Author: Burgess, Phil
Date published: May 18, 2012
On his website bio, Steve Torrence calls his successful battle with cancer in 2000 "the greatest victory I have ever won," and while that may remain true for as long as the hard-working Texan draws a breath, I'd bet that his most recent conquest, over a top-flight Top Fuel field at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals, rates a solid second. The victory, his first in the Full Throttle ranks, is the latest notch in the saddle of one of drag racing's most impressive yet perhaps leastpublicized success stories.
He began his racing career as soon as he had a driver's license, competing with his father, Billy, in the tough Division 4 Super Comp wars and was named the Division 4 Rookie of the Year in 1999. He was diagnosed the following year with Hodgkin's lymphoma and underwent both chemotherapy and radiation treatments to defeat the dreaded disease. By age 17, he had accomplished more than a lot of people would in their lives.
After a year spent mostly in the hospital, he returned to the dragstrip the following year and in 2005 moved up to Top Alcohol Dragster. He had a remarkable season, winning nine times in only 13 races, including the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, en route to winning the season championship and becoming the youngest ever Lucas Oil Top Alcohol Dragster champion.
He quickly moved into Top Fuel and got backing from Torco before the company ran ashore on rocky financial grounds. He had to sit out 2007, then ran a hit-and-miss schedule for several years with team owner Dexter Tuttle, a partnership that seemed to peak with a full-season top 10 finish (eighth) in 2010, but he was far from ready to settle for even that lofty mantle.
A year ago, Torrence made the tough decision to part ways with Tuttle and form his own team, and the first thing he did was call veteran Richard Hogan and ask him to lead the crew. With backing from his family's Capco Contractors business, they began the tough job of assembling a team.
They sat out most of the rest of 2011, returning in Dallas and running three events to close out the year, and then hit the ground running in 2012. After a slow start at the year's first three events - highlighted by a No. 3 qualifying berth in Gainesville - they caught fire in Las Vegas, where they reached the semifinals. They were the No. 1 qualifiers in Charlotte and again reached the semifinals and were No. 2 in Houston, again reaching the final four. A win seemed inevitable, and after qualifying No. 2 once again in Atlanta, they put it all together with four strong qualifying runs and four solid eliminations passes, capping the spectacular weekend with a finalround victory over the class' all-time wins leader, Tony Schumacher.
"This is what I've dreamed of doing forever," a happy yet remarkably composed Torrence told the media. "When I was a little kid in school, I was coming out here, hanging out with my parents racing Super Comp and running through the pits and seeing all these drivers behind the ropes and just aspiring to be back there driving one of those cars. To have my own family team and come out here and win a race with that, it's huge. What else can you do from there?
"Richard and I share a common interest and goal in what we want to do with this race car," he explained of his hands-off direction. "Just like Capco, we put people in place and let them do the job. If they're not doing what we want, you know, you go in and make some suggestions or corrections. Richard handles everything to the most of my expectations, and I don't need to mess with the guy. Look at the race car; it's hauling butt down through there. And he's helping me as a driver and giving me a little coaching as we go along. I think that it can't do anything but get better from here."
For all he has overcome and all he has accomplished, I'm not betting against him having many more "greatest" victories before he's done. ND