NHRA’s failure to come down hard on Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence speaks volumes: Boys and girls, have at it!




November 19, 2019 11:19 AM

NHRA’s failure to come down hard on Top Fuel champ Steve Torrence speaks volumes: Boys and girls, have at it!

Just wondering whether the NHRA believes in its own Participant Conduct policy.

Mike Pryson



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Steve Torrence takes exception to the actions of rival Cameron Ferre on Sunday at Pomona.

Maybe the NHRA just needs to rewrite its rulebook. Or at least article 1.3.1.
The racing series proved to fans that it’s all talk and no (at least not yet) action regarding the Steve Torrence-Cameron Ferre altercation that occurred following the first round of the AAA Auto Club NHRA Finals on Sunday at Auto Club Raceway of Pomona.
Boos followed Torrence, the Top Fuel champion, much of the rest of the day after he confronted and landed a blow to the face of rival Ferre following their race.
The incident was triggered when Ferre rolled his dragster deep into the staging zone at the start line against Torrence in the first round of Top Fuel eliminations. The act of deep-staging—rolling the car forward on the line to where the prestage bulb goes out—reduces a car’s reaction time, but it also increases the chances that a driver red-lights if the launch is not timed just right.

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Top qualifier Torrence won the race but took exception to the 16th qualifier, Ferre, deep-staging in the first round. Torrence confronted Ferre after the run and landed an open-hand shove to Ferre’s face, snapping the driver’s head back.
Regardless of what was said between the two drivers that precipitated Torrence’s actions, fans saw the sport’s defending Top Fuel champion (and soon-to-be 2019 champion) and one of the faces of the series assaulting a competitor during an event.
If the NHRA wants to go full-out NASCAR and promote a “Boys, have at it!” mentality that NASCAR used in 2010 to encourage drivers to settle things on the track—all in the name of good, wholesome family entertainment, of course—the series needs to drop, or at least rewrite, it’s Participant Conduct policy.

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Let’s see how many sections of the NHRA Participant Conduct policy Torrence broke on Sunday.
From the NHRA Rulebook:
1.3.1 Participant Conduct
Participants at events are expected, at all times to conduct themselves in a professional and non-disruptive manner consistent with good sportsmanship and NHRA’s role as a family-oriented sports organization with event suitable for attendance by all and, as to those events that are televised, suitable for unrestricted viewing by the general public. Any participant who, in the sole and absolute judgment of NHRA (1) verbally or physically threatens another person; (2) uses vulgar or derogatory language; (3) engages in unsportsmanlike conduct; (4) engages in conduct detrimental to the sport of racing; (5) otherwise creates a condition or circumstance that is unsafe, unfair, or out of order; (6) is not honest and truthful in his or her dealings with NHRA, including without limitation making a false statement or creating, submitting or using a false writing or document; or (7) otherwise violates any NHRA rule, regulation or agreement, shall have violated this rule regarding participant conduct. 

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The Rulebook, in section 1.3.3, goes on to say,
“Participant compliance with all NHRA rules, regulations and decisions is required … the action taken by NHRA may include permanent suspension from NHRA events and/or NHRA member track events; private admonishment; public admonishment; temporary suspension; probation; fines; loss of points won at various events; loss of prize money won at various events; disqualification from competition in an event or events; expulsion from an event; suspension from events …
Or, as in the case of Steve Torrence, maybe the penalty will be nothing at all.
If the NHRA truly believed in its own conduct policy, it would have come down—and come down hard—on Torrence. And that penalty, as written in its own rulebook, could have easily been a loss of points or event disqualification, either of which would have cost Torrence the championship.
Actions have consequences. Or at least they should. 

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Torrence went on to win the championship by a mere three points over Doug Kalitta.
If NHRA officials don’t come down hard on Torrence for striking a rival this time, when will they? Is it now OK for drivers to slug each other to settle disputes? Try that in your workplace and see how long you last. See if your boss will even let you finish out the workday.
If the NHRA does nothing (or goes with the option in their rulebook of “private admonishment”), series bosses are setting a precedent for a sport that stresses family entertainment. Or, again, maybe the NHRA wants to pull a page out of NASCAR’s past and just say to the drivers, “Have at it!”
If the NHRA is now in the business of encouraging, or at least not discouraging, actions like those we saw on Sunday, great. We’ll be anxious to see the media campaign and TV promos next spring featuring their Top Fuel champion in action.
Then there’s the question of whether this would have been handled differently if it had happened earlier in the season. Did the refs “swallow the whistle” and make no call because it was the championship? Would they have called it differently if it had been the second race of the season?

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When asked for a comment on Monday, the NHRA issued a rather toothless two-sentence statement that echoed its no-call on Sunday.
“The NHRA is disappointed in the situation that occurred between Steve Torrence and Cameron Ferre after the first round of Top Fuel competition at the Auto Club NHRA Finals. We are evaluating the matter and any potential penalties will be assessed after a thorough review.”
Seriously? How long does a review take for an incident that took place right in front of an official and a national television audience? Here’s a thought: Maybe just ask the official who was standing right next to Torrence and Ferre how many Participant Conduct policy rules he saw broken.
Torrence has already admitted that he crossed the line. No thorough review needed.
“I had to get my head out of my butt,” Torrence said. “I apologize to each and every fan out there, everybody who has supported me. I got to go find Cameron and apologize to him. Tensions are high, and there’s a lot of crap going on. I’ve been in his shoes where you go up there to win and you might not have the best car but you do everything you can on the starting line. With everything going on—and racing for the kid at home who lost his life—there’s no excuse to act that way. I apologize. I’m grateful for the team, and it kind of just soils the day. I’m sorry to every one of you guys.”

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Following the incident, Ferre was a little less public-relations speak-y.
“Everybody, there you go,” Ferre said after the incident. “NHRA, hope you’re happy with your potential NHRA Mello Yello champion that has to come out and try to punch somebody who’s trying to chase the dream. I used to be a big fan of his. I just lost all respect for him. Just because I went in deep (into the staging beams), you’ve got to come out here and punch me?”
NHRA, do the right thing. Or at least rewrite the rulebook and understand that some fans may be booing your Top Fuel champion for a while. 
In the meantime, and while we’re waiting for a “thorough review,” NHRA boys and girls, HAVE AT IT!

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