You hear it all the time – “It gives me goosebumps just thinking about” – but when Top Fuel rookie sensation Jordan Vandergriff talks about running at the Auto Club Finals, he pulls up his shirt sleeves to show a reporter the gooseflesh that shows that's not just some trite cliché to him.
"See?" We do.
“When people ask me about Top Fuel, I’ve told them that it was always my goal to run Top Fuel but I realized this weekend that my goal was always to run Top Fuel here,” he said. “I’m from Brea and Uncle Bob [Vandergriff Jr., team owner] is from the area, too. Having all of our family and friends here and the fact that I’m at the race that I’ve always wanted to race at. I couldn’t be more happy.
“I really have to thank Uncle Bob for letting me do it after what happened.”
“What happened” was the jaw-dropping news that D-A Lubricants, who had sponsored the first-year racer this season, had opted out of its contract and would not be sponsoring the team next year, the news hitting them out of the blue just after the recent event in Las Vegas.”
“We had a bombshell dropped on us,” said the team owner. “We were surprised and shocked and really have no understanding of it. We were already talking about next year’s plans and had all of our marketing work ready.”
The Pomona race was not even in the team’s original plans had they still had the sponsorship, but knowing what the Pomona race means to the family, Bob -– a multi-sport prep star in Southern California before he turned to racing in the early 1990s -- decided to give his nephew his shot at the season finale.
“He knew how much Pomona means to me, so he decided to throw me a bone,” said Jordan. “He told me he didn’t want to see my sad puppy dog eyes all weekend. When I got to the starting line I had the chills up there, too.”
No matter what happens this weekend, he’s had a rookie season to remember. He and fellow Top Fuel rookie Austin Prock are the frontrunners for the Road to the Future award given each year to that season’s best first-year driver.
“ I’m very happy with my season,” he assessed. “This is my 11th race and we made three semifinals and had the runner-up in Dallas. We did better than I have ever dreamed about. The fact that I was able to come with a great team with a great car, all I had to go was climb in and do my job, which I think I did OK.”
Asked to assign himself a letter grade, he may have blushed but he didn’t hesitate.
“I’d have to give myself an A”
“I was pleasantly surprised,” said Uncle Bob. “Even though he had run Alcohol Dragster, he didn’t have a lot of experience, but he got right into this car and did a fantastic job. I’ve seen guys with a lot more experience do a way worse job. But he is a Vandergriff … I expected it.”
What’s not to be happy about? Jordan has won 11 rounds this season, beating fulltime frontrunners like Brittany Force, Doug Kalitta, Leah Pritchett, Mike Salinas, and Antron Brown. He’s consistently been among the top starting-line drivers all season in terms of reaction time.
He reached his first career final round in Dallas and seemed on his way to victory after final-round opponent Billy Torrence had a late leave, but the car went up in smoke a couple of hundred feet downtrack and Torrence sailed by for the win. Had he won the event, it would have been more of the Vandergriff way. Uncle Bob won his first career Top Fuel Wally at the Dallas event in 2011 after 13 frustrating runner-ups.
The Bob Vandergriff Racing team will out there in 2020, with team drivers Shawn Reed and Josh Hart, who bring their own sponsorship money, and, hopefully, Jordan.
“We’re positive that we’ll find something for next year; we just have to get to work and hit it hard,” said Jordan. “I’m looking forward to putting the whole rookie thing behind me and really grind.”