Three-time Pro Stock champion and Duluth native Greg Anderson is the current points leader heading into the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals this weekend at Brainerd International Raceway.
After starting the season strong with wins at Pomona, Calif; Gainesville, Fla.; Las Vegas; Commerce, Ga.; Topeka, Kan.; and Englishtown, N.J. and guaranteeing himself a spot in the Countdown to the Championship, Anderson fell into a four-race funk.
Through a combination of driving, engine issues and a shifting focus to experimentation, Anderson looked to have lost momentum in his KB Racing-owned, Summit Racing Pontiac GTO.
Two races ago at Seattle, he broke the track record in the first round with a solid run, but then in the second round, reaction time and handling hurt him in the loss.
"You're probably going to see some things in the next few races that may look like we're off our game, and be a little up and down. It's mainly experimentation," Anderson said after Seattle. "We want to figure that right package for Indy and onwards. So when we go to Indy, we can have our 'A' game."
But Anderson found his "A" game earlier than expected last week in Sonoma.
In a highly competitive race, Anderson chased down Bob Panella Jr. in round one. In the second round, Jim Yates had a starting line advantage, but again Anderson chased him down for the victory. In the semifinals, Anderson jumped ahead and kept the lead away from Dave Connolly.
Facing teammate and Wright native Jason Line in the finals, Anderson had a slightly faster reaction time and a faster car that gave him the advantage and the margin of victory of a little more than three-hundredths of a second.
"We have felt really bad and a little embarrassed since we haven't been performing well the last few races. We sort of lost our way," Anderson said after the win. "Yes, we've been testing but we needed to find the way back and it has been a struggle. This is a big pick-me-up."
Winning Sonoma gave Anderson his 50th career victory. Anderson remarked how he was fortunate enough now to be in the company of such drivers as Pro Stock legend Bob Glidden.
While ensuring himself a spot in the Countdown earlier in the season, Anderson is not a fan of the new format. He feels that the points champion should be the driver that puts together the best 23-race stretch.
Greg Anderson is the current Pro Stock points leader and has clinched a spot in the Countdown to the Championship. KB Racing/Summit Racing
Anderson acknowledges that the Countdown makes the end of the season more interesting for fans as the final races now determine the points champion, as opposed to having drivers with insurmountable points leads in years past.
The main issue Anderson has is how the format leaves no room for error.
"Look at the NFL playoffs. Just because you come in with a 15-1 record, you're not guaranteed to advance. That's fair," Anderson said. "But during that game you may have 100 plays to make the difference. Here in the NHRA we have one play.
"In football, you can throw an interception, but then you can come back the next time on offense and throw a touchdown. We can't make mistakes or we're done. But I'm going to have to live with the rules they made and find a way to win it."
Winning is something Anderson has grown accustomed to over the past several years. He and Line have won the past four Pro Stock titles.
Anderson credits his team owner, Ken Black, for allowing him to hire the right people for the job. The driver's philosophy is to put people into positions that are suited to their strong points so that they can become specialists and exercise their talents.
The crew has a winning attitude and a strong work ethic. Anderson is appreciative of the fact that his team will put in the extra effort during an evening or weekend to get more performance out of his car.
Anderson and Line are also unique in being among the few Pro Stock drivers that work on their engines.
The Duluth native enjoys building horsepower. Anderson broke into the sport by working on engines. And while building engines is as fun as driving, it gives Anderson pause before each round.
"You think, 'Did I do this? Do I do that? Did I make the engine right?' It probably makes it a whole lot easier if you just drive a race car," Anderson said. "You don't have those concerns. You just out there and hit that Christmas tree. Yet I can't back away from working on the (mechanical aspects)."
With Brainerd this weekend, Anderson is looking forward to what has become his hometown track as his friends and family from the area come to support him.
Anderson remarked, "It's fun to see my old buddies who laughed 20 years ago when I said, 'I'm going to make a living drag racing.'"
TREVOR WILLIAMS, sports copy editor, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5866.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.