Jordan Vandergriff conducts interviews. greets fans, poses for photos, and signs hero cards and pistons with an ease that belies the fact that he’s just in his sixth race as a Pro driver and all that entails.
The nephew of longtime Top Fuel driver and now car owner Bob Vandergriff Jr. has compiled a pretty impressive season in his limited appearances, both in and out of the cockpit.
“I’m starting to get pretty comfortable in all of this, or at least I think I am,” he said modestly. “My biggest problem is that with our schedule there are sometimes a number of weeks between times that I get to drive the car. For example, it’s been three weeks since I drove in Chicago and all of these other guys have run the last two races
“So every [first qualifying] session is like a reawakening. After I get Q1 down, it all comes back but it always takes a run.”
He’s hoping to get to go back-to-back for the first time at Denver and Sonoma (the Sonoma race is still up in the air) during the Western Swing, then relinquish his car to teammate Shawn Reed to run in his homestate of Washington during the Swing-ending Seattle event.
Vandergriff’s D-A Lubricants team will probably run no more than 13 events this season, which he admits puts him at a bit of a disadvantage in his highly touted rookie of the year battle with fellow Top Fuel freshman Austin Prock, who’s running the entire season in John Force Racing’s Montana Brand dragster.
There’s little doubt that Prock will finish ahead of him in the standings just based on the sheer lopsidedness of their respective schedules, but Vandergriff can already point proudly to numbers that show a better per-race outcome that he hopes the voters will consider when casting their votes for the Auto Club Road to The Future award at year’s end.
They both have six round wins, but Vandergriff has done that in five races, compared to 11 for Prock, making their respective round records 6-5 and 6-11. Vandergriff has been to a pair of semifinals – in Phoenix and Atlanta – while Prock has one semifinal finish, in Topeka. Prock has a better reaction time average (.061 to .066) but Vandergriff has had the better car, as reflected in NHRA’s Power Rankings, where the D-A machine is ranked fourth and Prock 11th.
“Just look at the round record and the Power Rankings –- that’s all I ask,” he said like a candidate stumping for votes with a campaign platform. “By the end of the year I can guarantee you we’ll have a better round record.”
But first there’s this weekend, the sixth of his career, where his team is the defending event champ as driven to victory last year by Blake Alexander. He’s eager to defend the title for the team but also itching to race more, which is in the works.
“This year is already half over and we’re already looking at what we can do next year,” he said. “We’re going to run five of the last six Countdown events [missing only Charlotte] in advance of that, and I really think we can do some damage there.”
The team’s other developmental driver, Josh Hart, will also continue to make laps in their team car for a debut later this season, He originally was scheduled to make his debut this weekend, but a number of factors led to a postponement. Hart is racing at the event in his A/Fuel dragster and will make more laps in the BVR Top Fueler during testing on Monday.