(Tim Marshall photo)

: If you could go back in time and change any one event or decision in drag racing what would it be?

Vandergriff: I guess taking the opportunity to go back to work for NHRA as the President.  That call came and I told them the only way that I’d come back was to be in the front chair, because Wally wanted to retire.  Well, not retire, but get out of the mainstream. I would be in the front chair with total control and not have to put up with the bullshit everybody had been living with.  I got the call and Harvey Palish was the negotiator between NHRA and me – then I got a call with “OK, you got what you wanted.” But I couldn’t take it because I had just bought Hedman Hedders and had a lot of debt and a lot of people who believed in me, depended on me, so I couldn’t take the job – that’s when they made Dallas Gardner President of the NHRA.

:   You mentioned the “bullshit” of that time. Is there anything specific that you can point to?

Vandergriff:  No. It was just a learning curve; it was all primitive stuff and trying to get ahead.  It was a fun deal, because we tried a lot of different things.  I can remember the first year National Dragster did a million dollars in business and had a 100-page issue.  We used to go to the races on Sunday, fly home Sunday night, put the paper out in the mail on Wednesday with race results.  Jim Edmonds, Bill Holland, me, Les Lovett, Bill Crites, I mean that was my staff.

: What do you consider your most important contribution to drag racing?

Vandergriff: I was very involved in the first television stuff. I went all over the country making deals with the local TV stations to play the drag racing shows, I sold the commercials, too. 

: Give us a little background on those early days of NHRA getting more involved and in charge of the TV production and coverage of the races.

Vandergriff:  In those days we’d always have problems with the television (broadcast)  and the people doing it. Finally, Wally, Harvey Palish and I went to Ontario Motor Speedway one day to talk about it.  I told them, “The only way that we are going to be able to use this (television) is if we do it ourselves.” I said that because the production people that were supposed to televise the World Finals backed out (just) three days before the race. Well, we just couldn’t have that. 

: So how did you solve that problem?

Vandergriff: Diamond P was already in existence and they were the media representative and negotiator for NHRA.  Diamond P was Harvey Palish, who was a lawyer, and Wally owned a small piece of it, nothing major. 

I can remember -- that was forty years ago -- going into all the big ad agencies in New York and Chicago and showing a nine-minute video about drag racing and I would have meetings with all the account people for different … I didn’t care who they were or what companies they represented, I just wanted to show them about drag racing – that here is a market that you are overlooking… I was hustling.