Seattle Bob Vandergriff Preview

VANDERGRIFF READY TO PUT HIS NAME IN NHRA TOP FUEL WIN COLUMN KENT, Wash. -- One NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series track has proven to be a hotbed for first time winners in Top Fuel this decade. And if Bob Vandergriff, Jr. has anything to do with...

VANDERGRIFF READY TO PUT HIS NAME IN NHRA TOP FUEL WIN COLUMN

KENT, Wash. -- One NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series track has proven to be a hotbed for first time winners in Top Fuel this decade. And if Bob Vandergriff, Jr. has anything to do with it, Seattle International Raceway's legacy will continue at the 11th annual Prolong Super Lubricants Northwest Nationals presented by Al's Auto Supply, July 31-Aug. 2. The $1.4 million race is the 14th of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series. Vandergriff would like to follow in the footsteps of former SIR Top Fuel winners Michael Brotherton (1992), Tommy Johnson, Jr. (1993) and Ron Capps (1995), to become NHRA's newest first time winner in the 6,000 horsepower category. Vandergriff's Jerzees Racing team has been impressive in recent events, posting a semi-final appearance at Chicago's Route 66 Nationals and following that effort with a runner-up finish to Kenny Bernstein at Columbus, Ohio's Pontiac Excitement Nationals. Following disappointing first and second round losses at St. Louis, Denver and Sonoma, Calif., respectively, Vandergriff feels that the time is right to break into the winner's circle. The 33-year-old Cumming, Ga. resident, with four career final rounds to his credit, says it's definitely time to put a big mark in the win column. "It's a big monkey on our back, no question," Vandergriff said. "Our car has always shown that it has the performance that it takes to win a race, and we've been in position to win but for some reason we just haven't been able to do it. A point in winning races is to give some legitimacy to your team as a winner. For us, we've been in a position to win enough races that when we finally do win, it's going to breed more success. The first one just seems to be the toughest one right now." With runner-up efforts at the 1995 U.S. Nationals, 1997 Slick-50 Nationals and Champion Auto Stores Nationals, combined with his recent run at Columbus, Vandergriff's team headlines the list as best team without a victory. Ask any veteran team in the Top Fuel pits who's right on the edge of breaking through with a win and Vandergriff's name always comes up first. Still, Vandergriff says they need to prove it on the track. "It's kind of a bummer right now because we do feel we're one of the top teams out here," he continued. "But to not have won a race yet, it's sort of like a black eye on us. It's awfully tough out here and you've got to have everything just right to win. We feel like if we keep putting ourselves in that position, eventually we're going to knock that door down and hopefully it will stay open for a while." At the beginning of this season, Vandergriff was farther away from the winning door than he had been in his career, posting a second round loss at the season-opening Winternationals and following that performance with three consecutive first round exits. "After the first eight races we decided to change everything with the car because we weren't going anywhere," Vandergriff said. "It's been a blessing in disguise really. I wish we would have made the changes earlier. The car has performed a lot more consistent and made really good laps every time we bring it to the starting line. When you can get the car to the finish line every time with limited parts damage you know you have the opportunity to win rounds. We've been to the semis and the finals this season since we made the change. It's just been a dramatic improvement for the Jerzees team." While Vandergriff is aware of Seattle's ability to produce first time winners, he also realizes it can be one of the toughest tracks on the circuit. However, in the past his team has been able to adapt to SIR's tricky conditions with flying colors. He holds the elapsed time record there at 4.642 seconds. "Seattle has a reputation for being a little difficult for some drivers, but we seem to have always been able to run good there," Vandergriff said. "We were the top qualifier there two years ago and should have won that race. Seattle has been good to us. They have repaved the track and made some changes and we should be able to run really fast there. Hopefully our momentum will keep going for the rest of the season and we can get a win soon. Maybe it will come at Seattle." Vandergriff, like most drivers, knows that one thing always comes at Seattle: fatigue. He says the driver and team that can keep their wits for the final three days of NHRA's testy West Coast Swing, a three week span of races that begins July 16 in Denver and concludes Aug. 2 in Seattle, will most likely walk away with a trophy at the Northwest Nationals. "It shows you what caliber your team is," he said. "You have to be mentally tough and really focused when you get to Seattle because it gets to be a struggle because you're worn out, you've beat up all your parts and you're scrambling to make sure you have enough parts in the trailer to compete. The team that can capitalize on the situation can take advantage of some of the other teams who may have become frustrated and lost some of their focus. It's really a crucial race."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , Ron Capps , Tommy Johnson , Bob Vandergriff