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Anderson Finds Rhythm In Time for Western Swing

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 9 2010

Greg Anderson had a great – and lucrative – weekend Norwalk this year. Now, he's ready to head west. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Greg Anderson is a three-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion _ and the eternal pessimist.

Nobody in the National Hot Rod Association’s ultra-competitive “Factory Hot Rod” class beats up on Anderson more than himself. But buoyed by his recent sweep of the Pro Stock events at Norwalk, Ohio – and uplifting off-track news concerning a new home and the improving health of team-owner Ken Black –Anderson will begin the annual Western Swing today with an ear-to-ear smile.

“My jawbone hurt from smiling so much,” Anderson joked after winning the K&N Horsepower Challenge at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park on June 26. “But you know what, I’ll get over that. There’s Advil for that kind of stuff.”

Anderson capped a self-described “beyond-a-dream weekend” the following afternoon with a victory over Allen Johnson in the Pro Stock final of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals. Anderson’s second final-round appearance of 2010 and first national event victory came gift-wrapped with a $75,000 check _ $50,000 for his third win in the K&N bonus event and another $25,000 for completing the sweep.

Some of that windfall figures to go toward the mortgage on the new house Greg, wife Kimberly and their two children are anxious to move into in Concord, N.C., following the loss of their previous residence in a fire. Greg’s contribution to the move-in will have to wait until completion of the three-week Western Swing, beginning today with two rounds of qualifying for the NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Wash.

Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) are defending event champions of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series event that will be carried on ESPN3.com and ESPN2 HD.

After exiting the Seattle area, the series will head to Sonoma, Calif., and Infineon Raceway for Round 2 of the Western Swing, the FRAM-Autolite NHRA Nationals from July 16-18. The tour will conclude with the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals July 23-25 at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo., near Denver.

Anderson is the only Pro Stock driver, and one of only seven pros overall, to have won all three summertime races in the 21 years they have been contested. Anderson did so in 2004, the middle of his three-year run as Pro Stock champion. Given his dominating performance at Norwalk, Anderson has dared to believe he actually could become the first two-time winner of the Western Swing.

“It would be huge. Especially for me this year, I haven’t got a run going like I had back in 2004,” said Anderson, driver of the Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP. “I haven’t been able to be strong at every type of race out there, every type of race condition, every type of atmosphere. For me to be able to do that this year, it would be a bit of a surprise, to be honest with you, because we haven’t been swinging at a 100 percent clip this year.

“So it’s going to take just a tremendous effort from us. The good news is, we do seem to be finally now hitting our stride and gaining every week on our performance level and have a chance to go win races again. Back in 2004, we were almost expected to win every time we showed up at the racetrack. Mike Edwards (reigning world champion) is expected to win every time he shows up at the racetrack. For us to pull that off this year would be a major feat and would be a heck of a turnaround for a season that’s been a little lackluster.

“I’m not sitting here saying we can’t do it, because definitely we can. The odds are a little bit against me this year and they were not against me back in 2004.”

Anderson posted an NHRA record 15 event wins in ‘04 while setting single-season marks for poles (16), most elimination round wins (76) and final-round appearances (19). He was voted Driver of the Year, the first Pro Stock ace to win the prestigious award.

Anderson currently is fourth in the point standings led by Edwards, winner of eight of 13 events this season. But Edwards and his Interstate Batteries/Penhall Pontiac GXP were trailered by Jason Line, Anderson’s corporate teammate, in the first round at Norwalk. Edwards still holds a comfortable 392-point lead over Johnson, with Jeg Coughlin Jr. in third, 522 points out. Anderson is fourth, 580 points behind the leader.

Anderson remarked after his win in the K&N Challenge that he would look back at that performance as the turning point of his season. Does that mean that Anderson and crew chief Rob Downing are ready to put real pressure on Edwards with only four races remaining before the Countdown to 1, the NHRA’s six-race postseason?

“I hope so. I really think so,” said Anderson, whose win at Norwalk extended his current active streak of consecutive seasons with at least one victory to 10, longest in the series. “You know, big part of this racing deal is confidence, at least it is for me. You got to have a lot of confidence when you show up at these races, strap in that race car, no matter who you line up against.

“To be quite honest, I’m lacking a little bit in the confidence area this year. I haven’t had a real race-winning horse to ride. We haven’t been performing at a top level.  Seems to wear on you, get you down.

“That’s no excuse. You can’t be like that. Doesn’t mean you go out there and lose. Doesn’t mean you go out with the mindset you can’t beat the guy. I fell into that trap against Mike Edwards. He’s been outrunning us by a couple, three hundredths. You go up there thinking 90% chance I’m going to lose this. You can’t have a mindset like that.

“It’s a tough, tough lesson to learn. I’m working on it every day to keep a positive mindset. But when we rolled into that race and our car ran within a hundredth or so of Mike, you start to believe it again, I can actually win, I can win this round. I now realize that I think I’ve got a car that can be very close to him, and that’s enough for me to get that confidence back. I really believe we’re on the right track with gaining performance with our hot rod. It’s getting better every week. I should be able to keep that confidence level up.”

The Western Swing will wrap up a stretch that will see the teams completing a grueling seven-races-in- eight-weeks stretch. Anderson said this is exactly what he signed up for when he launched his professional driving career in 1998.

“I want to race every weekend. I want to race every day,” said Anderson, who earned his 61st career NHRA Wally trophy at Norwalk. “That’s what we are, that’s what we do. We’re racers. We love to race. If your team is struggling, you might not look forward to going back for seven weeks in a row when you’re sort of behind the 8-ball.

“But you want to bounce back as soon as you can, try to find a way to get back on track. We love to race every weekend.  Quite honestly, it’s not a job to us. We love what we do. We don’t consider it a job. The more times we can strap into that car, the happier we are.”

Anderson admitted his sense of normalcy has been boosted off-track by the new home purchase, and Black’s ever-improving health status. The Andersons lost their home in January, when a neighbor accidentally touched-off a fire that destroyed three residences in his neighborhood not far from zMax Dragway. Anderson said some paperwork issues on the seller’s end have pushed back the closing a couple of days.

“Very close to getting moved into the new house. That will straighten things around the home front,” said Anderson, 49, whose emotional state has been in-flux since December when Black suffered a stroke that cost him use of the left side of his body.

“Ken Black is on the road to recovery, getting better every day,” Anderson said. “He’s talking about the possibility of taking a motorhome up to the Sonoma race. That would be fantastic for us, for him. Great morale boost for both the race team and for Ken Black.

“He’s gone through real rigorous training every day with rehab trying to get his left arm and leg back to work so he could walk again. Been a real battle for him. Like I said with the race team, it’s a positive energy type deal to keep driving every day, to have a positive attitude. Seems like if we have a good time at the races, it helps him on the other end. If we can get him back to that racetrack, it’s going to help him towards his recovery. He’s gaining every day on it.”

Two rounds of professional qualifying scheduled for today and Saturday will set the 16-car fields. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of qualifying highlights at 10 p.m. (ET) on Saturday. ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise NHRA Race Day, a 30-minute race preview show, at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday. Additionally on Sunday, ESPN3.com will air two hours of eliminations coverage at 7 p.m. (ET) and ESPN2 and ESPN2 HD will televise two hours of eliminations coverage beginning at 11:30 p.m. (ET).

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 9 2010
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