2003 SEMA Hall Of Fame Inductee
Robert Vandergriff has been associated with Petersen Publishing, NHRA and McMullen Advertising. At those organizations, he helped increase magazine circulations, contributed to company growth and received countless advertising awards.
It is, however, his role as a businessman and entrepreneur that he is best known. In 1978, Vandergriff purchased his steppingstone to the future: Hedman Manufacturing.
“He put up everything he had so that he could purchase the company,” recalls Dick Van Cleve, who has known Vandergriff for more than 30 years.
Vandergriff put up his mortgage and sold his cars and his stocks. With the money he raised—along with the help of McMullen and several friends—Vandergriff purchased the then-troubled company.
“If he had not made it, he’d be flat broke today,” said Van Cleve. Vandergriff, however, was committed to turning the company around. “He told McMullen that he would personally go in and make sure that the company was well run.”
With what Vandergriff describes as “a lot of hard work and dedication from a lot of people,” he did just that. Vandergriff built Hedman Hedders to become one of today’s most successful companies in the industry.
He went on to purchase Beeline Engineering (JR Headers) in 1982 and Trans-Dapt, an accessory company, in 1991. He officially left McMullen Advertising in 1992 and now concentrates his efforts on Hedman Hedders, JR Headers and Trans-Dapt.
As the owner of these companies, he has also been one of SEMA’s most active members. Vandergriff was a SEMA Board of Directors member for six years, and served on many SEMA committees.
“Bob became an active member of SEMA and was a prominent leader and supporter of projects that helped to build the SEMA Show’s success,” said NHRA’s Wally Parks.
“I think what uniquely qualifies Bob to membership in the SEMA Hall of Fame is his ability to work behind the scenes, accomplishing objectives that help the growth and solidification of the industry and SEMA,” said Jim McFarland.
Vandergriff invested several years and time as chairman of SEMA’s annual golf tournament. The event helped raise thousands of dollars for the SEMA Scholarship Fund.
In addition to his own personal involvement with the association, Vandergriff has allowed and supported his employees’ participation in SEMA. Two of Hedman’s top executives, Charlie Van Cleve and Ron Funfar, spent several years on SEMA’s Board of Directors.
“Never have Ron or I ever heard any grumblings for spending time on SEMA business,” said Charlie Van Cleve. “And if anyone in the company showed any interest at all in participating in SEMA activities, Bob would allow it in a heart beat. Along with [B&M’s] Bob Spar, I cannot think of two other company owners who have been so generous with their company’s time to SEMA.”
“His personal dedication to the performance industries and his countless contributions to SEMA’s interests have made Bob Vandergriff Sr. a highly qualified recipient for induction into this year’s SEMA Hall of Fame,” said Parks.
Hedman Hedders has been recognized with the PWA Manufacturer of the Year awards in 1982 and 1988, and Vandergriff was recognized as the 1989 SEMA Person of the Year.
Yet, despite Vandergriff’s many accomplishments and great success, his induction into the SEMA Hall of Fame still came as a shock to him.
“I thought it was a mistake,” Vandergriff said when he first heard the news. “I’m proud to be included in the group. These are people I used to read about a lot.”