BAYTOWN, Texas — It’s taken just five races during the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series for Steve Torrence to realize his season is not like last year and for the Top Fuel standout, that’s a good thing.
Gone are the immense troubles that plagued his team a year ago and back is the championship vibe the team displayed for much of the 2012 season. Torrence advanced to the semifinals in the first four races of the 2014 season, a far cry from a year ago when the Longview, Texas native only advanced past the second round twice in 23 races.
The next item on Torrence’s 2014 to-do list is a victory and he will get that chance in his 8,000-horsepower Capco Contractors dragster this weekend at the 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Royal Purple Raceway.
“I really do think we’re taking momentum into this race,” Torrence said. “We struggled in Charlotte, but I feel confident we left all our problems there and we’re back to racing like we have been. Last year was a struggle for us and we never seemed to pinpoint the problem. I think we’re back in the direction we want to go this season.”
Bob Vandergriff (Top Fuel), Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event at one of the circuit’s quickest and fastest tracks.
This race, along with the AAA Texas FallNationals in Dallas, provide a homecoming for Torrence, who is still looking for his first Texas win in Top Fuel. He’s also well aware of the extra obligations racing in front of a large group of family and friends includes.
“The pressure never goes away,” Torrence said. “Really, it gets bigger and everyone wants to see you do better. Home races are a lot of fun, but you have to learn to compartmentalize it. You can entertain and hang out with your friends and family, and that’s part of it, but during the race I’m there to compete and do my job.”
Torrence has done that job well to open up his 2014 campaign. Despite a first-round loss at the most recent event in Charlotte, Torrence has been a mark of consistent, advancing to four straight semifinals to start the year and he currently sits third in points.
A season ago, Torrence and his team could never quite pinpoint the problem. Minus a win in Bristol and a final round appearance at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Torrence recorded just eight more round wins in 22 races, a feat he’s already accomplished in five events this season.
Torrence credited his team and crew chief Richard Hogan, as well as an aggressive and confident mindset that has him racing to win instead of not to lose.
“With the way the car is running, you couldn’t ask for anything better,” Torrence said. “We’re real happy the confidence on this team is high. We’ve got each other’s back and that’s what it takes. We’ve got a better handle on the car, I’m more confident as a driver and the car is responding to what we want it to do. That’s a great feeling.”
Torrence hopes that momentum is apparent in Houston at Royal Purple Raceway, but the challenges will be steep against a star-studded Top Fuel field. Leading the way is points leader Doug Kalitta, who has one win and three final round appearances in 2014.
Other marquee contenders include Tony Schumacher, who has two wins in Houston, reigning champ Langdon, 2012 world champ and 2008 Houston event winner Antron Brown, who has two wins this season including the most recent event in Charlotte, Spencer Massey, 2014 rookie Richie Crampton and Winternationals winner Khalid alBalooshi.
“Houston has always had good numbers and the track is good, but you never know what you’re going to get with the weather,” Torrence said. “You really have no idea what you’re going to get. We’ll take the info we have from last year and use it, but these Texas tracks can really throw you a curveball.”
The 16-time Funny Car world champ, John Force, has seven wins in Houston, the most for any driver in a pro category. Force will be looking to end a 12-year drought at the facility, while defending race winner Pedregon has three wins at the facility and could get his 2014 season going with a victory. Other favorites include points leader Robert Hight, who won in 2005 and has two wins in four final round appearances in 2014, Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, Tony Pedregon, Del Worsham, Jack Beckman, Tim Wilkerson and Tommy Johnson Jr.
In Pro Stock, defending event winner Line won the season-opening race in Pomona but is currently trying to track down points leader and Houston native Erica Enders-Stevens. Reigning champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. has four wins at Royal Purple Raceway while teammate Allen Johnson is expected to be among the title challengers in Houston along with the likes of two-time event winner Vincent Nobile, Chris McGaha, Dave Connolly, Shane Gray, Jimmy Alund, who picked up his first career victory in Charlotte, and V Gaines.