NHRA driver Steve Torrence expects 2019 to be a landmark year. This fall marks his 20th year cancer free after fighting Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and he’s gunning for a second victory at Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals.
Set for Friday, February 22, to Sunday, February 24, at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, the Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals is the second of 24 stops during the 2019 season, giving all the top competitors in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock the chance to find success in their 10,000 horsepower, nitro-breathing machines.
Torrence (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car) and Chris McGaha (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event, which will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), including finals coverage on Sunday, February 24.
Torrence, who drives the Capco Contractors Top Fuel dragster, says last year’s visit to Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park proved to be a mental and emotional turning point.
“We didn’t have the best end of the season in 2017 and I let that stay with me and carried it with me into Pomona and even a little bit into the start of the season,” he says about the season-ending race in California. The season starts with the winter nationals in Pomona in February and ends with the world finals there in November.
“In Phoenix, I had a change of mindset and attitude and we were able to leave there with a win.”
He won his first Top Fuel world championship in 2018.
“We finished second in 2017,” he says. “We were really far ahead of everybody in points in 2017. There was a bad crash with three races left in the season and it allowed one of the other drivers to catch us and pass us in the last day of the season.
“A lot of people called 2018 our redemption tour.”
Torrence has always been interested in drag racing, a sport his father is involved with as well. His mother has drawings Torrence did as a youngster in the East Texas town of Kilgore, when he merely aspired to become a professional drag racer.
“My dad was a racer all my life,” says Torrence, with whom he runs a pipeline contracting business. “I remember him going to the local track and having the opportunity to race more sportsman classes than NHRA. So, it was always something I gravitated toward. To do it as a family-run team, there’s nothing better than that.”
The setup has worked. Torrence was undefeated in the six-race NHRA playoff system, the Countdown to the Championship. In 2018, he was the first driver to sweep the series.
Torrence is excited about racing in Chandler, as the Valley has a rich NHRA history.
“The fans are great there,” he says. “They always come out in droves. There are so many of them and everybody is really a fan.
“A lot of people who come to Phoenix aren’t locals, either. They make the trip down to Arizona. People come down to get away from the winter to hang out in the drags.”
He says the NHRA’s popularity stems from the experience. Fans can interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass so they can see the mechanics service their hotrods between rounds. They can also get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
NHRA’s Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway showcase sponsors and race vendors to create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun.
But it all comes down to the need for speed.
“There is no quicker or faster-accelerating vehicle in the world,” he says. “The only thing that accelerates quicker than what we do is the space shuttle and they don’t even use it anymore.
“When you get there and see it in person, it’s a complete sensory sport. You feel it, see it, hear it and smell it. It’s fire-breathing, ground-shaking, earth-pounding horsepower that’s completely unharnessed. To see that in person and just experience something so loud it makes the ground shake, it’s really fun. It sets off car alarms half a mile away. It’s so unique.”
Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Arizona Nationals, Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, 20000 S. Maricopa Road, Chandler, 800.884.NHRA, nhra.com/tickets, 1:30 and 4 p.m. Friday, February 22, and Saturday, February 23, and 11 a.m. Sunday, February 24, tickets start at $34.
Words by Christina Fuoco-Karasinski.