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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Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing

Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.