Woe to anyone who underestimates Steve Torrence and Robert Hight. These two guys are turning NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship six-race playoffs into their personal playgrounds. Texan Torrence has now earned half of the Wally Top Fuel trophies available during this year’s Countdown; Hight’s won two-in-a-row Funny Car contests and repeated his 2017 dominance at Texas this past weekend.
Incredibly, Torrence’s victory in Dallas was his first hometown Top Fuel victory. His win over 2018 Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals winner Terry McMillen was a close-fought battle on the Texas Motorplex’ 1,000-foot dragstrip after McMillen defeated Torrence’s closest competitor, Clay Millican, in the semifinals. The Texan has now won all three first-half Countdown to the Championship contests, with only three remaining: this weekend in Charlotte, pre-Halloween weekend at Las Vegas and the finale two weeks later in Pomona, NHRA’s ancestral home.
Even so, Torrence remained verbally nonchalant about the achievements he’s had over the past month. He’s still searching for an elusive Top Fuel title – he’s earned a Top Alcohol championship and that title came with a win at his Dallas home track. “We’ve been trying to get it done here since 2010,” Torrence explained. “This is a check off my bucket list, to be able to come to Dallas and win.”
If this all sounds like deja vu for Torrence and his CAPCO Contractors’ team, it should. After three Countdown races in 2017, Steve Torrence stood atop the points pyramid and had eight wins on the season. Here we are with three in the books and yes, Steve Torrence leads the points again this year with eight victories. But Torrence faded in the final three 2017 contests. He entered the season finale only 20 points in front of Brittany Force, who would earn the title as Torrence exited competition before her in the quarterfinals.
It’s important for Steve Torrence to think about going rounds. Everybody talks about it, but with the breadth of this year’s competitors, it’s tough to do. There looms yet another race ahead of Steve and his team this coming week, at Charlotte’s zMAX Dragway. He has to continue racing to win that elusive title. He has to go rounds.
Last year at this time, Robert Hight was catching then-points leader Ron Capps, who lost this past weekend in the first round, further decimating his title hopes. That Hight, president of John Force Racing and less than two weeks removed from clavicle (collarbone) surgery, could be sufficiently comfortable in his 10,000 horsepower Chevrolet Camaro to complete eight laps of competition in Dallas shows the driver’s determination and resilience.
Earning his 45th national event win, fourth of the year and fourth at the Dallas Motorplex track, Hight is in full swing with half the Countdown completed. He went four qualifying and elimination rounds with a brand new racecar after demolishing his standard-bearer in the Gateway finals (which he won) and suffering his injury. Both the Gateway and Dallas races are sponsored by Auto Club, Hight’s season-long partner at JFR.
“Not celebrating the win in St. Louis was such a bummer. I was in the hospital and my team was already back at the trailer thinking about putting everything back together,” Hight related. “I remember laying there and hearing them say collarbone and eight weeks to get well. I was thinking, ‘Oh man! I have the points lead and these opportunities don’t come around that often.’”
It was AAA’s Tom McKernan who introduced him to the USC Keck orthopedic group, who said surgery would allow the racer to be back on track in two weeks. After a week of obeying doctor’s orders, Hight got the all-clear last Thursday and was on his way to Dallas and victory, with a titanium plate keeping his clavicle together. His crew chiefs, Jimmy Prock and Chris Cunningham tuned the Camaro SS to help him get better on-track, lap by lap.
After beating Jim Campbell with the fastest Funny Car lap of the session (3.94) in Round 1, Hight won a close quarterfinals race against Tim Wilkerson, then had an easier time with Bob Tasca III, who found issues at half-track. That set up an epic battle between first- and second-place rivals Hight and J.R. Todd; Hight took the win with his pass of 3.955 seconds to Todd’s 3.984. The usually centered Hight became emotional with the win.
“That was one of the biggest rounds I have ever raced, right there,” he crowed. “J.R. Todd is No. 2 in the points and he was 30 behind me going into the final round. Had I lost I would only be ten points ahead. Since we won, we have a 50-point lead, which is a 40-point swing. I can’t wait to get to the track next week; I am really not sore but I know I have a lot of adrenaline right now. This is an amazing feeling!”
Hight estimated, when the Countdown began and he entered in third place behind sister-in-law Courtney Force and Matt Hagan of Don Schumacher Racing, that he would need three victories and no first-round losses. Both Courtney Force and Matt Hagan have suffered through those kinds of results. But there are still three more races to run and massive points swings in NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series contests are not unusual. Both Steve Torrence and Robert Hight hope they don’t have to deal with those kinds of lows. Right now, they’re both on incredible highs.