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Underrated Torrence leads top qualifiers at Charlotte

Many regarded Torrence as a surprise provisional leader Friday at zMAX Raceway as the Four-Wide Nationals got under way. But it really should come as no shock at all.

Torrence was a semifinalist at Las Vegas two weeks ago. His 27-50 career elimination-round record belie the significance that he can set his own direction now as team owner and his dogged resolution to succeed.

He and crew chief Richard Hogan tested some race-day ideas Saturday on the 1,000-foot course at Concord, N.C. -- in the Torrence Racing/Capco Contractors owner-driver's words, "planning for tomorrow today."

Said Torrence, "Richard had a little bit of breathing room today, so we were able to go out and try some things and see exactly what we could get away with, testing for race day. I really felt confident that that .(3)79 [elapsed time from Friday] would stay where it was at, being that it was warmer today. Those conditions last night were really good."

He found out those particular tweaks didn't work with a hotter racetrack. So his traction troubles might have looked like he had fallen off from his 3.799-second, 322.34-mph performance that ruled Friday night.

He hadn't at all, and he held on to record the first No. 1 qualifying position of his Top Fuel career. And he said, "Tomorrow, E.T. doesn't matter. It's just all about the win light.

"We've really strived to put together a professional, top-notch team , and it's beginning to show a little bit what we're capable of," Torrence said.

"I've given all the guys open rein to what they need. I told Richard to keep in mind that we are a single-car team. We're not funded by the major sponsors out there, but those guys have everything they need. I've given Richard an open checkbook to go get it," he said.

His success, he said he thinks, comes from "putting together a good group of guys and giving them the right tools. It's showing right now."

Hogan, Torrence said, "has got a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience. He's never had an opportunity to go out and show what he's capable of. I told him when we started this deal, 'Richard, you're going to be my guy. This is what I want to do. This is what I expect.' He has delivered on that very well."

Torrence joins Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) as top qualifiers for this fifth of 23 Full Throttle Drag Racing Series events.

Hight started his Saturday unqualified, at No. 17, off the 16-driver chart. But he vaulted to first place in the first Saturday session (third overall) with a 4.074-second pass at 317.19 mph on the 1,000-foot course in the Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang.

In seizing his 42nd No. 1 qualifying spot, Hight kept his hopes alive for a fourth straight victory this year and a chance to match legends Don Prudhomme, Kenny Bernstein and John Force.

His feat Saturday took the shine off Ron Capps' provisional spot on the leader board, although the NAPA Dodge driver for Don Schumacher Racing will start second (his best placing since he led the field last Halloween weekend at Las Vegas but only his second-best since the U.S. Nationals in September 2010).

Cruz Pedregon leaped from the bump spot to No. 3 early Saturday and settled in fourth behind Mike Neff, who also made a huge move from 11th to third.

Hight said after his day's drama, "It was a long night last night. It's not a position that we've been in this year. My car has been running so well,. But it was kind of comforting knowing we were on the slow side of it. "

He said crew chief Jimmy Prock "has no problems trying to make more power and making it go faster. That's easy for him. If we were on the other side of it where we were fast and having to slow it down, I'd have been really nervous. I would have a little more confidence if we had more than one run going into eliminations, but we hit it out there again tonight and shook. It was slow, so Jimmy will fix it tomorrow. We definitely have to get on the other side of it and make the thing faster, and if you do that, I have a good feeling this Auto Club car could be low E.T. every round, just like it was the first run . I'm looking forward to tomorrow. Four wide is exciting."

In the four-wide format of eliminations, Hight will face No. 16 qualifier Jeff Arend, as well as two "Ford family" members: No. 8 Bob Tasca and No. 9 Tim Wilkerson.

Hight said he hopes to have some special guests fly in from Texas -- NASCAR team owners, drivers, and crew members. He met many of them a few weeks ago at the Auto Club 400 Sprint Cup Series race at Fontana and said, "Hopefully this race tonight in Texas goes off without a hitch so they can get on the ol' bomber and get out here and watch some four-wide racing.

"It's really cool that they follow us and they pay attention to what we're doing. So hopefully we’re going to have a bunch of NASCAR people here tomorrow. And they're going to see the Greatest Show On Earth -- and that's NHRA, four-wide style."

Although Line remained the Pro Stock leader (with a 6.49-second E.T. and top speed of 213.91 mph), his Friday the 13th came a day late. He had as crummy a day Saturday as he did a fantastic one Friday in the KB / Summit Racing Pontiac.

In his first run Saturday, the newly crowned national speed record-owner had to wrestle a misbehaving car that lurched toward the center line, then zipped back toward the far-left guard wall. He finally shut off the engine and coasted to an ugly 10.638-second E.T. on the quarter-mile course. In his last chance to gain some data for Sunday's eliminations, Line didn't get the car staged quickly enough and was timed out.

To add to his "Oh, brother --" experience, he learned his somewhat-surprising opening-round opponents will include four-time class champion Jeg Coughlin, along with teammate Ronnie Humphrey and equally upset-capable Rodger Brogdon.

Meanwhile, Allen Johnson stayed No. 2 and Vincent Nobile improved from ninth to third in the order. Missing the cut were Rickie Jones, Larry Morgan, Warren Johnson, V Gaines, Ron Krisher, and John Gaydosh.

Line said of zMAX Dragway, "We get along in qualifying. We just don't get along in racing."

They were at odds a bit Saturday, though. "Today was not a good day for us. We've had better, for sure. But anytime you qualify No. 1, how can that be a bad thing?" Line said. "We made a nice run that last run. It may have been the first 214-mile-an-hour run ever, but we'll never know." He said "a little screw-up" marred that pass but said, "I hope I learned something."

Line definitely was looking ahead to eliminations, saying, "We have a chance to redeem ourselves. We've got a great race car. There's no reason we can't go out there and win the race."

In the vein of accurate reporting, Straight Line Today learned Saturday that the problem with the third lane Friday was not water but rather pieces of the racing surface coming loose, the rubber yanking up multiple sections of concrete.

Graham Light, NHRA's senior vice-president of racing operations told that during a 30-minute delay Friday the Safety Safari patched the trouble spots with a temporary rubber-like epoxy. Track engineers trained in the NASCAR prep worked overnight to remove the epoxy, hand-grind the gouged-out areas, and apply a more permanent concrete-repair substance (called Rhino Patch).

Said Light, "Concrete was never intended for what we do with it. “Concrete is extremely strong under compression. It is intended for buildings and runways. What do in drag racing is attempting to pull it apart. You want the tire to adhere to the surface as best you can to prevent tire smoke and give the fans the quality show they expect to see. When that tire separates, the goal is that the glue is the weak link."

Torrence, Hight, and Line, however, definitely are among the strongest links to an entertaining show Sunday.

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