Author: Waldron, Steve
Date published: November 5, 2010
Journal code: NDRG
As the 2010 season winds down, so does the longest season of Steve Torrence's Top Fuel career. After competing at just 16 races in parts of three seasons with Dexter Tuttle Motorsports, the 27-year-old second-generation racer is nearing the end of what he hopes is the first of many seasons as a full-time Professional. Racing as an independent with funding from his family's pipeline and compressor business, Capco Contractors, Torrence qualified for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs on the strength of two semifinal finishes, in Phoenix and Chicago, and was eighth in points entering the season's penultimate race in Las Vegas.
Torrence competed in Super Comp for several seasons before driving Tom Conway's A/Fuel Dragster to the Top Alcohol Dragster title in 2005, when he lost just four times in 13 races to become the youngest national champion in Top Alcohol Dragster history. In 2006, Tuttle selected Torrence to drive a Top Fuel dragster at three races late in the season and tabbed him for nine in 2008. Torrence posted two semifinal finishes that year and was a finalist for the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award. As a tune-up for this season, Torrence and Tuttle ran four of last season's final five events and posted a semifinal finish.
Prior to the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals, National DRAGSTER Senior Editor Steve Waldron talked to Torrence about his first full season and where he goes from here.
Q: How would you evaluate your first full season in Top Fuel?
A: We haven't done as well as I would have liked to, but we did make the [playoffs]. My main goal this season was to come home with a Wally, and we've got two shots left. There have been a couple of races that I thought we could possibly win - Phoenix being one of them - but it just hasn't worked out for us.
We actually had a lot better race car at the first two races than we did for a long time after that, but I think the car has definitely started to come around, and it's running pretty well. I've really enjoyed my first full season, and I feel like I've proven to some of the other drivers that I can drive one of these things. It's definitely different racing at every race than just showing up here and there like we'd done the last couple of years.
Q: What made you decide to run the full circuit this year?
A: We've been very successful with our business the last couple of years, and we were able to do it, so why not? There's no better way to promote your team and yourself than by being out there.
Q: Aside from winning a race, what were your goals coming into the season?
A: Starting the season, our goal was to just do the best that we could and try to get into the [playoffs]. I had confidence in my guys, and I had confidence in myself, but I'd never had the chance to get in the car day in and day out and drive at every race. I did that in the alcohol car, and it was just like driving my Suburban to work every day, and now that's how I feel when I get in the Top Fuel car. I think it's benefited me a lot as a driver to be able to do that, and that was a big goal of mine, to put myself out there and establish myself in the Professional ranks as someone who can be a good driver.
Q: What has been the highlight so far?
A: I beat Cory [McClenathan] on a holeshot, and I beat Tony [Schumacher] on a holeshot, and those are things that I'm pretty proud of. Anytime you can beat those guys that way, as a driver, it's pretty gratifying.
Q: What has been the biggest disappointment?
A: Not qualifying in Vegas. I had never DNQ'd for any race, and to not qualify on my birthday [April 17] made it even worse. We changed over to the new Chuck Ford blower, and it just threw a curve ball at us that we weren't ready for. I wish we hadn't changed over that soon and continued going the way we were and tried to test that blower a little more instead of just throwing it on there and going racing. That definitely put us behind the eight ball, and we dropped significantly in the points. We were close to being out of the top 10 there for a while. But a lot of the other teams had already changed over, and that was just the direction that Dexter felt we needed to go. They make more power, and to run with Schumacher, McClenathan, [Larry] Dixon, and those guys, you need every advantage you can get, and I think we've kind of got a handle on it now. Jimmy Walsh was in Reading helping us, and he'll be in Vegas and Pomona, and we've got Tony Shortall onboard. We're trying to expand our brain trust a little and get all the knowledge that we can. I'd really like to make a charge here at the last couple of races and try to step up a couple of positions in the points.
Q: You have competed at more races this season than in your previous three Top Fuel seasons combined. What has been the toughest thing about running the full circuit?
A: Just being on the road and not being able to come home. We have our family business, and we've been very blessed this year, and the business has done great, but I haven't worked nearly as much this year as I normally do, and that's been tough.
Q: What have you enjoyed most?
A: I drove my motorhome to a lot of the races and got to see a lot of the country, and I really enjoyed that. I was able to spend a lot of time with my crew guys. We traveled together and stopped at a lot of the same places and just had a good time.
Q: How would you rate yourself as a driver now compared to the beginning of the season?
A: I think I've come a long way from where I was at the beginning of the season, but I still feel like I have a long way to go, and that will only come with seat time and laps. I probably would have rated myself a two when I started out, and maybe I'm a five now. Like Schumacher says, you need to be a machine, and that's what I strive to be. You need to go out there and do your job and do everything you can to not make mistakes. When it comes to driving, mistakes are usually the difference between winning and losing.
Q: You have been first off the line in more than 66 percent of your races this season, which is third-best in the class behind only Shawn Langdon and Antron Brown. What makes you so good?
A: Our car isn't as fast as some, so I have to do everything I can to try to make up the difference and level the playing field. I'm very competitive, and I want to win just as bad as anyone, and I think knowing that I don't always have the faster car and that I really need to be on my game to beat these guys has helped me a lot. I think that when you always have the faster car, you can become a bit complacent because you don't have to push as hard. But when you know going up there that you may not be able to outrun the other guy and that you need to do something to even it up, that drives you a little more.
I've always had decent lights, but to be third behind Shawn Langdon and Antron Brown, you must be doing something right because those guys are on their game every time, and that makes me feel pretty proud. Those are the guys that I'm trying to be like. I left on Shawn in Reading, and that was the only thing that I was up there to do because I knew if I left first, I had a shot. Shawn has set the bar, and he hasn't left a lot of room for improvement. He hasn't won a race yet, but it's not for a lack of trying. He's a great race car driver and a good friend of mine, and I have all the respect in the world for him. I know when I pull up beside him, he's going to do everything he can to make me look bad, and Antron is the same way.
Q: You put the name of your family's company on the car beginning in Seattle. Why the change?
A: We'd been funding the car the whole year, and we just finally decided to put our business on it, and it was a good thing for all the guys that work for us. It was something that they were able to relate to and be proud of, and I've enjoyed being able to see that because those guys are out there working 12 hours a day while I'm out here playing. I don't know why we didn't do that from the beginning. I wish we would have.
Q: Your father is a racer, so racing is kind of in your blood. Is it always something that you wanted to do?
A: It's something that I've always been involved with. I remember being at the track as a little kid with my mom and dad, who was racing Super Comp and Super Gas back then, and getting in the cars, and helping work on them at home. Because I'm such a small guy, instead of wanting to play football or baseball, I wanted to be a race car driver, and driving a Top Fuel car has been a lifelong dream of mine. But if I hadn't grown up around it, I probably wouldn't have cared much about it. I'm an east Texas kid that likes to fish and hunt and do all that other stuff, and drag racing probably wouldn't have ever been one of the things that I wanted to do.
Q: What Top Fuel driver do you admire most?
A: I try to pattern a lot of the things that I do and the way I conduct myself after Tony Schumacher. You don't win seven championships without doing something right. He's always well-spoken, and you never really hear him say anything negative, and I like that.
Q: You have driven dragsters your entire career. Would you ever consider driving a Funny Car?
A: I went to [Frank] Hawley's school a few years ago and got my Alcohol Funny Car license, and I had a blast. If I had an opportunity to drive a fuel Funny Car, I would jump on it immediately. It's less than half as long as a dragster and just as fast, so there's a lot more driving involved, and I like the thought of that. It's kind of like jumping into a shark tank over there with all the competition, but I think it would be a lot of fun.
Q: What about next season?
A: I don't really know. I'm working on a couple of things that may come to fruition, but you know how racing is. Dexter's operation is for sale, but if something comes along, we'll continue. I've got a couple of things that I'm pursuing right now, and we'll see how those come out, but right now, I'm unsure about my future. I plan to be back next year, but I've been in this situation too many times before to get my hopes up. The way I look at it, in the event that I don't get to race again next year, I feel fortunate and blessed that I had the opportunity to do it for a full season. I think I proved to myself and a lot of the guys out there that given a top-caliber race car, I'd be pretty tough to contend with.