John Adams once wrote, “we cannot insure success, but we can deserve it.”
Jack Beckman once told me that and $3 gets you a small coffee at Starbucks.
Jordan Vandergriff learned that (or re-learned it, more likely) the hard way in the final round of the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals against Billy Torrence. Vandergriff did everything right. He left on time and got all the luck you’re supposed to need to beat one of the best teams (and a darn good driver) in Mello Yello NHRA Drag Racing.
Then his luck ran out. He was able to get his DA Lubricants / Bob Vandergriff Racing Top Fuel fired up again, but it was in a weakened state (which is normal after a Nitro car loses traction). That was too little, too late for Vandergriff as Torrence, who was dead late at the Tree, soared past him more than 100-mph faster.
The win, in terms of championship implications, means more to Torrence than it does to Vandergriff. But it would have meant so much to the rookie to get that first win at a track with historical significance to both his team and the man standing at the starting line. A win would have put him firmly in the conversation for the Auto Club Road to the Future Award and, beyond that, a win would have been dope. Winning is its own reward and it can be easy to miss that bitchin’ forest amidst the trees.
So, let’s take a moment to appreciate the other very talented rookie in a class of excellent rookie drivers. You know Austin Prock is one of the best wheelmen to slide into a Top Fuel dragster (he leads the category in reaction time, can pedal a car, is friends with Don Prudhomme) but you may not know that Vandergriff is behind only his buddy and Antron Brown when it comes to leaving on time.
Vandergriff averages a .0634-second reaction time with half as many lights cut as Prock. The sample size is big enough to consider that impressive, while also noting that both racers have done incredible work without much experience. There’s more to driving a Top Fuel dragster than cutting a great light, but it’s a great place to start.
The DA Lubricants dragster averages a 3.784-second elapsed time and gets down the track 73.7 percent of the time (Success Rate). That’s why you see Vandergriff’s name at the top of the NHRA Power Rankings sheets every week; it hasn’t turned into a win yet, but it feels like a matter of time. This is the same outfit that found victory twice with Blake Alexander behind the wheel in 2018 and Vandergriff has proven to be a very capable driver.
What Vandergriff lacks is opportunity. The team, crew chiefed by Ron Douglas and Joe Barlam, has won 50 percent of the rounds it has competed in. That’s as basic a statistic as you can find and slots Vandergriff right in the middle of the pack, among racers like Antron Brown and Austin Prock – but not far behind Mike Salinas (57 percent), Brittany Force (57 percent) and Doug Kalitta (56 percent). That’s to say the margins in drag racing are exceptionally tight and the difference between winning and losing with a good team is often determined by a coin flip.
That will come as small comfort when the coin comes up heads. But if you’re a fan of Vandergriff, there are good days ahead. He’s might be a spreadsheet hero today, but he’ll be holding up Wallys in the future.