NHRA season opens this weekend – but without Steve Torrence

Getty Images

The NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals opens Thursday in Pomona, California, but it will be missing one of the sport’s biggest and most successful stars.

Steve Torrence, who has won the last two Top Fuel championships and 28 of the last 72 races dating back to the start of the 2017 season, will not be competing in this weekend’s race at Auto Club Raceway.

Why Torrence and the two-dragster Capco Contractors Racing team will not be at Pomona is unclear. Torrence’s father and Top Fuel driving teammate, Billy Torrence, also won’t be racing this weekend.

Steve Torrence tweeted Wednesday afternoon that “Due to untimely circumstances beyond our control, it’s in the best interest of Torrence racing to not participate in this weekend’s season opener in Pomona, California. We cannot thank our fans enough for their continued support and understanding at this time.”

It’s not known if Torrence and the Capco cars will miss only this weekend’s race, or whether they might miss more races. The next NHRA race is in two weeks (Feb. 21-23) at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

NBC Sports reached out to NHRA about Torrence’s situation. Here is the sanctioning body’s statement:

“It’s unfortunate that the Capco teams will not be attending the 2020 Winternationals. All NHRA teams may elect whether or not to compete in any given event and we are excited to see everyone who is joining us to kick off the season at the 60th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals. We are focused on creating a great experience for everyone in Pomona this week.”

Over the last three seasons, no driver in any professional category – be it Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock or Pro Stock Motorcycle – has been as dominant as Torrence and his race team, a.k.a. “the Capco boys,” as Torrence likes to call his squad.

From 2017-19, the Kilgore, Texas, native has been virtually unstoppable. He’s earned 28 wins in 72 starts during that time, an excellent .389 winning percentage – with eight wins in 2017, 11 in 2018 and nine last season. Overall, Torrence has 36 wins in his Top Fuel career.

In addition, Torrence, 36, has won the last two NHRA Top Fuel championships, including being the first driver in NHRA history to sweep all six races in the 2018 Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Torrence tested his car last weekend in preparation for Pomona, which makes the announcement he won’t be there this weekend all the more puzzling.

He even spoke last week about looking forward to the season opener.

“It’s been kind of surreal,” Torrence said. “You look back at the last couple years – and really the last three years – and see the success we’ve had and what the team has been able to accomplish, and it’s a big confidence-booster.

“We’re probably more relaxed than we were four to five years ago. But we just want to go to Pomona and do the best we can do. You don’t really think about all of it and what it means, you just go and do it.”

Torrence is used to overcoming adversity. He has survived several serious medical issues in his life, including beating cancer at 17 and a heart attack in 2016.

The NHRA recently announced new rules that full-time drivers will qualify for the six-race Countdown to the Championship playoffs if they compete in all of the first 18 regular season races and make at least two qualifying runs at each race.

While that may seem to quickly exclude Torrence from this year’s playoffs because he won’t be in Pomona, there’s an apparent loophole:

  • Each of the drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle that are in the top 10 in points in their respective divisional standings after the final race of the regular season — the U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis — will make the playoffs.
  • As a result, the NHRA rule does not specifically require those drivers in the top 10 after Indy must have competed in all of the first 18 races.
  • It appears that only those drivers outside the top 10 in the standings after Indy must adhere to the new rule requiring competing in all 18 regular season races and make at least two qualifying runs in each of those.

Given how Torrence has dominated the sport for the last three seasons, it’s likely that even missing the Winternationals will not keep him out of the playoffs.

He had more comments about his optimism for this season last week before Wednesday’s announcement.

“As a team, our ability to stay focused and overcome obstacles, it’s been pretty impressive,” Torrence said. “We’ve won the championship in two completely different ways, and we’ve overcome a lot of things to win them both.

“I’ve been pretty proud of how well we’ve continued to prevail with whatever’s been thrown at us. We’ve all been together five to six years, and we know each other well. These guys are 100 percent behind me, and we’re the epitome of team and family.

“I would like to think we’re confident we can continue this. I don’t see any reason why we can’t continue to do well, but everything has to fall into place to win a title. It’s a difficult thing to do. You have to try to be as perfect as possible.”

Ironically, Torrence put out this tweet from last Friday at the Las Vegas test that made it clear he was looking forward to the new season.

Torrence isn’t the only driver seeking to repeat as a champion in 2020. Defending Funny Car champion Robert Hight and defending Pro Stock champ Erica Enders both return to begin their quests to each earn a fourth championship, respectively, in their divisions.

Speaking of Pro Stock, this season will mark the 50th anniversary of the class in NHRA competition.

One other significant note of sorts: This will mark the 42nd NHRA season for ageless Funny Car driver John Force, who turns 71 on May 4. After slipping to ninth in the final standings in 2018, the winningest driver in NHRA history and 16-time Funny Car champion is coming off a strong rebound season in 2019 when he won two races (including a milestone 150th of his career) and finished fourth in the overall standings.

This weekend’s racing will begin Thursday with Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock making their season debut during Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying with two more qualifying rounds on Saturday. Final eliminations are set for Sunday.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Supercross 2023: Results and points after Anaheim 2


The Triple Crown format shook up the results in the Monster Energy Supercross round at Anaheim 2 with no rider dominating, but in the end two wins and a fifth-place were enough to give Chase Sexton the overall victory. It was the second 450 Supercross win of his career coming a little more than a year after he won his first in San Diego.

This year San Diego was not nearly as kind. Sexton crashed on the first lap of his heat and his Honda was center punched by another rider. The damage sent him into the Last Chance Qualifier and a poor gate pick contributed to his fifth-place finish last week.

Sexton showed he was more than ready to put that behind him Saturday night in Angel Stadium by winning the first of three races in the Triple Crown format. Entering Race 3 as one of three drivers who could have secured the overall win, he chased down Jason Anderson on Lap 4 and led the final 10 laps.

RESULTS: Click here for 450 Results; Click here 250 Results

Ultimately Anderson dropped to third in the final Supercross moto of the season in Anaheim 2, but strong results in the first two races secured second overall. Anderson won the second race and his 5-1-3 fell two positions shy of the overall win.

All questions about whether Ken Roczen would need an adjustment period as he switched from Honda to Suzuki have been answered: He did not. Sweeping the top five in his two Supercross Main events and in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown, he amassed enough points with his results of 2-3-4 to score his first podium of the season.

Click here for 450 Triple Crown Race 1 | Race 2 | Race 3

Cooper Webb steadily improved his results during the Triple Crown, but a seventh-place finish in the first race proved to be too much to overcome. He finished fourth in Race 2 and charged to second in the final race to secure fourth overall.

Dylan Ferrandis showed a lot of consistency with results of 4-6-5 to round out the top five.

Eli Tomac was one of the three riders who might have secured the overall victory by winning Race 3, but he pressed too hard while trying to pass Webb for second. He jumped wide midway through the race and landed on a Tuff Blox. After getting violently pitched from his Yamaha, he found that it was slightly damaged when he remounted and could only salvage sixth-place points with finishes of 3-2-13.

It was enough for him to maintain the overall lead in the points’ standings by four over Sexton and Webb.

Click here for Round 1 450 Overall results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points

Levi Kitchen didn’t win a battle on Saturday night, but he won the war. He established in the top five in Race 1 with a fourth-place finish and then swept the runner-up spot in the final two motos. That first SuperMotocross victory of his career with a previous best of seventh in Supercross this year in Anaheim 1 and a third in Motocross last year at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. It was a much-needed morale boost for Kitchen, who finished 21st last week in San Diego.

The night was disappointing by Jett Lawrence standards. He suffered falls in the first two races and stalled one another occasion, but was able to overcome those problems each time with results of third and sixth. That put him in a position where he had a shot at the overall if Kitchen stumbled just a little in the final moto. Lawrence won Race 3, but still does not have an overall Triple Crown win in the Supercross 250 division. With only one more Triple Crown on the schedule before he climbs on a 450 for the outdoor season, time is running out.

Click here for 250 Triple Crown Race 1 | Race 2 | Race 3 | Last Chance Qualifier

The Triple Crown always shakes up the Supercross results and Anaheim 2 was no exception.

Stilez Roberston capitalized on mistakes by Lawrence, RJ Hampshire and Cameron McAdoo during Race 2 and won. That victory, coupled with a third in Race 3 and a sixth in the first main, was enough to give him the final position on the podium. In this format the results are added together and the lowest number wins. Robertson tied Lawrence with identical results of 10 accumulated points, but Lawrence’s win in the final race relegated Robertson to third.

With a total score of 15 (5-4-6), Mitchell Oldenburg was a relatively distant fifth. The 18 points he earned are enough to keep him fourth in the standings and with McAdoo and Hampshire experience trouble in the race, he was able to close the gap on second in the standings.

Click here for 250 West Overall results | 250 West rider points

After missing last week’s Main, Max Vohland finished with results of 7-8-4 in the Anaheim 2 Supercross race and rounds out the top five.

McAdoo and Hampshire both lost ground in the championship standings with difficult races.

McAdoo was able to salvage sixth-place points (17) and that allowed him to leapfrog Hampshire (12). Proving that even bad days are not that bad for last year’s 250 East champion, Lawrence left Anaheim 2 with a points’ lead of 16 over second-place.

2023 Results

Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Tomac, Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 2: Ken Roczen moves up; Chase Sexton falls
Week 1: Eli Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s