fter earning NHRA Rookie of the Year honors in 1994, Bob Vandergriff Jr. appeared in six Top Fuel final rounds—including the 1995 U.S. Nationals—before leaving the sport at the end of the 2000 season. He made a return to competition at the Atlanta event this year, however, with crew chief Rob Flynn (formerly of Cruz Pedregon’s and Del Worsham’s Funny Car teams), handling the tune-up on Vandergriff’s Haldex-backed dragster.

Vandergriff has qualified at three races since his comeback, but bowed out in Atlanta in the opening round, had a similar exit at Chicago, and finally got his first round win at Topeka. While still in Atlanta, the Alpharetta, Ga.-based driver spoke with DRO about sponsorship issues and ways to increase drag racing’s fan appeal.

DRO: What made you quit Top Fuel after the 2000 season?

Vandergriff: Well, one reason I stopped is we lost our sponsor, obviously, and we got kind of late notice on it so our hands were kind of tied on putting together a new deal. And then it was the same time we started our family. It was hard to be gone with one child, but when the second one arrived, the prospect of being gone 30 weeks a year wasn’t very appealing. I didn’t get married and have a family to say, ‘See you in three weeks or a month,’ and traveling with them, we tried that, but between baby strollers and cribs, and baby bags and staying out at the track late and screwing up their schedules, it just didn’t work. So, I decided at that time I’d just stay home for at least a couple of years until they were old enough to travel and we didn’t have to deal with strollers and all that stuff. They’re five and three now and we bought a nice motor coach, so it’s a lot easier now.

DRO: So you always planned to return?

Vandergriff: Yeah, we had kind of targeted 2005, but then a good friend of mine, Rob Flynn, became available. It actually hatched during the rainout in Pomona this year, sitting around in the pouring rain with no racecar, no trailer, nowhere to stand except under other people’s awnings and we looked at each other and said, ‘Man, we need to have a racecar.’

So we actually were at my brother Kevin’s house for dinner and started talking, saying, ‘We oughta’ run Atlanta. It’s right in our backyard and we’ve got all these parts and pieces and it wouldn’t cost that much.’ Then we said, ’Well, if we’re gonna’ run Atlanta, why don’t we try to run a few more races,’ and then it grew to 10 races and we said, ’Now we’ve gotta’ go raise some money,’ and we started knocking on some doors to people who have helped me throughout my career and the next thing you know we had enough to run 10 races.

Since Rob was available—Rob or Johnny West, those are the two guys I’d like to work with—it kind of speeded up our plan and we’re going to try to turn this into something for next year.

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