ENNIS, Texas — NHRA’s most prolific Top Fuel driver, Tony Schumacher, is known for his famous 2006 final round championship winning performance known simply as “The Run.”
Another NHRA Top Fuel driver, Bob Vandergriff, winner of last season’s AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals, has also become a fan-favorite for “a run,” but that one happened outside of his 8,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragster.
After beating Spencer Massey in the final round last season at the Texas Motorplex, an overjoyed Vandergriff emerged from his C&J Energy Services dragster and started to run. And run. And run. He kept running, back down the dragstrip, toward the starting line.
An ESPN pit reporter finally caught up with him at mid-track for an interview. A bit winded, Vandergriff said he wanted to do something completely different to celebrate his first victory. The Georgia based driver had been to 13 final rounds without earning a win in his career prior to grabbing his very first NHRA Wally trophy on that very hot day in Texas.
“Obviously it was huge,” Vandergriff said. “We had so many losses in final rounds and honestly we should have won about half of them, that it was becoming comical. The consolation speeches had really begun to wear on me and like I said after the race, I don’t think I could have given another one saying that it was OK, because it certainly wasn’t.”
Vandergriff’s post-victory run became an instant sensation with fans. He says he’s not certain if that will become his signature celebration routine.
“Based on the response I’ve received from the fans I am somewhat torn,” Vandergriff said. “So many have told me what a highlight it was for them, and how it is something that they will never forget and one of their best memories in drag history and that they expect me to do it again makes me want to do it again, but on the other hand, it was such a special moment for me that I am not sure that it can be duplicated. I guess we’ll just have to see what happens when the moment occurs.”
Vandergriff will be trying to win his second career race and improve his position in the points standings at the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals, Sept. 20-23. Joining Vandergriff as defending winners are Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock) and Michael Phillips (Pro Stock Motorcycle). The race, which is the second of six playoff races in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship, will be televised on ESPN2HD.
It will be the first time that Vandergriff will take on a new title that he’s always dreamed about.
“After such a long career being able to hear ‘defending champion’ all weekend is going to be pretty exciting,” Vandergriff said. “It’s also a home race for my sponsor and were going to have over 500 guests this year, so it’s really going to be a great weekend for our team.”
Vandergriff, who has been racing in NHRA Top Fuel competition since 1994, says he will always cherish that special day at the Motorplex.
“Definitely having my family members there,” Vandergriff said. “My wife and son were there to greet me as well as my father (Bob Sr.). He has been there for this team since the beginning in any way our team has needed help, so to have him there to share in the win was great. The only downside was that the CEO from C&J (Josh Comstock) who is a huge supporter of our program had a family emergency and had to leave halfway through the race and missed the celebration, as well as my two daughters, Ashley and Sydney, who have been there for a lot of their dad’s losses couldn’t share in our win because of school being in session. Hopefully we can get another win soon that they can be part of it.”
This season Vandergriff survived a gut-check at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, holding off Clay Millican and Khalid alBalooshi for the final playoff spot in Top Fuel. A semifinal finish at Houston and a season-best qualifying position of third at the season-opening Winternationals are the highlights for his team this season. In the first playoff start at Charlotte he advanced to the second round and moved up to ninth in the standings. He hopes to continue to build on his team’s recent progress at the Texas Motorplex.
“I feel fortunate to have an opportunity to resurrect our season,” Vandergriff said. “We got pretty lost in our direction midway through the season and pretty much limped into the Countdown, but our car has been returning to form the last two races and really started to fly again in Indy, so I’m very excited about being granted a ‘mulligan.’ We’ve already seen a back of the pack qualifier win the championship in the Countdown, so with our car’s performance returning, I’m really looking forward to the last five races.”
Other pre-race favorites in Top Fuel include playoff top seed Antron Brown, Doug Kalitta, Massey, new points leader Schumacher, Morgan Lucas, recent Charlotte winner Shawn Langdon and Steve Torrence.
In Funny Car, former Motorplex winner Ron Capps leads the way following his win at Charlotte, followed by Auto Club Ford Mustang driver Robert Hight, Charlotte runner-up Mike Neff, rookie sensation Courtney Force, and her father, John Force, a seven-time winner at the Motorplex. The NHRA Traxxas Shootout for Funny Car also will be held on Saturday and will award $100,000 to the winning driver in the eight-car specialty all-star race.
Allen Johnson is the top seed in Pro Stock for the playoffs, and hot on his heels are defending world champ and Charlotte winner Jason Line, four-time champ Greg Anderson and three-time season winner Erica Enders, a native of Houston.
The Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson team of top seed and defending world champ Eddie Krawiec and three-time world champ Andrew Hines won all 10 races during the regular season and Hines opened the playoffs at Charlotte with a win. They are looking to continue their domination of the two-wheel class throughout the playoffs and will be challenged by Hector Arana Jr. and Hector Arana Sr. on the Lucas Oil Buells, in addition to Karen Stoffer, Scotty Pollacheck and LE Tonglet.