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Exclusive: Steve Torrence reveals why he missed NHRA season opener

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Steve Torrence likes setting records. On Monday, he set the record straight.

After a slew of wild social media speculation, the two-time defending NHRA Top Fuel champ explained to NBC Sports in an exclusive interview why he and his father, Billy (his Capco Racing teammate), missed this past weekend’s season-opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Torrence said it wasn’t until late last Tuesday – two days before the start of the Winternationals – that NHRA resolved his appeal of penalties stemming from last November’s incident in the 2019 season finale at Pomona, where Torrence punched fellow driver Cameron Ferre at the end of the racetrack following a starting line dispute.

NHRA fined Torrence $25,000 and required he complete an anger management program before he would be allowed to race again.

“We went through the process we needed to do with (NHRA), and everything is resolved now completely,” Torrence told NBC Sports. “Even before the race, everything was resolved and there was no stipulations or why I couldn’t race or some type of punishment.”

Though Torrence said he successfully lived up to those requirements, he said the team missed Pomona race because of logistical issues stemming from the time that NHRA took to resolve the appeal.

“Honestly, we had intentions of going, and the issue that we had at Pomona 2 (last season), we had the opportunity to disagree with the amount of the fine or whatever,” Torrence said. “We filled out all the paperwork with NHRA, and NHRA was very slow in going through that and no decisions were made until late Tuesday around 10 o’clock (p.m.) or early Wednesday morning.

“It just put us in a scenario that we didn’t have enough time. Things had taken so long to unfold that we had to make other plans first. The decision came way too late for us to be there.”

Steve Torrence has won the last two NHRA Top Fuel championships. (Photo by Matthew Bolt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Torrence’s mother, Kay, who is listed as the owner of her son’s team, released a statement Monday afternoon to clarify why her son and husband were not at Pomona after what she termed “a week of often ridiculous speculation.

“Us not being at Pomona had nothing to do with the new Countdown (NHRA’s playoffs) rules or Steve’s health or anything else that’s been said on the Internet,” Kay Torrence said in her statement. “It was about trying to settle the appeal we filed with the NHRA on November the 29th. We didn’t want any unresolved issues going into the new season, but we had trouble getting (NHRA) to respond to our letter of appeal.

“By the time everything was settled, it was too late to get our equipment and crew members to Pomona in time to race. I just want to say to all the fans who have supported us, ‘We appreciate you and look forward to seeing you all in Phoenix (the NHRA’s next national event, next weekend).’ ”

A few hours after Kay Torrence’s statement, NHRA Vice President of Racing Administration Josh Peterson released a statement to NBC Sports addressing Kay and Steve Torrence’s comments: “Throughout the appeals process, per the NHRA rulebook, Steve was always eligible to compete.”

Steve Torrence was adamant that he was not suspended by NHRA, nor did he miss Pomona because of his publicly voiced opposition to new rules NHRA recently implemented to expand the number of teams eligible to participate in its annual Countdown to the Championship playoffs.

Torrence said he has apologized to Ferre several times since their run-in last November and said they have put the incident behind them.

Torrence is no stranger to adversity in life. He has survived both cancer (at the age of 17) and a heart attack (four years ago).

But the social media onslaught – which picked up again when he was MIA this past weekend – and the speculation and rumors has admittedly taken a toll on the 36-year-old Kilgore, Texas, native.

“Honestly, it’s difficult,” Torrence said. “There’s been a lot of negative context that has been expressed on social media. And that’s the bad thing about social media. It gives everyone a voice, even the ones that don’t need one.

“Ultimately, no one actually knows what transpired down there and what was said (in the incident with Ferre). I was frustrated when I got out of the car, but the (online) comments were what really pushed me over the edge.

“But the biggest misconception is (his relationship with Ferre). I have no problem with and tons of respect for Cameron Ferre. There’s no longer any issue. The issue was gone immediately after all that happened.

“The guy looks like he’s 12 years old and everyone saw me get out of the car at the end and I’m picking on a kid when the guy’s just a year younger than me (Ferre is actually 34, Torrence is 36).

“People don’t realize basically we’re the same age, and it’s two grown men out there racing and not just some young kid trying to make a name. We’re the same age. I’ve been in his situation, and I know he’s doing the best he can, and he’s doing a great job. But that definitely sheds a different light on it as opposed to just saying he’s some 17-year-old kid and Torrence is a champion and he’s picking on him.

“I saw a lot of stuff on social media where people were like ‘Torrence is protesting the new points rules’ and is protesting the fine they gave him or he didn’t finish his (anger management) classes or whatever they wanted to talk about.”

Torrence admits he was a bit surprised there was little mention of him and his father’s absence at Pomona in NHRA media and FS1 coverage over the weekend.

But he also understood that to an extent.

“Without sounding bad, I’m not John Force, so I’m not a top priority to NHRA,” Torrence said. “Ultimately, we’re a family race team and we love to race.

“It’s money out of our pockets to go drag racing. We love doing it, and the notoriety is wonderful. But ultimately, I would go rent a racetrack once a month and race my dad if we had to. I mean, we just like to race. That’s what we enjoy to do.

“As far as how things went with NHRA and how hush-quiet they were on the subject, I think they weren’t excited and weren’t very pleased with me or happy I wasn’t there at all.

“I think it looks bad on the sport that your two-time reigning champ doesn’t show up at your first race, the 60th annual Winternationals. I don’t think that looks good for them, and they probably wanted to draw as little attention to that as possible.”

Going forward, Torrence is back to his regular routine. He delivered a calf via breech birth on his East Texas ranch Monday afternoon, did work for his family’s construction and oil exploration business, Capco Contractors, and put missing Pomona out of his mind.

He’ll get back into race mode by the middle of next week when he and his father and the rest of the Torrence family and the “Capco Boys” (as he’s nicknamed his team) head to Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona, for the annual Arizona Nationals, Feb. 21-23. The Torrences have won the last two races there: Steve in 2018; his father last year.

“That’s our intention,” the 36-time winner of NHRA national events said. “All of our stuff is parked in Phoenix right now.

“Everything on our part is normal. There’s no issues on behalf of Torrence Racing or anybody on our side. I think we’re good.”

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Donny Schatz edges Kyle Larson for Outlaws victory at Lake Ozark

Trent Gower/World of Outlaws
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Donny Schatz made a last-lap pass on Kyle Larson, snatching a World of Outlaws victory Saturday night at Lake Ozark Speedway.

Larson started on the pole, led 30 of 35 laps and was in control until a caution set up a two-lap shootout to the finish before a limited crowd in Eldon, Missouri.

Schatz and Larson traded the lead twice over the final two laps, but the 10-time champion emerged with his first victory since the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series returned in mid-May from a two-month layoff because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

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“Man, I don’t know what to say, but Kyle’s a damn good racer,” Schatz, who led five laps, told DirtVision after his 296th Outlaws win. “I kind of had to go where he didn’t. We got that green-white-checkered, and I decided I was going to send it. He decided the same thing.

Donny Schatz celebrates at Lake Ozark Speedway after his second Outlaws Sprint Car victory of the season (Trent Gower).

“I’m glad to get the win. It feels like it’s been forever. I’ve been out here 24 years, and every night is a learning experience still.”

Larson finished second in his fifth start since he began racing with the Outlaws after being suspended from NASCAR.

“Obviously, it would have been nice to get the win,” Larson said on DirtVision. “I figured Donny would rip the middle. The restarts before, he’d almost clear me in (turns) 3 and 4. I should have known to protect and block his momentum. I felt I exited 2 OK. We don’t have spotters or rearview mirrors so you can’t see how close he is or really hear it when the pace is so slow.

“I just didn’t do a good enough job to run a smarter final couple of laps.”

Brad Sweet, Larson’s brother in law, finished third, with Shane Stewart and David Gravel rounding out the top five.

Larson rebounded from a 10th in Friday’s feature at Lake Ozark Speedway, continuing his streak of top-10 finishes in all five of his starts since the Outlaws’ return.

“We got our car a lot better from last night, so that was a plus,” said Larson, who finished second and first in back-to-back nights last week at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at Pevely, Missouri. “These guys are really tough. To be on the podium with Donny and Brad, they’ve won lots of big races and championships, it’s nice. I just didn’t do what I needed to do that last restart.”

Larson nearly had a flawless night Saturday, turning a 11.426-second lap to capture his second pole position this season and won the pole dash to start first in the feature.

Larson, who was fired by Chip Ganassi Racing from his NASCAR Cup Series ride last month for using a racial slur in an iRacing event, said last week that he plans to run several more NOS Energy Sprint Car Series races this year.

Larson remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR but was approved to race by the Outlaws after completing sensitivity training.