Pritchett (left) and rest of Vandergriff crew sidelined. Photo courtesy of NHRA

NHRA stunner: Bob Vandergriff retires, closes team effective immediately

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File this one under the “this is a shame and we did not see this coming” department: Bob Vandergriff has retired from NHRA effective immediately and as such, has shuttered the Bob Vandergriff Racing team that fielded two Top Fuel cars for Leah Pritchett and Dave Connolly in the NHRA Mello Yellow Drag Racing Series.

The drivers and all employees have been released from the team. Pritchett, a rising star in the NHRA world, won her first Wally earlier this year at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

The announcement comes following the death of Josh Comstock, C&J Energy Services chairman and CEO, in March (more here via FuelFix.com from the Houston Chronicle).

Vandergriff’s statement is below, via the official NHRA website:

“I’ve been considering retirement for a few years now, and I’ve actually done it once already when I retired from the driver’s seat at the end of the 2014 season. Now it’s time to retire from the sport altogether. The recent unexpected death of BVR supporter and close friend Josh Comstock, from C&J Energy Services, has made me reflect and seriously reevaluate my priorities in life.

“I’ve missed a lot of things in my children’s lives over the years and the desire to spend more time at home with my family has weighed on me greatly the last few years and when combined with the struggles the oil and gas industry has been facing over the last 12-18 months it seemed like now was the right time to retire. C&J Energy Services CEO Randy McMullen and I sat down recently, and after lengthy discussions he was in agreement and fully supported my decision.

“I want to thank everyone who supported BVR, from our sponsors, to our vendors, employees, and most of all my father Bob Vandergriff Sr. My father has been the bedrock throughout my career and, without any hesitation, he has supported our efforts through the many challenges we’ve faced over the years. We’ve had a tremendous group of people at BVR and I expect and wish for great things in the future for each and every one of them. I’ve enjoyed spending the last 22 years of my life in drag racing. I owe a lot to the sport, its fans, and the individuals who have who played key roles in my career.”

Pritchett, who spoke of her desire to keep climbing mountains in an interview last year with NBC Sports, will now have to keep fighting and climbing after this setback.

She posted the following statement to her Facebook page below:

“It is beyond unfortunate, surprising, and a tip of a seahorse to say the least with the retirement news of Bob Vandergriff, and ultimately the doors officially closing of BVR today. I have beyond huge gratitude to Bob for believing in me, on and off the track… his steadfast efforts to keep this program afloat, and providing me with the most memorable times made with some of the best people this phenom sport has to offer… coupled with my first Top Fuel win makes my time at BVR ultimately invaluable. Mike, I am grateful to have shared our first win together with Joe, and our ideal chemistry strong green team… And Dave, I’ve learned a lot as teammates in our short time… thanks for swapping practice trees from time to time and being the coolest. They say all great things must come to end, and this has been a short, but most epic run. The future is uncertain, and this is an all too familiar feeling, but THIS is where champions are made, when the highs are high and the lows are low… Thanks to everyone, especially the fans and followers that have stood behind US!!! Not sure when I’ll be hitting the track again, but if you know me… You know I won’t lift!!!”

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.