INSIGHT: How near-tragedy and shared values brought Torrence, Lagana and Toyota together

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INSIGHT: How near-tragedy and shared values brought Torrence, Lagana and Toyota together

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: How near-tragedy and shared values brought Torrence, Lagana and Toyota together

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Steve Torrence didn’t need to sign with Toyota. Running as independents on the NHRA Top Fuel circuit, Torrence Racing did just fine with Steve and father Billy claiming trophies from coast to coast. Steve has been dominant, in fact, with 51 wins and four consecutive championships. But last September, Torrence announced that both Capco Contractors teams would compete under the Toyota banner.

The reason has nothing to do with racing and everything to do with what happened after a near-tragic accident on a remote highway in Indiana one August night in 2020.

On Aug. 9 at Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis, Steve Torrence and his team wrapped up the weekend celebrating their second Top Fuel victory. Hours later, shortly after 11 p.m., one of those crew members, Dom Lagana, was driving a car also occupied by former Top Fuel driver Richie Crampton and crew member Jake Sanders.

According to police reports, the vehicle went off the road and hit a utility pole. Crampton and Sanders escaped with minor injuries, but Lagana was knocked unconscious and briefly trapped in the car, which caught fire. Lagana suffered a severe brain injury and bad burns to his legs that required amputations above the knees. They were life-threatening injuries, and Lagana spent nearly two months in a coma with those closest to him unsure if he’d survive.

“There were times through everything we didn’t know if we’d have Dom. It was touch and go,” Torrence said. “I’m probably in a different mindset than most people — I’ve had cancer, a heart attack, a lot of things that have happened and I’m a fighter. But sometimes, there’s a point where you just call it. And there was part of me that didn’t know if it was time to call it for Dom. His head trauma was terrible.

“Then he wakes up and I’m like, ‘I’m glad I wasn’t in charge of the plug here. I might have pulled it on you, Dom.’”

Miraculously, Lagana pulled through, although he still doesn’t remember much of the accident.

What Lagana does remember is trying to wrap his head around how much time he’d lost, being visited by brother Bobby and the Torrence family. He remembers thinking about racing and missing his team. Lagana also felt terrible that he missed his wedding date, which was supposed to be Sept. 11, 2020. (Lagana and fiancee Sara did marry a little over a year later).

Lagana couldn’t stay away from racing even while recovering. In the hospital, he watched events on his iPad and longed for the day he could get his hands dirty again. Being stationary — and needing help with eating and using the bathroom — isn’t for Lagana.

“I remember my brother (being) in the middle of a championship hunt and working his butt off, and when he’d come to visit, he’d say, ‘Hey, whatever you want to do, if you don’t want to race anymore, we’ll get rid of all of our equipment. We’ll find other jobs,’” said Lagana. “I looked him in the eye and said, ‘Hey man, I definitely want to get back to racing as long as you want to. I definitely want to get back to work on Billy and Steve’s cars. Obviously, I know stuff is going to be different, but that’s going to be my huge motivation to get back.’ It was a no-brainer for me. It’s been my life’s passion.”

Lagana’s first accomplishment was being released from the hospital right before Thanksgiving, 103 days after the accident. In February 2021, Lagana got his prosthetics as he worked through outpatient therapy, eventually returning to the race shop and work.

Steve Torrence (left) and Dom Lagana celebrate another win.

Next came returning to the racetrack. One year after the accident, Lagana entered his family’s Nitro Ninja dragster (that he’s driven) in Michigan with drivers Gary Pritchett and Clay Millican. It had not been to the racetrack since 2019.

Over time, Lagana went from being at the track and back working on the Torrence cars to being up for going to the staging lanes and starting line. At first, Lagana didn’t want to be a distraction, so he stayed in the lounge of the hauler. As he got stronger, Lagana went to the starting line but remained in a golf kart off to the side.

“I said to my brother, Billy, Kay [Torrence], and Steve, I didn’t want to be out at the racetrack just because people felt bad for me and wanted me to come hang out,” said Lagana. “I wanted to make sure — and I knew it would take a while physically — that I was able to contribute to the better of the teams.

“I knew I couldn’t run around like a madman like I used to, but I wanted to help the end result of the race cars.”

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