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Torrence's Top Fuel victory boost for single teams, bust for Schumacher

Steve Torrence hoists his NHRA Wally statue Sunday following his career-first Top Fuel victory at Atlanta Dragway in the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals. (Photo by Ron Lewis)
Steve Torrence hoists his NHRA Wally statue Sunday following his career-first Top Fuel victory at Atlanta Dragway in the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals. (Photo by Ron Lewis)

On paper it might have looked like a mismatch, this Top Fuel final round of the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.

Tony Schumacher was seeking his 68th victory, Torrence the first of his career.

Schumacher was making his 114th final-round appearance. Torrence was making his first.

Schumacher was racing in his fourth final of the season in the U.S. Army Dragster. Torrence was driving in only the 10th race with his Torrence family / Capco Contractors Inc. Dragster.

Schumacher had the deep resources that multi-team, personnel-heavy Don Schumacher Racing could offer. Torrence had a talented and loyal bran trust and crew, but he could count them almost on one hand. Moreover, Torrence's team -- brand-new in every respect, down to the tools and shop floor mats they had to buy when they formed just about one year ago, after this very event -- still was breaking into its routine.

But Torrence, the National Hot Rod Association's "Little Engine That Could," pulled to the starting line at Georgia's House of Speed, launched against Schumacher, and had a far easier time of earning his first victory than he had expected.

Torrence's 3.893-second pass at 320.66 mph on the 1,000-foot course was more than enough to hold off Schumacher, for Schumacher's dragster smoked the tires early on and slowed to a 4.913, 169.44 clocking.

"This was one unbelievable weekend," Torrence said. "[Crew chief] Richard Hogan, Bryan Shipman, and everyone on this whole team worked their tails off. It was hot and the track was hot – but it was good. It was a tricky situation and my guys prevailed, and we got that win for Capco and Torrence Racing. I could not be happier.

"I never in my wildest dreams would have expected to be here as a family-owned, one-car team and come out here and run the way we are," he said.

On closer examination, Torrence was not a long shot. He was the No. 2 qualifier, slower only to Schumacher's track-record 3.815-second elapsed time but the only other Top Fuel driver in qualifying to turn a 320-plus-mph pass. Besides, Torrence had qualified first at Charlotte and second at Houston (and third at Phoenix, back in February). So he could run plenty quick and fast.

"We set out this year to be competitive, be able to run well and do the best we possibly could," Torrence said. "We brought the car out for three races last year, and it ran fairly well. And then we came out this year and ran well, and we felt we had a competitive car."

His day was extra-special because dad Billy was at Atlanta to share the elation.

"It was awesome to have my dad here with me this weekend and share that with him," the Kilgore, Texas, native said, "because I grew up wanting to drive a Top Fuel car as just a kid coming to the races. Now I'm out here doing this -- winning races and living my dream because of him and because of all the guys that have worked their tails off every day at Capco Contractors. They got us out here."

With the victory, Torrence gave Hogan -- and himself -- proof that they are among the Top Fuel class elite. Torrence improved to fifth place in the standings.

He also denied Schumacher a chance to win for the first time this season and for the first time at Atlanta Dragway. This is the only venue on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour at which the seven-time champion has not won. With that, Schumacher saw his perturbing winless streak stretch to 30 races.

"There's a lot of racing left, and we're not going to settle for being runner-up all of the time. We will bring home some trophies this year," Schumacher said after losing the final round but leaving Atlanta with the points lead for the first time this year.

"It's always a good thing to be leading the points," he said. "But to be honest, it would have been better to be leaving here with the points lead and a win. People say you can't have your cake and eat it, too, but I'm one person who wants that in the worst way.

"We're going to keep fighting," Schumacher said. "This is not over by a long shot. We're staying over here to test a new car [Monday] and if all goes well, we will roll it out in Topeka in two weeks [at the May 18-20 Dollar General Summer Nationals]. I have full confidence that wins are right around the corner for the U.S. Army team."

So as the two Top Fuel finalists hugged at the top end of the racetrack Sunday afternoon, it seemed more than just a congratulations from Schumacher. It seemed like a welcome to the top tier of the Top Fuel class.

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