NHRA Top Fuel veteran Bob Vandergriff Jr. to step aside at season’s end

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It was just a matter of time for NHRA Top Fuel drag racer Bob Vandergriff Jr., and now that time has come.

In a surprise move, Vandergriff will step down as driver for his team after this season and solely serve as owner for the two-dragster operation beginning next season, according to NHRA.com, .

Vandergriff will promote three-time Top Fuel world champ and 62-race winner Larry Dixon from a part-time role this season back to full-time competition for the first time in three seasons in 2015.

And in yet another surprise move, Vandergriff has selected veteran Pro Stock driver Dave Connolly to take his own place behind the wheel of the other 325-mph Bob Vandergriff Racing Top Fueler.

Connolly, who is currently third in the Pro Stock rankings (51 points behind series leader Jason Line) with two races remaining, has won 25 races in that class since he started competing in 2003.

“It’s no secret that I’ve been planning on exiting the driver seat,” Vandergriff told NHRA.com. “With the increasing demands of running the business, that time has come.

“I’m excited about my new role and it’s actually recharged my batteries. I’m thrilled about the new direction for BVR. We have a three-time world champion in Larry Dixon and I’ve been able to hire someone who I consider one of the best natural drivers in the sport, Dave Connolly, to take over for me.”

Vandergriff is completing his 21st season in the Top Fuel ranks, with three career wins and 17 final round appearances. He began in 1994 and won Rookie of the Year honors that season.

Connolly is thrilled at the new direction of his racing career.

“I’ve never really thought about driving Top Fuel, mainly because the opportunity wasn’t there,” Connolly told NHRA.com. “When Bob approached me, it really sparked my interest.

“Top Fuel is the fastest car on the planet. I’ve driven everything else, so I’m up to the challenge.

“I’ve been driving a Pro Stock car or working on one since 2003; it’s what I have lived. It’s going be hard to step aside from all that and the people I’ve worked with but at the same time, it’s a great opportunity for my future in drag racing.”

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Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III