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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Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with his new IndyCar teammates at Arrow McLaren Racing

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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah,  good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.

Other nuggets from the first day of preseason IndyCar media activities that lead into two days of testing at The Thermal Club:


After making a point to needle Josef Newgarden during the Rolex 24 at Daytona (when he was warned for being deemed to have caused a spin by the car driven by Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Simon Pagenaud laughed about why he likes pushing the buttons of his ex-teammate at Team Penske.

“I just love to press the button with Josef,” Pagenaud said. “I just love it. I’m being very open about it. I think he knows it, too. It’s funny to see him unsettled a little bit. I like when he gets aggressive. I don’t know why. It’s funny.”

They scrapped a few times as Penske teammates (notably at Gateway during Newgarden’s first season with the team), but Pagenaud says all is good now – though he also admits with a devilish grin that he’s taking advantage of having left Penske last year.

“Absolutely, yeah. I couldn’t do that before,” Pagenaud said with a laugh. “I would get in trouble.

Yeah, I can be myself. I can say what I want to say. Nobody is upset about it. I love Josef. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy.

“Do I love the driver? Not always, but… I enjoy pressing the button with him because he seems like such a confident person. Yeah, I like to just go around a little bit, press it.”

When he was informed of the snarky comments (Pagenaud asked reporters to make sure they relayed that he enjoyed passing Newgarden in the race) after his first stint at Daytona last weekend, Newgarden took a shot back.

“He doesn’t get many opportunities these days, so I’m sure he enjoyed that,” Newgarden said. “Take them when you can get them. There’s so much happening I don’t even remember half the stuff that happened when I was out there. Hey, he’s a big note-keeper, that guy.”

Pagenaud, who is winless since 2020, conceded that point Tuesday at IndyCar’s media session.

“I will do better this year,” he said. “But I got to build my team up, put myself in that situation. We were not there yet. I hope we can be there this year.

“But certainly not being teammates, you race differently. Now, the driver that he is, I have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s tremendous. I mean, he’s one of the best at what he does. So beating him is even a better reward. But I like my résumé better than his.”

For the record, Newgarden has one more IndyCar championship than Pagenaud but is empty in the Indy 500 win column compared to the 2019 winner at the Brickyard.


Pagenaud is among many drivers enthused to get acclimated to The Thermal Club, which is a $275 million motorsports country club of sorts.

But for the Frenchman, Thermal represents more than just a chance to tune up for the 2023 season. Pagenaud, who made his first visit to the desert track three years ago after winning the Indy 500, is thinking about his long-term future.

“It’s actually something I’m really interested in for my future but in another life,” he said. “I love the concept. Actually before my IndyCar career, I was on a project like that myself in France. I was going to build something similar. I had the backing, I had everything going on, but my career took off. I had to give up on the project. But it is something I’ve always been interested in. My dad used to run my home racetrack. I had access to it, so I could see how that was going.

“I always had a passion for it because it’s a way to allow the fans to get closer to the car, allow the sport to be more known to the general public. There’s so many things that you can do with a racetrack, not only for races, but so many people that can come to bicycle races, you can have runners do a marathon. It doesn’t have to be just racing. It can be events. I’m into that. I’ve always been. Certainly when it’s time to stop driving, it will be something that I’m interested in, yes. That’s maybe 20 years from now.”


Rosenqvist returns for his third consecutive season at McLaren, the longest stint with one team for the Swede since 2014 in F3.

But he finds himself somewhat in a similar position to last season when his return was uncertain for months during the Alex Palou-Chip Ganassi Racing saga. Palou is back with Ganassi but still expected to join the team in 2024, and with Rossi and O’Ward on long-term deals, Rosenqvist would be unable to stay unless the team added a fourth car.

He is taking it all in stride with the same grace in which he managed last season’s uncertainty.

“I think I handled it probably as good as I could,” Rosenqvist said of last year. “That’s probably a reason why I’m here this year. I think it’s a massive opportunity for me to be back for a third year. I feel like I have all the tools I need to perform, feeling very good with everyone at the car. As I said, there’s so many things happening last year on and off the track. I think as a team, we just really learned a lot from that that we can bring into this season.

“I think we’ll be tough this year. We have a lot of things in the bag to try early this season. A couple of things here at Thermal we want to try. Going into the season, we have pinpointed some areas where we feel we were lacking a little bit, like the short ovals, for example. I feel like we’ve done the best we can to attack all those areas and bring the best possible package we can.”

Rosenqvist is winless since his breakthrough victory over O’Ward at Road America in 2020. Ending that skid certainly would improve his prospects, but he isn’t worried.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “That’s a long time until next year. I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m in a good spot. I’m in a well-performing team. I feel well with everyone around me. I feel like I have a good support from the team. I don’t really think too much about that stuff. I just try to do what I can do, which is go fast forward and try to win races.”


After being frozen out of remote access to team data last year, Palou said his working relationship at Ganassi is “back to 100% like it was before from both sides.” The 2021 series champion said he had full privileges restored after he closed the season by winning the finale at Laguna Seca Raceway and then settled on staying with Ganassi a day later.

He is allowed to continue his F1 testing with McLaren, too, though IndyCar will be the priority in-season.

“It was a tough year,” said Palou, whose contract dispute lasted for two months. “Could have been a lot worse, for sure, than what we had but also could have been a little bit better if we didn’t have anything around in our minds. It’s a part of racing.

“I’m just happy that now we know that even with things in our minds, we were able to be successful. Hopefully, we can be back to 2021 things during this season. Yeah, obviously there’s always some moments (in 2022) where you’re like, ‘Oh, no, my God, this is not going the direction I wanted.’ But there was things that were out of my control, obviously. Some things that I could control, as well. But at the end of the day I had all the information from my side, from other sides. I knew that everything could be settled, and it did.”


O’Ward unplugged from the racing world for six weeks during the offseason, ensuring he was fully recharged when the new year arrived.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to do it in the past few years,” said O’Ward, who tested an F1 car in 2021 and then went right into preparing and racing (then winning) the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona. “I said, ‘I want at least six weeks. Don’t talk to me, don’t text me, I don’t want to hear anything.’ It’s healing. It’s very healing.

“As much as you love what you do, you need to find a balance of just doing something else. I always tell people, there’s a huge difference between relaxing and recharging. How I recharge is doing things I don’t normally do during the year. Just being at the beach to me is my favorite thing to do after driving race cars. I made sure that I had that kind of time to just enjoy my loved ones. After I was finished with that, I was like, ‘OK, race cars now.’ ”


Marcus Ericsson is planning on a long future with Chip Ganassi Racing, and the 2022 Indy 500 winner seems well-positioned to become the team’s anchor driver if he can maintain last season’s consistency.

Jimmie Johnson has been replaced by the Marcus Armstrong-Takuma Sato combination, and Alex Palou is leaving after this year.

Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, 42, is Ganassi’s unquestioned dean until his retirement, but Ericsson clearly is interested in the mantle after that.

“I’m feeling very much at home in the team,” said Ericsson, the Formula One who is entering his fourth season with CGR. “I’m super happy about that. I wish to stay for a very long time, as well. There is some uncertainty with other places maybe in the future, but Dixon seems to be just getting better and better. He might be here for another 10 years or so, who knows.

“But that’s great. Me and Scott, we work really well together. I can still learn a lot from him. I want to be here for a long time and win races and championships together.”

The Swede had a droll response when asked if no longer being the only Marcus will get confusing in Ganassi debriefs. “Yeah, it is; I’m angry,” Ericsson deadpanned. “I think we’re OK. He seems like a good kid. He has a good name.”


Following in the footsteps of Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard from F2 to IndyCar, Armstrong is OK with deferring his F1 dreams to run road and street courses as a rookie in 2023. The New Zealander grew up as an IndyCar fan rooting for Dixon, his boyhood idol and fellow countryman.

“I’ve been watching him on TV since I was a kid,” Armstrong, 22, said. “It’s cool because IndyCar is massive where I’m from because of him. I’ve always been so attracted to this championship. Of course, I spent my entire life chasing F1. You can never say ‘never.’ If I’m honest with you, I’m happy where I am now. It’s a dream come true.”

Armstrong hopes to move to full time in 2024 and believes being aligned with a powerhouse such as Ganassi will give him an opportunity to post strong results immediately (just as Ilott and Lundgaard had flashes as rookies last year).

“I’ve been genuinely impressed by the organization, just the strategic point of view that Chip Ganassi Racing has, it’s really quite remarkable,” he said. “I can understand why they’ve had so much success. I think fundamentally I need to get on it straightaway. I have all the information in the world, really. I just need to hit the ground running, do well immediately.”