When Pro Modified pioneer Robbie Vandergriff got the call from the North Carolina Hall of Fame informing him of his appointment into the state's drag racing shrine, his inquisitive nature immediately got the best of him. 

"How is that? I'm not even from North Carolina," Vandergriff responded. 

Then it occurred to the Knoxville, Tenn., resident, back in the formative days of Pro Modified, he had spent as much if not more time, running the highways of North Carolina and parking in its drag strips than he did in the Volunteer State. 

Then Vandergriff realized being a Pro Modified icon is one thing, but being a Pro Modified icon in a Hall of Fame is another. It all became a reality on Saturday in Greensboro, NC, during the Shriner's Drag Racing Expo. 

"It makes you realize that we're not talking about next season, what kind of clutch we're going to run, this, that, and the other," Vandergriff explained. "What we're talking about is what we used to do. But when you reflect about all the things that you did, I was thinking about how much drag racing had blessed me and meeting all these people that I would never have been able to meet, guys like Jim Bryant, Charles Carpenter, Gary Anderson, Ronnie Sox, Scotty Cannon and so many other people we developed a bond with. All these people that you meet in your life that you would've never come in touch with if it hadn't been for drag racing. So, I'm very thankful that I got to do that.

"And to be in a Hall of Fame too, that's the icing on the cake."

Being a part of the Top Sportsman movement into Pro Modified was more than an experience for the guy some of his peers believe never had a bad day in his life. 

"We were just having the time of our lives," Vandergriff said. "So, I don't think we realized that's what we were doing. Now, a lot of people, Wally Bell, Tom and Linda Jacobson... they had been around when Pro Stock started and Funny Cars. So they were kind of always talking about that. 

"But heck, we were racing 40, 45 times a year, and we were young, having the time of our lives. So I don't think you ever recognize that. And it's like every part of life looking backward; you can see things that you can't see through the windshield."

What Vandergriff could usually see looking out the side windows of his car was Charles Carpenter. Together, he and Carpenter brought popularity to their shoeboxes (i.e., 1950s Bel-Airs) that has lasted a lifetime. All too often, their good-natured rivalry provided a drag racing version of the popular cartoon—spy vs. Spy.

If Carpenter achieved a feat, Vandergriff had to one-up him, and vice-versa. And they were doing it before they even knew one another. 

When Carpenter, then running an all-steel, small-block, and stick-shifted Hot Rod eliminator 1955 Chevrolet in the IHRA's ten equivalent of Super Gas, ran a perfect 10.500 to qualify No. 1 at an event. Two years later, Vandergriff took a stick-shifted Monza to an NHRA national event win in Super Gas.

Then Carpenter upgraded his '55 Chevy and went IHRA's Top Sportsman, where he soon became known as the driver of the World's Fastest '55 Chevy. Then Vandergriff, with Jim Bryant, came out with the world's fastest 1957 Chevy. It was all good-natured fun. 



"You know what? I'm thankful Charles is more like a brother to me than he is anything else," Carpenter said. "He and I raced so many times together and against each other, helped each other. I mean, the stories of me and Charles, the things that he did for me and vice versa. It's just the best thing ever, the best time of my life."

There was one time on a backwoods track in West Virginia when Vandergriff wondered. 

"We were up there in that little drag strip up in West Virginia, and Charles beat me the first round," Vandergriff explained. "We had nitrous, but didn't use it against Charles at that time because our car was quicker. And I turned it on and beat him about four car lengths, and he's down there. Charles always was packing [a pistol] in his firesuit. He had that hand on that pocket. I said, Charles, 'It wasn't me, it was Jim. Bryant."

Vandergriff knows today Carpenter was messing with him, but at the time he wasn't so certain. Today, he laughs at the memory. 

Then there was the legend that suggested if a racer wanted to get their first career win, just line up against Vandergriff. 

"Yeah, but Scotty Cannon was probably the most famous of all those first-time winners," Vandergriff admitted. "There were some guys who played golf against me, who ended up having their best score ever. That's just how it was.

"But you know what? Even in losing, I had the time of my life. If you were to tell someone what we did, it would be too impossible to imagine. But we did it and had more fun than we could have imagined. It was the best days of our lives, and whether I ended up in the Hall of Fame, I didn't think it could have gotten any better. But this feels like the icing on the best slice of cake I've ever had."