Steve Torrence crowned 2018 NHRA Top Fuel champion

Richie Crampton, whose daily job is building cars at Morgan Lucas Racing, gave Steve Torrence a quick, fast, and cooperative Capco Contractors Dragster this year. And during their semifinal match-up Sunday at the NHRA Toyota Nationals at Las Vegas, he gave Torrence another precious gift: a tire-smoking mess in the opposite lane, allowing Torrence to clinch his longed-for Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Top Fuel championship.

With steely precision, Torrence has – in his words – “annihilated” the competition, sweeping every single round of the playoffs through the semifinals at the fifth of six races. After donning his champion’s jacket and medal immediately after dispatching Crampton, Torrence had to prepare for his showdown with close rival Leah Pritchett. That match-up was especially dramatic, for Torrence clutch specialist Gary Pritchett happens to be the husband of Leah Pritchett.    

Three-time Top Fuel champion Antron Brown met Torrence when he jumped from his dragster at the top end of the track and cradled him in a long hug to celebrate Torrence becoming the NHRA’s 30th Top Fuel championship. The accomplishment salved a festering year-long wound for Torrence, who was bitterly disappointed he let last year’s honor go to Brittany Force on the final day of the season.

Fox Sports commentator Amanda Busick presented him the championship trophy that was nearly as tall as the 5-foot-8 firecracker from Kilgore, Texas. Referring to some of the physical setbacks in 35 years, she told him, “You are standing in front of a trophy that cancer can’t take from you, that a heart attack can’t take from you . . .”  Emotional but trying to remain stoic, he quipped, “There you go with Barbara Walters.”

Choking back tears, Torrence said,  “This is a lifelong goal. All the glory goes to God and my mom and dad because without them, none of this would have been possible – and these Capco boys, because they put their hearts into it – and it’s difficult to beat people with heart.”

“This is unreal,” he said. Then Torrence delivered a message to those who told him an independent team had no chance to contend for a championship against the multi-car operations: “All the people who said we couldn’t do it . . . Hell, we’re here! I don’t know how we got here, but the Good Lord said we was goin’!”

How he got there was leading the standings virtually all season, winning nine times before this race began, and winning every single elimination round during the Countdown. He has remained perfect in final rounds this year, including four (all so far) in the playoffs.

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