Another Vandergriff Joins the Top Fuel Dragster Ranks
Story and photo by Dale Wilson
Now there are two Vandergriff brothers racing Top Fuel Dragsters.
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
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.