Let’s make one thing clear: Steve Torrence is a fighter.
This doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that knows him. At the age of seventeen, Torrence was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments for months before overcoming the terrible disease.
A drag racer since high school, he resumed his racing and went on to race in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series in Top Alcohol Dragster in 2005, where he proved to be very successful, winning nine national events out of thirteen he competed in. That led to him winning the Top Alcohol Dragster World Championship that very same year. At 22 years of age, Torrence also became the youngest world champion in the category. Not bad for a rookie.
Torrence moved up the ladder to the most prestigious class in drag racing, Top Fuel, in 2006 with team owner Dexter Tuttle and raced with him through 2010. In 2011 with the help of his parents, Billy and Kay, Steve started his own Top Fuel team, Torrence Racing. He was mostly a mid-pack finisher in the points with a few wins here and there each season.
Last year the after-effects of the life-saving radiation treatments Torrence had many years prior finally caught up with him. After a session at the gym before the Summit Racing Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, Torrence felt pain in his arm and chest, and decided to go to the emergency room. He had a blood clot just outside of a major artery, which lead to a heart attack. He was rushed into surgery and had a catheter placed in his heart. For the second time, Torrence had won the fight for his life.
Right out of the gate, Steve Torrence, his crew, and his car seemed nearly unstoppable throughout the twenty-four event season. Ten final round appearances. Eight national event wins. The points race almost always had Torrence leading the pack. And what some may not know is that Torrence was doing it without the help of his longtime consultant, Alan Johnson. Johnson has won twelve world titles in the NHRA. Torrence had worked with Johnson during previous season where Johnson was calling the shots on his tuneup. Torrence said, “We just never renewed with him this year. Nothing bad; we just somewhat worked together and talk, it’s just I don’t pay the guy to come help tune my racecar anymore. I felt that Richard Hogan and Bobby Lagana were very capable of doing it on their own and I just didn’t want to spend that money.”
A single-car team without its star tuning consultant somehow managed to be the standout competitor in a series full of conglomerate teams. That doesn’t just happen in today’s times where you have teams like Don Schumacher Racing and Kalitta Motorsports who each have three Top Fuel cars. “It’s unbelievable when you come out here and you start this team. We were talking to these other team owners and, well, we’re going to do our own deal. They tell you point-blank: ‘You can’t. You’re not going to be able to compete. You’re not going to be completive and if you want to run for a championship you can’t do it as a single-car team.’ It’s kinda like, well we told you.’ I like it, that’s the thing that motivates me, that’s the thing that drivers me to do it and I think that’s what motivates everybody on the Capco team, the whole gamut of crew guys, Richard Hogan (crew chief), everybody. We want to do what they said can’t be done,” said Torrence. Because he was a privateer, Torrence quickly became a fan favorite, giving the audience a chance to cheer for “David” in stead of the usual Goliath.
He came into the last event of the season, the Auto Club NHRA Finals, locked in a three-way points battle with Brittany Force and Doug Kalitta for the Top Fuel World Championship. During the second round of final eliminations on Sunday, the title slipped from Torrence’s grasp into the hands of Brittany Force. Even though Force pilots the only current Top Fuel entry for John Force Racing, she’s still part of a juggernaut team that fields three Funny Cars.
The David and Goliath story went the way of the Goliath this time around. Despite losing what Torrence felt was very much possible, he still sees the positive impact he’s had on the sport. “In my mind we’re still the champs,” he stated. “We went out and singlehandedly dismantled the machine and threw a cog in some of those gears, so I’ve enjoyed it. It’s big for us to go out and compete and I think that what it does is give hope to some of these other teams that, hey, Torrence did it, why can’t we?”
He fought when he was seventeen, he fought last year, and in different way, he fought this year. You better believe that Steve Torrence will fight again for his shot at the NHRA Top Fuel World Championship in 2018.