NHRA’s return to Wild Horse Pass concludes with end of Torrence family Arizona winning streak

Steve Torrence’s Top Fuel dragster sits in the Capco Racing/Torrence Motorsports pit area at the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler. Torrence and his father, Billy, combined to win the NHRA Arizona Nationals from 2018-2020. (Photo by Nicholas Hodell/Cronkite News)

CHANDLER – For the first time in two years, the NHRA Arizona Nationals filled Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park with the unique smell of nitro and the best drag racers in the world.

COVID-19 restrictions prompted cancellation of the 2021 event, leaving some drivers missing more than than the competition.

“Certain places standout where the fans, not only do they show up, but they’re super engaged,” Top Fuel class driver Justin Ashley said. “Arizona was one of those places. To come back again this year knowing it’s going to be packed out and seeing those same fans, it makes it that much better.”

Last weekend’s event was the second stop on the NHRA schedule. Competition moves to Gainesville, Florida, March 10-13.

For a select few, a track record of winning in the desert was missed. No one meets that criteria more than Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence.

“I think that anytime you’re successful somewhere, that begins to be one of your favorite spots,” Torrence said.

Torrence and his father Billy combined to win the NHRA Arizona Nationals from 2018-2020. Steve accounted for two of those wins.

His success in Arizona is only a small part of his overall success in the Top Fuel class. Torrence is the four-time defending Top Fuel world champion with no less than four event wins in each championship season.

In Torrence’s four-season reign on top of the Top Fuel class, he has won 45 out of 80 events.

With previous success comes a vast knowledge of how to keep creating success. The weather plays a key part in what makes Arizona a desirable place to race, Torrence said.

“You can efficiently make good horsepower here because it’s dry,” Torrence said. “Usually, you have good air conditions, good atmospheric conditions (that is) better conducive to running fast.”

Weather conditions can help increase speeds. However, teams still have to get dragsters in peak condition and drivers still have to get the job done in the dragsters.

For drivers, Torrence said, there is one thing that matters above everything else.

“Reaction time is imperative in this sport,” Torrence said. “If you’re late more often than not, you lose just because the competition is so stiff. There’s so many new, young drivers that are coming in that are kicking my butt, so it’s made me and some of the other guys step up.”

In Sunday’s eliminations, reaction time was no issue for Torrence. However, issues with his dragster in the semifinals against eventual winner Mike Salinas ended the Torrences reign in the desert.

The family’s Arizona streak may be over, but the Torrences have gained respect from their competitors in the Top Fuel class.

“In this sport, it’s very difficult to win and win on a consistent basis, but to see the way that they’ve won races (and) to see how they’ve done it with keeping that same team intact years in a row, it’s something that I have a lot of respect for, and something that we can really model our program after moving forward,” Ashley said.

Even competitors in other classes throughout the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series can appreciate what Torrence has done.

“You got to respect somebody when, as much as he is especially, (wins) consecutive championships like that,” said J.R. Todd, who races in the Funny Car class.

One of the main differences between the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes is the location of the engine on the dragster. The Funny Car engine is located in front of the dragster. On a Top Fuel dragster, the engine is located behind where the driver sits.

Technical differences aside, Todd said consistent winning, like Torrence has done, comes with in-depth knowledge of the NHRA stops.

“Their notebook is pretty thick and they’ve definitely got some good notes to fall back on,” Todd said.

For Antron Brown, though, the rise of Torrence is personal.

“That’s one reason for us to form AB Motorsports is to go out so we can compete and take them off their high horse,” Brown said. “Because before he sat there, that was our throne.”

Brown won three Top Fuel world championships from 2012-2016.

Defeating Torrence for the championship at the end of the season will be a difficult task for all of the drivers. If anyone can describe what it takes to win a title in the Top Fuel class, it’s Brown.

“The main factor is being consistent,” Brown said. “They have a really competitive car, but they don’t make mistakes, and you can’t make mistakes.”

Sunday’s semifinal exit due to an issue with the dragster is not usually a problem with Torrence’s team, Brown said.

“That’s one thing that the Capco car does not do. They never beat themselves,” Brown said. “They race hard. For 90% of the time, they’re going down the track as being consistent, and that’s what wins drag races.”

Nicholas Hodell Nick-o-lus ho-DELL (he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Nicholas Hodell expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in community sports management. Hodell has interned with 98.7 Arizona Sports and contributes to Inferno Intel.