April 23, 2014 — official release — NHRA photo — HOUSTON, TX — Bob Vandergriff Jr. described his victory a year ago at Royal Purple Raceway as having a touch of Hollywood.
It’s not often that sequels are held in higher regard than the original in the movie industry, but the Top Fuel standout hopes the 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals presented by Super Start Batteries, April 25-27, at Royal Purple Raceway provides the rare exception.
After winning a year ago, Vandergriff jogged back up his lane to greet his teammates, a customary move whenever the driver of the C&J Energy Services dragster wins a race. But with the event being the closest race for Vandergriff’s sponsor, the victory became that much more special.
“Those are great memories, Hollywood movie type stuff,” Vandergriff said. “Winning at your sponsor’s home track with their employees and customers rooting you on was incredible. If it had been a movie people would have said, ‘Yeah right, it would never ever happen like that,’ so it was pretty exciting.”
Along with Vandergriff, Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car) and Jason Line (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event at one of the circuit’s quickest and fastest tracks. The event, the sixth of 24 during the 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, will once again be televised on ESPN2.
Vandergriff could also be due for a Hollywood-type stroke of luck after a run of unfortunate events to open his 2014 season. The Georgia native started the season with first-round losses at each of the first three events of the season before advancing to the second round at the most recent event in Las Vegas.
Despite the struggles, Vandergriff has been impressed with how his dragster has performed. Numerous strokes of bad luck in eliminations have proved to be costly, but Vandergriff remains confident the script will change soon.
“Our car has been very good this season and we’ve already had more runs in the 3.70’s in the first few races than we did in the previous two years,” said Vandergriff, who is currently 10th in points. “We set a personal speed record at more than 328 mph and our second quickest run ever at 3.743, (but) we just have had some freak parts breakage and bad luck.
“I feel we are getting ready to go on a run and we have a car that’s more than capable of not only winning a race but winning multiple races. We just have keep moving forward. The car is capable and it’s time to start showing it.”
Vandergriff, who holds three career victories, certainly has good vibes heading into Royal Purple Raceway. It is the site of his last victory, as Vandergriff overcame the elements to defeat eventual world champion Shawn Langdon in the final round.
“Last year was a huge curveball because of the huge amount of rain they had and what it did to the track,” Vandergriff said. “I knew it was going to be one of those races where just going down the track was going to be a challenge. We didn’t make it down fully until the final round but they gave us enough chances and we ended up winning the race.”
Repeating that scenario will be difficult this year, but Vandergriff is fine with that so long as the outcome is the same. He will face heavy challenges from a loaded Top Fuel field that is currently headed by points leader Doug Kalitta, who has one win and three final round appearances in 2014.
Other marquee contenders include Tony Schumacher, who has two wins in Houston, reigning champ Langdon, 2012 world champ and 2008 Houston event winner Antron Brown, Steve Torrence, Spencer Massey, 2014 rookie Richie Crampton and Winternationals winner Khalid alBalooshi.
“You just don’t get a round off in this class,” Vandergriff said. “They are at least 12 cars at each race fully capable of running 3.70s and if you don’t have your act together each round you can plan on going home real quick.”
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, April 25, with sessions at 4 and 6:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, April 26, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, April 28. Pro Mod qualifying is set for Friday, April 25 at 6 p.m. and Saturday, April 26 at 2 and 4:30 p.m. Pro Mod eliminations are scheduled for Sunday at 9:45 a.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, log on to www.royalpurpleraceway.com or call Royal Purple Raceway at 281-383-RACE (7223). Tickets for children 13 and younger are free in reserved sections on spectator side with paid adult tickets.