VANDERGRIFF AND READY-MADE TEAM USING EARLY SEASON TO LEARN; WORK TO HIT STRIDE COMMERCE, Ga. -- Bob Vandergriff's UPS Top Fuel dragster may be 250 mph faster than his sponsor's signature brown van, but he already feels a strong allegiance to...
VANDERGRIFF AND READY-MADE TEAM USING EARLY SEASON TO LEARN; WORK TO HIT STRIDE
COMMERCE, Ga. -- Bob Vandergriff's UPS Top Fuel dragster may be 250 mph faster than his sponsor's signature brown van, but he already feels a strong allegiance to the shipping company that added 400,000 fans to his support base when it signed on as his team sponsor this year.
Vandergriff, who returns to the POWERade Series this year after taking 2005 off to focus on assembling a new team and sponsor, is quick to say he wants a win at his home event -- in his sponsor's backyard. But consistency will be the key. In this Q&A, Vandergriff describes his transition from driver to marketing manager (in securing UPS) back to driver, and his relationship with the team he hired this year, en masse, from former team owner Joe Amato.
Q: Getting a sponsor like UPS is a long haul. What does it take to be a driver/marketing manager at the same time?
VANDERGRIFF: "I think a lot of it is common sense, and obviously some experience and ability to deal with major companies. The more you do it, the more you learn. Ten years ago I thought I knew what I was doing, but when I look back now I see what I did wrong. Five years ago I thought I knew what I was doing, but when I look back I see what I did wrong. Five years from now I'll probably look back and see what I did wrong. It's a process of asking a lot of questions and learning. You have to be able to think on your feet rather quickly, and you better have the right answer. You have to be creative -- you have to figure out what the company is trying to accomplish and show them how drag racing fits into that."
Q: How fast can the big brown van cover the quarter-mile? Top speed?
VANDERGRIFF: "I would say 65 mph because that's the speed limit. It would probably take about 20 seconds."
Q: You have two daughters, Ashley (6) and Sydney (4). Do they want to race?
VANDERGRIFF: "They like to come to races and watch. At this point they're girly-girls. They're more into princess costumes than race cars. My oldest daughter just started playing softball, so maybe we're starting to see a little more development in the athletic area."
Q: If you could deliver yourself one thing in Atlanta, what would it be?
VANDERGRIFF: "A victory. First of all, it would be pretty special to win in my hometown. Then to also win in your sponsor's backyard, with the corporate office 10 minutes from my racecar shop, I don't think you could write a better script than that. UPS has about 400,000 employees. I feel like I've gained 400,000 fans since our association with UPS has begun. For me, as a driver, I think it's a pretty awesome feeling to have that many people behind you."
Q: The last time you raced more than 20 events (the current season is 23 events) was in 2000. How has the Top Fuel field changed since then?
VANDERGRIFF: "1999 and 2000 were very tough years. Now you see a little more depth spread across the field. In the past, you saw eight cars that were very good. Now you see 14 or 16 at every race that are capable of winning. We've had the advent of more multi-car teams and some new teams on the horizon that have done pretty well. You're seeing more competitive teams at the top level than we might have had in years past."
Q: Describe your relationship with your new team.
VANDERGRIFF: "We started late. I hardly knew any of those guys. We've been on a dead run since Dec. 1 (2005). We're all still learning about each other. Without these guys and their effort, we wouldn't be here. I just show up and drive the thing, but they worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week to get us to Pomona. With no complaints. Whatever they needed to do, they did it. They all worked for Joe Amato last year, and when he decided to sell his team they were available. They were looking to stay together. For me it was a no-brainer; a perfect fit. The ability to have a ready-made team for me was a blessing. Otherwise I would have really been in trouble."
Q: You've never won in Atlanta, but you qualified No. 1 there in 1999. Describe your perfect scenario for Atlanta Dragway.
VANDERGRIFF: "We would like to have 30 more runs before we get there -- that's how far we are behind everyone else. I would say the optimum situation for us is to run more consistently. I think we're fully capable of (running well), we just need to be able to do it on a more regular basis."
Q: Describe Alpharetta, Ga. (Vandergriff's residence of 14 years).
VANDERGRIFF: "It's about 30 min. north of Atlanta, so it's a suburb. It's growing in leaps and bounds. When I moved there from California (La Habra, 1992), there was really nobody there. Now it's a sprawling suburb. The county I live in was one of the fastest growing counties in the last five years. We have great golf courses in the area, friendly people."
Q: If people could know one thing about you as a driver, what would it be?
VANDERGRIFF: "That I'm pretty relaxed in the car."
Q: Any race-day rituals?
VANDERGRIFF: "I think I'm about the most non-superstitious person in the world. I really don't believe any of that stuff. I don't have anything I do the same every day. When you get yourself excited, it's hard to be at the same level every time you get in the car. I think by being relaxed I'm more capable of getting things done than (I would be by) doing the same thing at the same level."