NORWALK — The crowd at the NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Nationals had to be torn when it came to the Top Fuel final Sunday afternoon.
In one lane you had defending world champion Steve Torrence, the series points leader who was recently nominated for an ESPY for Best Driver after sweeping the six playoff races last season and putting together a five-race win streak this season.
In the other lane was 73-year-old Pat Dakin, a driver from Dayton who hadn’t reached a Top Fuel final since 1998, hadn’t won an event championship since 1973 and had qualified No. 14 in the 16-car field.
“I was rooting for Pat Dakin,” Torrence said. “Not only is that guy a legend, but he’s just a cool dude. We’ve been able to become good friends the last five or six years. We share a lot of the same thoughts on philosophies on things. You couldn’t have had a better final round.”
Torrence ended Dakin’s Cinderella run, but it wasn’t easy. He needed a 3.832-second run at 323.27 mph to edge Dakin, who went 3.909 seconds in 301.40 mph.
Joining Torrence in the winner’s circle were Bob Tasca III in Funny Car, Chris McGaha in Pro Stock and Andrew Hines in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
Torrence said this week’s win — his sixth in the last seven races — had less to do with him than with the rest of his crew.
“Coming through qualifying I think I averaged like a .056 light in the four rounds and today I wasn’t in the 50s except for the final round,” he said. “Some days you come out here and you’re really on top of your game and some days you’re a little slow, and today was one of those slow days. But when track conditions are the way they are, where it’s a little bit tricky and you have to count on the crew chief to go down through there, those guys had my back.
“This is completely a team sport. The driver gets the spotlight and gets to do all the talking, but without those guys who are turning the knobs and working on it and giving (the crew chiefs) a car to tune, it’s nothing. I’m just a hood ornament for the team.”
Tasca had a little easier time picking up his sixth career win and his first back-to-back victories after winning last weekend in Bristol, Tenn. He ran at 4.383 second and 245.09 mph to easily beat Jack Beckman’s 11.764 second at 77.85 mph.
Tasca was emotional about the recent success after a frustrating years-long drought.
“This sport can take everything from you, it can tear your heart out. I never gave up and I thank the people who never gave up on me,” he said. “I just talked to my good friend there Steve Torrence, who knows a little thing about getting on rolls, and he said, ‘Just keep riding it.’ So I’m going to take him up on that advice.
“The beauty of what we’re doing with this team is that we’re going out and really performing at a high level every time the car goes down the racetrack. We’re gathering data and the more data we have, the better this team will be.”
Torrence, who was standing nearby while Tasca held his post-race news conference, was the first to speak up when the session was opened for questions. He asked about Tasca’s dog, Scooby, and hilarity ensued.
“It’s a proven fact that Steve’s dog is much more intelligent than my dog. We have video evidence of that,” Tasca said of the pair’s inside joke. “(Torrence) can say good night and go in your cage, and his dog will do that. I say good night and go to bed to my dog and it pees on the floor. Not as smart as his dog. Next question please.”
Tasca was forced to play the role of bad guy in front of the Norwalk faithful when he knocked 16-time Funny Car champion John Force out during the semifinals. The beloved driver was looking for his 150th career victory.
“I was prepared to burn it to the ground,” Tasca said of his run against Force. “There is no one out here I get up for more than John Force. I have the ultimate respect for him. You’d better pay attention when you race the champ, and that’s what he is to me.”
McGaha had one of the most adventurous runs of the race winners, overcoming a bad reaction time and a bad burnout attempt on the way to the trophy.
“It started with a bad light in the first round and I probably should have got trailored by Wally Stroupe but somehow we got back around him,” McGaha said of his 2-foot margin of victory in the first round. “I botched the burnout really bad in the semis. I’m sure everybody thought we were done. I said, ‘It is what it is,’ and took it to the line and let it rip. Next thing I know we won that round (against Bo Butner) and went to the final.”
McGaha won another tight race against Alex Laughlin to take the championship, running 6.620 seconds in 210.11 mph against Laughlin’s 6.668 in 208.75.
McGaha said skipping last weekend’s race was key to this week’s success.
“Not going to Bristol between Chicago and here, I sat down and wore a notebook out and a calculator out really looking at my setup and I think it paid off,” he said. “Just clearing my mind and sitting and thinking about it.”
Hines earned his fifth win of the season — just one away from his single-season record – with a victory over teammate Eddie Krawiec, who was the defending Norwalk champion and the weekend’s top qualifier.
Hines ran at 6.895 seconds and 196.99 mph while Krawiec went 6.967 in 196.64.
“I was hoping for a lot better race, to be really close at the finish line,” Hines said. “That takes a little bit of the shine off the win right there. It would have been great to have a close side-by-side race at the finish line.”
Although Krawiec appeared to have the better bike during qualifying, he dropped to 0-4 this season against Hines with all four matchups coming in the finals. The two lead the points standings — Hines is up by 86 point on Krawiec — and have 100 career victories between them.
“It’s brought out the best in both of us and it’s probably why we’ve been able to have as many wins as we’ve had,” Hines said of the pair’s working relationship. “We push each other to be that much better and make sure our motorcycles are learning from each other and not getting complacent. We try to find the next evolution to make it go faster.”
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