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Anderson Just A Step Away From The Big One

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 10 2010

The season – and perhaps the career – started to come back around for Greg Anderson at Norwalk this past summer. (Photos courtesy of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

The standard answer, the expected answer, when you ask a driver which of his championships is most special to him is usually pretty unsatisfying. They usually say the first one or they might even get really safe and say all their championships are special.

But you don’t become a multi-time champion in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series by fearing for your safety. When Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson was asked where winning a championship – his fourth – at this weekend’s season-concluding Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona, Calif. would rank on his special-o-meter, he didn’t pause. Didn’t blink.

No. 1, he said.

Because a championship this year for Anderson and his Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP team would cut off a lot of the the debate which has been roiling around inside Anderson’s skull. Debate about whether he would ever end a frustrating championship drought which had reached four years.

“This,” he said, “would be the big one.”

Things look good for Anderson this week. He leads the Countdown To 1 and he leads it by a comfortable 115 points over last year’s champion, Mike Edwards.

In the first five of the six Countdown playoff events, he’s had three victories and a runner up finish. His worst outing was at the Countdown-opening Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis where he lost in the second round to eventual-winner Edwards.

So, a round win or two and/or a quick exit by Edwards and Anderson will have his first championship since 2005.

“It’s nice,” Anderson said during a telephone conversation earlier this week of his points lead, “but you always want it to be more. But definitely it is where you want to be. You much rather want to be in a position like this versus coming from behind or just a slim, few-point lead.”

And yes, Anderson, a 49-year-old native of Duluth, Minn. said, having a tidy lead would

Greg Anderson appears headed back to the top.

allow him to play it conservatively at Pomona if he and his team wanted to. But no, he said, no way they want to. Bad policy and bad form.

“I’ve seen that too many times,” he said of making adjustments after a team has gotten a comfortably lead. “That just comes back to bite you. You watch professional football or whatever and they go into a prevent defense and it just never seems to work out good for them.

“I’ve seen it happen before where you go up against an opponent who you think you’ve got the upper hand on and you got confidence and you’ve got him covered then you just don’t seem to do a good job. You can’t go with that mindset. You’ve got to go with that aggressive attitude, thinking everybody is going to whip your butt and you’ve got to do to try to do the same to them. I don’t want to change my game plan at all.”

The ultimate hope for Pomona, he said, is winning the event.

“I want to go out with a bang,” Anderson said. “You don’t want to whimper out the gate a loser.”

Anderson has had lots of bangs in a Pro Stock career which began in 1998. The guy and his team owned the division earlier in the decade. They won three straight championships beginning in 2003.

During that ’03 season, Anderson won 12 events, set 19 track records and qualified for all 23 events. One of his victories was the U.S. Nationals.

Anderson topped that the next year when he won an NHRA record 15 times. He set NHRA records by winning 16 poles and 76 rounds. At year’s end, he became just the second drag racer to be awarded the prestigeous Driver of the Year Award by a panel of top auto-racing journalists.

In ’05, he was not as dominant – he had only eight victories – but he still won the championship.

Anderson said that successes were coming so regularity that he and his team thought they would never stop.

“We had that confidence,” he said. “There were years that we had so much confidence that we thought we were going to win every race.”

But in 2006, the victory total dropped to four and the championship streak ended.

Thought he has not finished out of the top three in the final standings in the years since ’05, he has not won another championship. Some teams and drivers would be thrilled with four straight seasons of finishing top three. Those, like Anderson, who have acquired a taste for life at the top, are not thrilled.

“It hasn’t been like that,” Anderson said of the days when the team could virtually count on leaving national events with Wallys tucked safely into the hauler somewhere. “It’s different these days from when we won three in a row. It’s a completely different deal.”

2010 started out by looking like a season of more of the same. Twelve races in, Anderson was still looking for his first victory. He and owner Ken Black knew changes had to made.

Heading into the event in the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, the changes were made. Equipment was changes, people were moved.

“We weren’t in the toilet,” Anderson said, “but we were not performing up to the standards the way we thought we should. And we weren’t having fun. It takes the fun out of it when you can’t have success at the race tracks.

“We had to make changes. It came to the point where we had to. We did it in the past where we changed cars around, personnel around in the past. You see it done in all kinds of stick-and-ball sports where they swap coaches, the swap quarterbacks and they make personnel changes and shake up the starting lineup. It’s something you have to do some times to shake things up. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

This time, it did.

Anderson won Norwalk. Next time out, he won Seattle.

He won rounds the next three weeks and cruised into the Countdown where he has been just a couple rounds short of perfection.

If things work out this weekend in Pomona, at the end of the day on Sunday Anderson will be dancing around that venerable old drag strip with championship trophy held higher above his head than in any time before. He will have proven to the sport, but most importantly to himself, that he is the best damn Pro Stocker in the world. Again.

“When you go through the down periods,” Anderson said, “you start to wonder if you can ever win again. Until you go through that, you have no idea. If you go from the highest of highs to the lows, you have no idea.

“This one” will be the sweetest, Anderson said. “If we win this year, this one will be the most special.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 10 2010
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