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Another Vandergriff Joins the Top Fuel Dragster Ranks

Story and photo by Dale Wilson

Now there are two Vandergriff brothers racing Top Fuel Dragsters.

Meet Chris Vandergriff, at age 30, seven years the junior to brother Bob, both sons of Bob Sr., owner of Hedman Hedders. Bob Jr., as you may recall, has been racing Top Fuel for the past seven years, and was good enough to get runner-up at Indy in 1995, among other good finishes.

Now, it's kid brother Chris's turn. "It's been something that I've wanted to do since I was about 14 years old, but it has never been financially sound for me," the younger Vandergriff said. "It took a NASCAR career and a championship at Lanier Speedway (just south down I-85 from Atlanta Dragway, in Commerce, Georgia) to prove to everybody that I was serious and wanted a shot at this. I had to pool a lot of my own money to prove the point to the family, and now that I've done that, I think we'll get some more support out of the family."

The Vandergriff family has been involved in straightline racing for three decades. Papa Bob once worked directly with the National Hot Rod Association's Wally Parks and the NHRA, and its Hedman brand of exhaust headers has been a staple of hot rodders and racers for about that long. Although Bob Sr. has rarely drag raced, Bob Jr. has made his mark, racing the Jerzees Top Fueler for seven years.

Chris calls himself the "baby of the bunch." There is another brother, Kevin, who runs Hedman West in Whittier, California and he is a father of three who has been married for 16 years. Both Bob Jr. and Chris work out of Hedman South, based in Alpharetta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.

Chris's racing career started in roundy-round cars, and there was a reason. "I started about four and a half years ago at Lanier Speedway in Gainesville (Georgia). They were just coming out with a new truck series that is like an entry level to Craftsman Truck, but it was the economical and efficient way to get started. He won the 2001 Pro Truck championship at Lanier Speedway. But his heart, he says, lay with drag racing.

At the time, Vandergriff couldn't afford to do anything else, "We being a drag racing family," he said he always had aspirations to be in drag racing, just like brother Bob. It was such a bug for him that he paid twice to go to Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School and get both his Super Comp license and his alcohol dragster license "just because I wanted to experience those things." He has diversified his driving abilities. Chris has gone around the California Motor Speedway in a Winston Cup car, around the Atlanta Motor Speedway in a Cup car, and he has driven on other superspeedways, "so now I guess my forte is not only NASCAR, it's drag racing at all three levels, from Super Comp to alcohol to Top Fuel," he said.

The day that we dropped by Hedman South to speak to Vandergriff, in early June, he was still on an emotional roller coaster, having gotten his NHRA Top Fuel Dragster racing license a few days before. Running the car at Atlanta Dragway on Friday and Saturday, Chris did everything the sanctioning body, track officials, crew people and family wanted him to, and now he has to make just one more full quarter-mile pass and he'll be legal to race.

On Saturday, his first full day in the dragster, Vandergriff went 4.87 at 295 mph. That's right, he was in the fours first day out. "I guess now I'm a member of the four-second club," he said laughing, adding that it has taken some racing veterans 30 or more years to get into the fours.


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