Two familiar rivals met Sunday as an all-Minnesota Pro Stock final materialized in the 22nd Annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
The final marked the seventh time this season that Duluth native Greg Anderson squared off against Virginia native Kurt Johnson.
And, for the third time this season, Anderson came away with the win as he defeated Johnson 6.917 to 6.930, a margin of victory of .0038. Anderson flew to a speed of 200.05 mph to Johnson's 198.82 mph.
"I really had high hopes coming in because I've been running so great lately," Anderson said. "Kurt has been a little off. Obviously, he went home, went to work and he picked up his program a bunch. Kurt made a big gain and my hat's off to him. Somehow, I came back and was able to outrun him. It's been just a (heck) of a dog fight this season."
The win gives Anderson a 6-1 advantage in head-to-head matchups against Johnson and strengthens his hold on first place in points with 1,454 to Johnson's 1,296.
Anderson defeated Allen Johnson in the first round, Ron Krisher in the quarterfinals and Taylor Lastor, 6.910 to 6.950 in the semifinals.
This past weekend, Johnson proved he had the car to beat, especially after setting a track speed record Saturday at 201.01 mph and grabbing the top position for eliminations.
Johnson defeated JR Carr in round one, Dave Connolly in the quarterfinals and Jeg Coughlin, Jr. in the semifinals, 6.924 to 6.944.
It was this race that Anderson had long had marked on his calendar.
In 1983, Anderson's close friend, John Hagen, died at BIR. Anderson's win Sunday was in front of Hagen's family and was dedicated to them.
"It's been tough coming back here with all those memories," said Anderson. "I hope John's proud of me. This victory is in memory of him. That Oscar is going to his family."
Anderson was also quick to point out he had help from a higher power in defeating Johnson.
"I guarantee you that race was so close I really didn't think I was going to win," Anderson said. "I looked over in high gear and it looked like Kurt was ahead of me. Somebody put a hand down and I think it was my old friend John Hagen and pushed that car around Kurt. I had an angel in my car."
Anderson is also sure Johnson isn't ready to hand him the points title yet and is expecting a fight to the finish.
"That's the best part, if I can go out and win at the end of the year," Anderson said of beating Johnson. "I'll know that I just flat out went and earned it. It's really come down to a battle between he and I. If I win, I'll know it wasn't given to me by default. And, if Kurt wins, then I'm sure he'll say the same thing. I'm having a ball with it and I'm sure Kurt is having a ball."
While there were no surprises in the Pro Stock car category, surprises were abundant in the Pro Stock Bike class as racers No. 3 through No. 8 were eliminated in the first round.
In the final, No. 13 Antron Brown ran against No. 11 John Smith in what turned out to be one of the closest races of the day. Brown won with a time of 7.336 to Smith's 7.362, a .03 margin of victory. The win was Brown's first since May 2002.
Paving the way for Brown's victory was the fact teammate Angelle Savoie, the No. 3 racer, and No. 5 racer Geno Scali bowed out in the first rounds. Scali and Savoie are No. 1 and No. 2 in the points standings.
In the final, Brown and Smith were even early on. Brown then shifted into fifth gear and nudged ahead of Smith. When the two hit the one-eighth-mile mark, Brown shifted into sixth gear and took the tape. Brown topped out at 179.47 mph while Smith bettered him at 180.24 mph.
"I dug deep," said Brown. "I have to be sharp on the tree, hit my shift points and when the bike comes around it's going to come around and it did today."
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