Racing: Elder Torrence steals spotlight at Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals
BRAINERD, Minn. — A career first, and a first-time team finals appearance, highlighted the finals of the 37th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals Sunday, Aug. 19, at Brainerd International Raceway.
Top Fuel driver Billy Torrence captured his first career win and Funny Car teammates Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. faced off in the finals for the first time.
Steve Torrence is having a breakout season and is currently sitting in the top spot for the Countdown to the Championship playoffs which start after the next race in Indianapolis.
The focus Sunday was not on Steve but on his father Billy who races a part-time schedule and was without a feature win.
That changed as Billy Torrence qualified in the No. 1 position Saturday and carried that momentum through to Sunday where he defeated Terry Totten, Scott Palmer, Mike Salinas and Antron Brown in the finals to capture his first Wally, after which he was mobbed at the end of the track.
"I didn't realize how tired I was until I got dogpiled," Billy Torrence said of the treatment he received. "Just to come out here and race with my family—win, lose, or draw that is just a blessing to be able to do that. But to come out here and be able to win an event and give something back to those guys who work so hard to have a good operation. There are only three guys on that team who are full-time. The rest have day jobs."
Running in his Capco Contractors dragster, and under the guidance of crew chief Bobby Lagana, Torrence hit a speed of 329.99 mph and an ET of 3.756 to push past Brown, who finished at 3.751 with a speed of 329.10 mph. Brown was the No. 1 qualifier Friday, and was coming off of a win in Seattle in the last event.
"At this level, there is pressure on everyone to win for your sponsors and people that you are promoting," Torrence said of his win over Brown. "I just wanted to win. We race for fun, and Antron is a tremendous racer and you just have to be on your game to get after him."
Torrence also became the first racer since 1997 to qualify No 1 and get his first win at the same event.
"There are pipeliners all over the country that are hooping and hollering," Torrence said. "That is what we are and that is a demographic of people that root for Capco Contractors literally from coast to coast and it will be a neat deal."
To get to the finals, Brown defeated Steve Torrence in the semi-finals. Steve also drives a Capco car.
"I really would have liked to see an all Capco final," Billy said of the potential of racing his son. "That would have been special to get some photographs. If I continue to come out, we will do that. We have a good program."
In March, Funny Car driver Jack Beckman got his first win of the season. With Beckman's record of success, one would have assumed that more victories would follow.
That hasn't been the case. The Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger team has struggled as the season has gone on.
Coming in as the No. 14 qualifier, Beckman had the daunting task of facing Matt Hagan in the first round, Shawn Langdon and points leader Courtney Force to earn a spot in the finals against No. 5 qualifier Tommy Johnson Jr.
Johnson Jr. runs the "Make-A-Wish" car and is a teammate of Beckman's so one could assume the team had the mentality it had already won the day with the teammates going up against each other for the first time in a finals match.
That wasn't the case for Beckman.
"Everyone is saying we can't lose because we have two (Doug) Chandler cars in the final, but we can lose because we are the 'Infinite Hero' car and we want to win," Beckman said. "I said before the race that if the Make a Wish car beats us they have earned it and I would be happy for them, but no one goes into a final round saying it's not a big deal. And, you never know if your last win was your last win. We have struggled through the season."
Running at 325.69 mph, Beckman notched an ET of 3.961 which beat Johnson Jr's time of 4.031 at 319.97 mph.
After congratulating each other on reaching the finals, Beckman collected his Wally and was clear on where that trophy would be going.
"Today's Wally is going to be signed by our entire crew and will be going to Doug Chandler tonight," Beckman said. "Judy Pittman, who is the liaison between the racing team and Doug, will get it to him tonight, and Doug is such a modest guy he would never ask for that. It is a good way for his wife, Terry, to keep living in our hearts."
Terry Chandler, the sister of former Funny Car driver Johnny Gray, had bankrolled the two cars, before passing away from brain cancer July 4, 2017. Her husband, Doug, knowing his wife's passion for the sport, is keeping that funding going through the 2020 NHRA season.
At every race track, it's announced that none of the donations that people make are going to those two cars. All donations are through the private sponsorship of Doug Chandler.
Beckman admitted that his team has been struggling since the win in Florida and believes they may have turned a corner with this win. He also knows the impact fans can play in a long season.
"I feel a heck a of a lot better today than I did yesterday, but I don't think one race can make or break you," Beckman said. "I feel like if the only thing that changed this weekend was that we left with a trophy that helps for our team psychology. It says that here we are coming up on the Countdown and we have a competitive car.
"There are times when I have lost, and we lost a race because I lost the race. And when you get back to the pits your head is hanging, but those fans still love you, and you realize "I have a pretty good job," and you realize that you are going to have another shot to do do this."
Two of the up and coming young drivers in Pro Stock faced off in the final elimination round.
Tanner Gray, last year's BIR champion, qualified in the fifth spot, and faced off against Deric Kramer, who qualified No. 6, in the finals, with Kramer getting his second win of the season.
To get to the finals, Kramer defeated Jason Line in the the semis while Gray defeated Greg Anderson in the semis. It just so happens that Kramer's engine comes out of the Anderson/Line shop, and he made sure to give credit to them for their role in his win.
"I wouldn't be here without those guys," Kramer said of Anderson and Line. "All of the KB crew do a great job, honestly. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for those guys, and hats off to them for all they do."
Kramer made his pass in 6.652 seconds at 207.56 mph against Gray's time of 7.131 seconds at 152.61 mph.
Kramer admitted that this win felt a bit different than his first, which came on a makeup rain day in front of empty stands in Topeka, Kan.
"It was almost like I won for the first time," Kramer said. "The fanfare has been a lot of fun."
"I know how good you have to be to win in this class, and you have to be ready at the starting line. There are no free shots. You have to be competitive, and if you are not competitive on the tree and on the track you are not going to win."
One of the keys was Kramer's reaction time of .002 in his win over Gray.
Although Kramer is currently a part-time driver, he believes the team has established momentum that will carry them into the playoffs, coming from three finals appearances in his last three races.
"It just happens to be that way based on the calendar, but our races starting at Denver, and going on the Western Swing, and then coming to Brainerd and Indy, I think that is where we get our stride going," Kramer said.
Pro Stock Motorcycle
The Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley Davidson team of Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec have faced each other 23 times in the finals in their career.
They faced off again Sunday and it was Krawiec, the No. 3 qualifier, getting the win over the No. 4 Hines, running an ET of 6.897 at 195.14 to Hines' time of 6.903 at 193.99 mph.
"This was the first place for an all Harley final since I came on board with the team back in 2000," Krawiec said. "To come come out here and do it again was awesome. Last time Andrew beat me and this time I got him, but it's all about building momentum."
Krawiec recorded wins over Ryan Oehler, Mark Paquette, and Hector Arana Jr. to make it to the finals.
Hines past Karen Stoffer, Jerry Savoice and Angie Smith. Smith defeated her husband Matt, the No. 1 qualifier, to make it to the semis against Hines.
It was the third win for Krawiec at Brainerd, and he admitted that he's comfortable with the stop at BIR.
"There are certain races when you get there, you say "I do well," Krawiec said. "Despite going out in the zoo and having a good time and trying to keep your focus, it's one of those things where I have always said that I feel comfortable coming here. We have a good setup for this track and I think that builds confidence."
Krawiec also took some advice, although it wasn't on purpose, from his wife that may have helped him to the winners' podium.
"After Sonoma, my wife told me 'You should stop qualifying No. 1 because you just seem to not win from that spot,"' Krawiec said. "And my reaction was, 'That's a great confidence booster.' But here I am the No. 3 qualifier and I win, so I am probably going to hear about that from her."