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Jeff Gordon Fan
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The rains fell Sunday afternoon at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga. The odds were that the final eliminations would be postponed until Monday. However, the NHRA was slow to make the decision and by 5:30 PM, nearly five-and-a-half hours after the race was scheduled to start, the Safety Safari began drying the track. By 7:15, the invocation was given and the first pair of Top Fuel dragsters launched, and then smoked. They pedaled and smoked some more.

Defending series champion Shawn Langdon scored a pedestrian 5.221 winning elapsed time. He knew immediately something wasn’t right and while he praised the Safety Safari’s efforts, he just didn’t feel right about the racing surface.

“I did the burnout and I was kind of looking out at the track,” Langdon told ESPN following his win. “Probably not something I should be paying attention to as a driver but it looked a little questionable out there and I know that we preferred that left lane. We had done a quick lane swap right before we pulled out there. It’s just tricky. You never know what you’re going to get when there’s rain on the track all day long.”

A pair later resulted in more smoke and two subsequent races were just as unfavorable. In between the runs, the NHRA Safety Safari rolled the trucks and did their best to work the track into reasonable shop.

The fifth pair out proved to be the last straw. The race began in odd fashion as Bob Vandergriff Jr. rolled in, lighting both bulbs before opponent Clay Millican had staged. When the light flashed green, Vandergriff sat there and almost a second later left. His dragster smoked the tires, he pedaled, then smoked some more and went sideways, getting close to the centerline behind Millican.

Vandergriff’s car nearly rolled over, turning up on two wheels before he corrected after bumping the wall. A furious Vandergriff came to a stop at the finish line, exited his car and began a walk towards the starting line. His body language telegraphed the fact that he was unhappy about what had transpired.

“It was just ignorant and stupid to be racing on that track in the first place,” said Vandergriff. “They couldn’t get it to where it was acceptable; they worked on it after every car went down the track. They had a twenty minute gap after the third pair trying to get it ready. That tells you we’ve got a problem with this racetrack, that it’s not safe.”

So why did the NHRA make such an effort to race on Sunday?

“We always try to get rounds in to satisfy our fans, our sponsors, we have sponsors out here, and the teams themselves,” said Graham Light, VP of Operations of NHRA. “We’ve got another race in five days and the guys have got to get on the road. They’ve got to get to Topeka. If we can get a break from the weather and create a satisfactory surface for them to race on we’re going to do that every time and we did that. This wasn’t the first time we’ve started a race at 7 o’clock at night.

“There are multiple reasons, actually. Our number one concern is safety, obviously, and the number two concern is having an equal track so both lanes are equal and both teams have an equal chance. The objective is to give the fans a show. The sun came out and it actually turned out not too bad at 6 o’clock or so.

“Also, we’re in the first race of three in a row. After that we’re off a week and then we’ve got four in a row, so we don’t have a lot of options to regroup, reschedule, come back in two weeks or something. That’s certainly not financially beneficial to the teams. So the more we could have gotten done would have helped a great deal. It was the same for the sportsman racers Saturday. We tried to run as many sportsman as possible so those guys didn’t have to stay over, didn’t have extra hotel costs and so on. The same thought process was used here; let’s try to throw everything we have at it to try and make it right to run this race. The guys can get down the road, don’t have to incur extra hotel expense in staying here and they can get on to the next race, which starts in five days.”

The NHRA began their track drying and prep process a little after 5:30. Part of the process was adding more than the usual amount of the gold dust rosin to the starting line. The NHRA normally uses this rosin in their pre-race preparation.

On Sunday, they used the extra rosin as an additional drying agent.

“Typically when there is the possibility of a damp surface underneath the rubber, the rosin absorbs that and dries it up and you drag over it,” explained Light. “Then we spray numerous times and drag over it. Typically that brings it around to an acceptable surface. In this case it was less than acceptable. Our guys between runs tried their best to bring it around and most of the crew chiefs were very supportive and helpful out there but it just wasn’t to be. “

This was of little solace to Vandergriff, who confronted Light on the starting line.
He believes the NHRA put monetary gain ahead of safety in this instance.

What did Vandergriff say?

“It’s not printable,” said Vandergriff. “I’ll probably get fined for it but I was just livid that we’re making decisions our here and we’re dedicated to safety but that decision was made solely on money and wanting to get a run in so the fans didn’t get a rain check, and have to come back next year and have that against the ticket sales. That’s solely what that was about, trying to get a round in today at the expense of safety. That to me is not acceptable.’

Light vehemently denies Vandergriff’s allegation.

“I don’t know why he would say that,” Light responded.

Light wouldn’t say if Vandergriff’s actions will result in a disciplinary action.

“We’re going to review it once this race is over,” said Light. “He was very vocal and out of line. I understand his frustration, and understand his competitiveness. He couldn’t see the Christmas tree because of the sun. That’s the driver’s responsibility to bring that to the attention of his crew chief and his crew chief notifies the starter. Once both cars are staged you assume that they’ve both accepted the conditions and are ready to go. That wasn’t done. So I don’t know how he can be mad at us or anybody for that.”

Vandergriff contends he tried to get the starting line crew’s attention and at one point waved his hands prior to rolling forward but with no luck.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of that,” Light said when informed of Vandergriff’s claim. “They do have radios and they can radio their crew chief. He went in and staged.”

Vandergriff accepts the responsibility of making a bad decision by staging for the race.

“My fault - I was ignorant and stupid as well,” Vandergriff said. “I couldn’t see the Christmas tree. I couldn’t see my lane because the sun was right in my eyes. I was waving my hands up there trying to get somebody’s attention, trying to tell them I couldn’t see. I should have shut the car off, my fault, because I couldn’t see where I was going. But shoot, I’m a racer, they tell me to race I’m going to race. That was an ignorant and stupid decision and I almost crashed my car. Not only did I not see the Christmas tree, once I hit the gas pedal it turns out that I couldn’t see where I was going and I hit the gas pedal again, which is stupid. But you’re trying to win a round.

“I’ve apologized to my team already for being stupid and I’ve apologized to my wife and kids for being stupid. There’s no reason I should have put them in that position and almost crash my race car. But there is no way that they should have let us go down that race track and after that happened to me I was not going to let another car go down that race track and that’s why I stopped my car on the track and got out and walked back to the starting line. They would have had to run me over to run another pair and I wasn’t going to let it happen.”

“Steve Torrence in front of me came up and told me he couldn’t see but he should have said something, ‘I can’t see, the sun is on the track.’”

“But he didn’t do it. I wasn’t going to allow that to happen again. I was not going to let another guy go down that race track and potentially hurt himself because I didn’t speak up or put my foot down. We should have never been put in that position where I had to do that.”

The NHRA made the decision to let the completed races stand, including Vandergriff’s.

“What are you going to do?” Vandergriff asked. “My feeling is they should scrap the whole thing and obviously I’m going to say that because I’m on the losing end, the winners are going to say you can’t make it not stand because they won. You’re going to make five people happy and five people not happy if you do that.”

Spencer Massey was one of those drivers who won in the less-than-spectacular Sunday afternoon racing.

“Well, obviously with us getting a round win it kind of helps me agree with the situation,” said Massey. “We were both racing equally not good conditions. We’re both racing on the same playing field, so if one guy won and one guy lost, hey, it’s a drag race. There are no second chances in drag racing. It’s NHRA’s rules, it’s their ball game in a way, so we’re here underneath their rules and if that’s what they say the rules are that’s what the rules are.

“We lost a qualifying session Friday night after that incident with Antron Brown and that was the ruling. We only got three and the same with a few other cars; it’s just kind of how the cookie crumbles. Sometimes there are situations that we all don’t want to deal with but whenever there are rain delays and you have track conditions it’s just something that NHRA can’t do anything about. We drivers can’t do anything about it - we just have to race in the conditions that we’re in. We lucked out and got the round win.”

Light believes instances like Sunday in Commerce amount to a no-win situation.

“Whenever you get weather conditions like that it’s always a challenge, and our guys worked their butts off and did a phenomenal job,” said Light. “[There was] a lot of moisture on the track in the [previous] twelve hours. Then it stopped, the sun came out, [Safety Safari] did the best job they could and it just didn’t work. Both lanes were equal, and it certainly wasn’t a pretty race, but you had winners in the left lane and winners in the right lane, so I think it’s the best that could be done.”

Vandergriff said he didn’t have a problem with racing late. He did have an issue with the track, which was prepared for him and his fellow racers to use.

“I don’t know if it was the late time, it was just the condition of the track,” Vandergriff said. “The moisture, the rain, all the rubber that peeled off. When we got up there the weather was decent, it was warm and the sun was out, obviously the sun was out because I couldn’t see where I was going, but once again who’s on the starting line monitoring that stuff? Who’s on the starting line saying ‘Hey man, the sun is right down the racetrack, we need to take a look at this.’

“Why does it take a driver being strapped in to a 10,000 horsepower race car getting ready to go 300 mph to say, hey these conditions aren’t safe - I can’t see.

“Somebody has to be there saying ‘man, I bet people can’t see.’ We’re dedicated to safety out here - I hear it all the time but man, that’s a bad example of living up to it.”

Light believes in his heart the Safety Safari team did the best possible job to provide the best racing surface. For some reason, Sunday’s outcome wasn’t indicative of the effort which went into the preparation.

“God bless the people who stayed all day and were there in the stands when we ran at 7 o’clock. They are dedicated great fans and we’re sorry we let them down and didn’t give them a couple of rounds of side-by-side racing,” said Light. “It’s the nature of the sport and it’s tricky, just like these race cars. Teams come up here with the best intentions and the best tune-up and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In this case our tune-up didn’t work for us. It’s no one’s fault, our guys really did a good job and they’re so dedicated. These are the same guys that we have at every race, so they know what they’re doing.”

Larson Collector
1,625 Posts
Good for Vandergriff. But the races that were run where run sadly. At least he put a end to it.

Premium Member
2,237 Posts
The NHRA...all about safety....until money is concerned. Doing it for the fans? How many were in the stands Sunday night when they tried this stupidity? Answer...very few. I have all but given upon the NHRA. Tasca said the track was a "one lane track" on Monday as well. Nothing unusual there either.
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