sealmaster Track Walk hosted by NHRA announcer Joe Castello. Another can’t-miss experience 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 victories.
Along with the exciting on-track action, the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals presented by ProtectTheHarvest.com will honor first responders with NHRA’s “Salute to First Responders” celebration.
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 12:1500 p.m. and 2:4530 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 7, and the final two rounds of qualifying on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 12:001 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9.