DRO: Was that upsetting to you at the time?

Vandergriff: No, because it’s hard to say what POWERade would have done, but I definitely think we piqued their interest in the sport.

DRO: What can NHRA do to make drag racing a bigger sport?

Vandergriff: Some of the things I’ve learned in the last three years just sitting in the bleachers and listening to the fans are what they want to see on the track, and what’s missing, and the personalities of our sport, and what we need to do to make our sport a bigger entity. I think the best thing we’ve had over the last two years has been the Force-Bazemore rivalry. Every time that heats up, NHRA does their best to put it out and I don’t understand that. If I was them, I’d even encourage it because it’s something that transcends the actual race and makes people want to watch a particular run more than another one. When Force races Bazemore, whether you like John or you like Whit, there’s a reason to watch outside of just two cars going down the track. There are personalities involved and if you think something’s gonna’ happen, you’re gonna’ want to watch it.

Now, if John Force, he may be John Force, but if he had berated my crew chief and put his hands all over him like he did to Lee Beard in Memphis, I’d have kicked his ass from one end of that shutdown area to the other. He’d have lost one round in the points because he’d have been in no shape to drive the next round. But all these guys want to do is make up; I don’t understand. Whit wants to be nice about it and act like John Force’s friend and I don’t think the fans want to see that. I think they want to have rivalries. Instead of just watching eight pairs of cars in the first round, there needs to be a reason to watch the fifth pair. The fans want to see two guys who may not like each other very much go to the line and see what happens.

I also think a lot of drivers have taken the politically correct stance of appeasing their corporate sponsors a little bit too far. I think by now the average fan—and this is something I heard in the bleachers—by the time the driver gets out of the car and mentions every sponsor that’s ever given him a nickel, the fans have already quit listening. They just turn it off. I agree we have to take care of our sponsors, they’re why we’re out here, but you can take it too far and the fans just don’t pay attention any more. They just wait for that sponsor role call to end and then they start listening again to see if he has anything good to say.

But they usually just get out and say what a great honor it is to beat that team and we were just lucky, etc. etc. The fans don’t want to hear that. They want to hear someone say they brought their car out to win and they feel just sick to lose to that so-and-so. They want to hear some passion.

DRO: What are your long-term goals in the sport?

Vandergriff: Obviously we want to win some races and a championship. My ultimate goal, though, is to get out of the seat and become a team owner of a couple of these things. I don’t have any romantic notions about being a racecar driver. For me it’s always just been a vehicle for business opportunities.

I mean it’s great to hit the pedal, don’t get me wrong; it’s a feeling I wish everyone could experience, but for me I’m more excited about the business side and the opportunities it can present. So I’ll probably just drive for about three more years and try out a second team, maybe a third team, step out of the seat and put someone else in the car and take care of the business side of the sport.

DRO: Finally, what can you say about the rumor that won’t go away, that the Vandergriffs are going to buy Atlanta Dragway?

Vandergriff: Stay tuned.

Previous INNERviews

Outlaw 10.5's Steve Kirk — 5/7/04

Ed "The Ace" McCulloch
(Part 2)
— 4/19/04 (Part 1) — 4/8/04

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