Rookie Top Fueler Jordan Vandergriff said “the biggest thing about my season, tell you the truth” – meaning the hardest thing – is not racing every event on the schedule. He understands why his team isn’t a fulltime team. He knows the business side. But he’s like every other racer – he got a taste of competing in a race car and can’t get enough. Still, his situation comes with its own quirks.
“It’s a lot harder to find the routine that it is for most people out here, because they’re out here every race. So when I get here, it’s almost like I have to remember it all again try to get my routine down,” Vandergriff said. “Like these guys were in Charlotte before Dallas. They ran on Monday. So it’s been four or five days since they ran. So they’re already in the thick of things. They come in. They hop in. Me, it’s been three or four weeks since I ran. So for me, it’s like I got to remember what it feels like – I got to remember all the steps. Like even doing the warm-up this morning before Q1, I sat in the car. I was going through the procedures in my head, just making sure I got it down. I did OK, but it is a struggle. It’s not preferred. Obviously, I’d like to be out here more. That takes money. That takes time and people. So hopefully next year it’ll be different.”
He knows that he’s building up experience, even if in smaller increments than others are.
“By the end of year, it’s going to be 12 [races]. I think this is 10 or 11 and then Pomona hopefully will be 12. It’s better than nothing, and that’s a good point, because I know that I’d rather be out here part-time than not at all. So I’ll take what I can get. I’m happy to be here. I’m happy every time I show up. It’s hard watching on NHRA.tv. But it is what it is for me right now, and it’s my rookie year,” he said. I have a lot of years left. So if my first year is like this, hopefully in the future it’s not, so I’ll take it. I definitely am happy with where I’m at.”
Vandergriff has been nominated for the Auto Club of Southern California’s Road to the Future Award that recognizes the sport’s top professional across all four classes. Joining him on the prestigious list are brothers Fernando Cuadra and Cristian Cuadra (Pro Stock); Cameron Ferré, Lex Joon, and Austin Prock (Top Fuel); and Joanna Salinas (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
His pitch for votes went like this: “We won a lot of rounds (eight in nine appearances). We’ve been to some semifinals (three), and I’m pretty good on the tree (.0637 average in 50 runs).”
He playfully compared himself to on-track rival Austin Prock: “Don’t let that kid fool you. He’s pretty good, but I’m pretty good, too, if you look at the numbers.”
Actually, Vandergriff is No. 5 in Top Fuel in the latest Power Rankings from National Dragster. That’s a comparison based on a handful of pertinent criteria.
So far, Prock is 2-0 against Vandergriff. And Vandergriff is fully aware that Prock is far more familiar to members of the voting panel than he is. He gets it that Prock is the strong favorite, despite his own stout showing in fewer chances to perform.
“I know. Yeah, and it’s fine. I understand where I’m at right now,” he said. “So if we were to face each other, I know what I have to do. You got to remember, I have to go out there and beat guys like Steve Torrence and guys like Doug Kalitta who are in the thick of it. They’re like [ranked] one and two, so they’re not going to take it easy on anybody. So I got to be more scared of those guys. But it’s fun when I’m racing against Doug Kalitta – like, when I made my debut and I beat him in the second round, that was when I really took a step back. When I won the first round against Brittany [Force], I didn’t really think anything of it and then when I won the second round against Doug, I got back [to the pits] and I was changing [clothes] and I sat there for a second and I was like, “I really just beat Doug Kalitta.” That’s crazy. It’s wild.”
He clarified that he said that not because he didn’t respect Force but because they’re more the same age and Kalitta is somebody he grew up watching and admired as a youngster.
“It was my first round of competition, so it was just like I went out there and I was like, ‘Oh, I won. I won first round.’ It didn’t matter who I was against if I won. I was happy I won. And then the second round I was like, ‘Wait, I just won the second round and it was Doug Kalitta.’ Then it started hitting me bigger. It started sinking in. I will always remember that day, that’s for sure.”
By midseason, he said he still is receiving sound advice – and reassuring advice – from his uncle Bob Vandergriff, the team owner.
“He’s just been more of like the steadying influence. Every run, if something different happens, I’ll go straight to him and tell him exactly what I felt. And he’ll just be like, ‘Yep, that’ll happen’ or ‘You got to do this’, stuff like that. For instance, one time the car washed out. At the hit it washed out and I got out of it. All of a sudden, I was looking at the wall. He said, ‘Nah, it’ll do that. Just stick with it.’ So a few races down the road it washed out again, and I just turned the wheel and I turned it back in and I got down the track. The first thing was I got out and got back to the pit I go, ‘Hey, it washed out again. I stayed in.’ And he said, ‘That’s exactly what you got to do.’”
A runner-up finish in last weekend’s NHRA FallNationals will go a long way in his bid to win the award.
NHRA Pro Stock owner-driver Alan Prusiensky, who’s recovering from a violent, back-breaking qualifying crash Oct. 11 at Charlotte, isn’t sure if he’ll be able to meet his latest goal. He wants to race in November at Pomona, Calif. – #DragRacingNews #nhra https://t.co/5kXtS8Iujl pic.twitter.com/JL01ZyrYWx
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) October 23, 2019