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Anderson Has Eyes on Enders and Johnson

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 10 2021

Pro Stocker Greg Anderson is hoping to dodge Erica Enders and move in on Warren Johnson. (File photo courtesy of the NHRA)

ENNIS, Texas – Pro Stock superstar Greg Anderson will have his helmet on a swivel Sunday at Texas Motorplex during final eliminations of the 36th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals.

Anderson began the weekend with a 17-point lead over archrival Erica Enders, a total that translates into less than one round of racing. Both Anderson and Enders are chasing a fifth world title in the popular “Factory Hot Rod” class, and whomever does it first will pull to within one championship of Warren Johnson’s six.

But wait, there’s more. Anderson’s next national event victory will be his 98th and break a tie for the all-time total with Johnson _ “The Professor of Pro Stock” _ as well as Greg’s former boss and mentor. Anderson spent 12 years working as the chassis expert on Johnson’s various GM-bodied cars, while Johnson concentrated on engine development.

“I think we had a great working relationship,” said Anderson, who like Johnson is a five-time national event winner at The Plex. “I think we both respected each other and we kinda didn’t get our nose into each other’s end of the game and it worked good. I have no complaints how things were run there and the trust he put in people.

I can’t tell you how he feels about me (now) _ I’d be just guessing. But I respect the hell out of him. I certainly wouldn’t be where I’m at if it wasn’t for him, if it wasn’t for all the things he taught me. I learned as many things to do right from him as to do wrong, so I took the best of both worlds and meshed it all together and I’ve benefitted from that. So, I owe a lot to him.”

Anderson will start Sunday’s eliminations on-pole via a quarter-mile lap from Friday in 6.553-seconds at 209.23 mph in his Chevrolet Camaro SS. Greg earned his 10th No. 1 qualifier in 15 races this season and 116 in his career. Enders, a native of Houston, qualified third at 6.571-seconds at 206.67 mph in her Elite Motorsports/Melling Camaro.

John Force Racing teammates Brittany Force (Top Fuel) and Robert Hight (Funny Car) and Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also emerged as No. 1 qualifiers after the third and fourth rounds of time trials down The Plex’s famed all-concrete surface. 

Anderson posted his 97th career win during the opening event of the Camping World Drag Racing Series’ seven-race Countdown to the Championship at Maple Grove Raceway in Reading, Pa., on Sept. 12. Fittingly, Anderson trailered Enders that day for his third victory of the season. That set him up to break Johnson’s record the following weekend at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C., home to primary sponsor/NASCAR Cup Series team-owner Rick Hendrick and within driving distance of the KB Racing shop in Mooresville. But Anderson was ambushed in the final by teammate Kyle Koretsky.

Anderson then suffered a second-round loss to Mason McGaha during Round 3 of the Countdown at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., on Sept. 26. Enders won that race to ramp-up the postseason pressure here.

So, has his pursuit of “The Professor” become a distraction to Anderson and his title aspirations?

“No, I don’t think so,” Anderson said Saturday afternoon in his trailer, where he was plotting a fuel map on a laptop for the final round of qualifications. “The simple reason is if I just worry about trying to win another race, that’s what I’m supposed to do. And if I win the race I get the most points, so that adds up toward winning a championship. The goal is to win the race, that’s why I come. It’s not to play defense and try to just squeak by and make more points than my competition. I want to win the race.

“It’s fine to think about it and it’s become fun for me. I’m a little disappointed I haven’t got it done yet but I’ve had a great race car and I’ve got great chances every race I go to. That’s all you can ask for. It’s a right-now sport. Nobody cares about how many wins I’ve got. It’s up to me now to get it done.”

Greg said he truly enjoyed the working environment and camaraderie he experienced in Johnson’s race shop in the Atlanta suburb of Sugar Hill, Ga. “He put a lot of trust in me,” said Anderson, who turned 60 in March. “I’m sure there was times myself and his son, Kurt, both got a little too vocal towards him about maybe he wasn’t driving good enough.

“That’s how this whole driving gig started. He got mad at us one day because we were lipping-off at him for something he did driving the car. And he said, ‘That’s it. I’m sending both of you guys to Roy Hill’s Drag Racing School (in Sophia, N.C.) and I’m going to show you how hard it is inside the car.’

“The next day Kurt was out trying to find a ride. It kinda backfired on Warren. It took me a couple years to find a ride but it also lit the fire in me. I had no plans about driving, so he kinda created that by sending us to that school. Because I had no plans about driving a race car. I loved working on ‘em. I was a mechanic and loved working on ‘em. I loved being a crew chief. So Warren created that, the beginning of our driving careers.”

Greg officially entered the Pro Stock wars in 1998. That was in the midst of a run that saw Johnson post championships in 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998, 1999 ad 2001. Johnson scored his 97 wins while reaching 151 final rounds during a career spanning 1976-2013. Anderson’s program produced NHRA world titles in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2010. Greg scored his 97 wins while reaching 167 finals.

Anderson will face Marty Robertson of Fort Worth and his Ford Mustang to open eliminations. Anderson’s KB Racing teammate, rookie Dallas Glenn, qualified second with a 6.567 at 209.14.

Anderson noted he and Johnson shared a similar work ethic. “We both grew up in Minnesota and I guess you’re just born to work up there,” Anderson said with a laugh. “It’s too damn cold to sit around so you got to keep moving. So I had the work ethic _ but he could do everything. There wasn’t one simple problem that you’d come across you’d find that I could handle that he hadn’t done already. He didn’t try to micro-manage, he waited, and if you got in trouble and you came and asked him then he’d help you out. He’d show you how to do the project. 

“Other than that, he put a lot of trust in you to do the job and didn’t try to butt-in. He was ‘The Professor,’ absolutely.”

Greg’s emergence as a perennial championship contender certainly changed the tenor of the relationship. Johnson’s retirement after the 2013 season apparently has lowered the temperature on their rivalry.

“Whenever we see each other we’re fine and we certainly talk,” Greg said. “We act like we’re OK. I think when we’re away from each other it’s probably a little cold.”

In fact, Anderson laughed at the suggestion Johnson, 78, will extend his congratulations when the record is broken. “I kind of doubt it, to be honest with you,” Greg said. “I’ve grown over the years to realize that probably won’t happen _ I probably shouldn’t sit by my phone. I’m OK either way and I honestly think he is too.

“He very well may call me. I think over the year’s he’s become OK with it. He’s said a million times, and I believe the same thing _ records are made to be broken. When and if I do break this one somebody is going to come along years later and break it again. I realize that and I’m good with that. However long you can hang onto it, more power to you.” 

Sunday’s finals are scheduled to start at 11 a.m. (CDT), with pre-race ceremonies at 10. Television coverage on Fox Sports 1 will feature qualifying highlights from 2:30-3:30 p.m., leading directly into eliminations on FS1 from 3:30-6:30 p.m.

Tickets are available at www.stampedeofspeed.com, www.texasmotorplex.com or by calling 800-668-6775. For more information about NHRA, visit www.NHRA.com.

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Robert Hight retained P1 in Funny Car Saturday on the strength of his 1,000-foot run of 3.878-seconds at 331.94 mph in his Chevrolet Camaro from Friday. Hight earned his second No. 1 qualifier of the season and 70th in his career in search of his third win of 2021. Hight will start eliminations against Jeff Arend knowing he needs a number of big performances over the final four races to jump into championship contention.

“We’re pretty excited,” Hight said. “Having four qualifying runs is huge and we were low E.T. three of the four runs and that gives you a lot of confidence heading into Sunday. That was a great run to close the day and you’re going to see more of the same tomorrow. This is the Countdown and we’ve dug ourselves a hole. We’ve got to win from here on out if we want to have a chance to win a fourth championship. We’ve had the performance as of late, but no consistency. We haven’t had a lot of No. 1 qualifiers, so we’re excited heading into race day.”

Ron Capps of Don Schumacher Racing qualified second at 3.882 and 329.34 on Friday, and Cruz Pedregon is third at 3.892 and 325.14. DSR’s Matt Hagan, the defending world champ, point-leader and winner of the most recent race in Madison, Ill., is fourth with a 3.897 at 332.34.

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In Top Fuel, Brittany Force clinched her 11th No. 1 qualifier this season via a track-record 1,000-foot run of 3.637-seconds at 335.32 mph on Friday. Brit earned her 31st career pole. But it was her pass on Friday that wowed the Motorplex crowd, as she recorded the quickest pass of the entire 2021 NHRA season. Force, second in points to Steve Torrence, will open eliminations against Joe Morrison after making the fifth-quickest run in NHRA history on Friday.

“We laid down some pretty good runs here, especially that run last night, and that gave us a good ladder going into race day,” Force said of a car tuned by David Grubnic. “We ran right on our number in the last qualifier and we feel confident going into race day. That last run was a big one for us. It’s getting in the car and making consistent runs, and I’m trying to do my job the best that I can.”

Torrence, a resident of Kilgore, Texas, qualified second at his home track thanks to his pass of 3.678 at 326.48 from Friday. The point-leader and three-time/reigning world champ is seeking his second straight win at Texas Motorplex and his third victory in the past four races at Hall of Famer Billy Meyer’s facility. Mike Salinas sits third after his 3.680 at 330.47, also making the quickest run of the third session on Saturday.

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Steve Johnson’s Pro Stock Motorcycle lap from Friday held up, and the veteran added a pair of solid passes to close out qualifying Saturday. Johnson’s quarter-mile pass of 6.756-seconds at 198.44 mph aboard his Brady Mechanical Services Suzuki gave the point-leader his third No. 1 qualifier of the season. It’s also the seventh career pole for Johnson, who entered the weekend with a 17-point lead over three-time world champ Angelle Sampey. Johnson will race Jianna Salinas to open race day as he looks for his third win in a phenomenal season.

“It’s exciting to start from the No. 1 spot,” said Johnson, quoting from the playbook of University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban. “We’re preparing the right way and when you get No. 1 you’ve prepared the best way possible. If we prepare and we all do our job, we’ll all love the results. I have so much respect for every competitor and I’m glad they’re all here, but at the same time my focus is on my guys and how I drive the motorcycle on Sunday.”

Reigning world champ Matt Smith qualified second with a 6.772, setting the track speed record on Saturday with a pass of 200.83 mph. Sampey will open eliminations from third after going 6.809 at 197.74.

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In the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, Rickie Smith drove to the No. 1 position in his nitrous-powered Chevrolet Camaro with a run of 5.755-seconds at 251.06 mph. Point-leader Jose Gonzalez is second after lapping at 5.786 and 248.93. Two-time/reigning world champ Stevie “Fast” Jackson is third with a 5.793 at 247.70.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was the inaugural recipient of the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Media Award (2010). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

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Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations at the 36th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis. The race is the 17th of 20 events in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series and fourth of seven in the Countdown to the Championship. Pairings based upon results in qualifying, which ended Saturday. DNQs listed below pairings:

Top Fuel _1. Brittany Force, 3.637-seconds, 335.32 mph vs. 16. Joe Morrison, 4.328, 215.20; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.678, 326.48 vs. 15. Buddy Hull, 4.094, 293.09; 3. Mike Salinas, 3.680, 330.47 vs. 14. Krista Baldwin, 3.998, 307.79; 4. Justin Ashley, 3.687, 329.58 vs. 13. Keith Murt, 3.974, 301.87; 5. Billy Torrence, 3.715, 327.98 vs. 12. Alex Laughlin, 3.796, 320.66; 6. Josh Hart, 3.728, 325.14 vs. 11. Leah Pruett, 3.773, 323.12; 7. Antron Brown, 3.743, 326.79 vs. 10. Doug Kalitta, 3.765, 324.05; 8. Clay Millican, 3.745, 324.59 vs. 9. Shawn Langdon, 3.754, 321.88.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Mitch King, 7.243, 83.68.

Funny Car _ 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.878, 331.94 vs. 16. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.183, 248.75; 2. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.882, 329.34 vs. 15. Jack Wyatt, Charger, 4.149, 267.69; 3. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.892, 325.14 vs. 14. Terry Haddock, Ford Mustang, 4.061, 310.55; 4. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.897, 332.34 vs. 13. Dale Creasy Jr., Charger, 3.992, 323.66; 5. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.911, 330.80 vs. 12. Jim Campbell, Charger, 3.974, 316.08; 6. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.917, 327.51 vs. 11. John Force, Camaro, 3.972, 325.30; 7. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.922, 322.81 vs. 10. Paul Lee, Charger, 3.958, 328.22; 8. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.924, 325.37 vs. 9. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.935, 322.81.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Jeff Diehl, 4.298, 231.87; 18. Todd Simpson, 7.199, 95.93.

Pro Stock _ 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.553, 209.23 vs. 16. Marty Robertson, Ford Mustang, 6.673, 203.98; 2. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.567, 209.14 vs. 15. Fernando Cuadra, Mustang, 6.662, 208.10; 3. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.571, 206.67 vs. 14. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.643, 207.46; 4. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.580, 209.56 vs. 13. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.632, 205.69; 5. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.591, 209.01 vs. 12. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro, 6.623, 206.42; 6. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.591, 207.24 vs. 11. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.619, 208.52; 7. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.597, 208.42 vs. 10. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.614, 208.33; 8. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.604, 206.26 vs. 9. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.605, 208.30.

Did Not Qualify _ 17. Richie Stevens, 6.679, 206.07; 18. Cristian Cuadra, 6.688, 206.35; 19. Fernando Cuadra Jr., 6.746, 205.32; 20. John Callahan, 6.820, 204.63.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.756, 198.44 vs. 16. Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 6.949, 193.13; 2. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.772, 200.83 vs. 15. Michael Ray, Victory, 6.938, 194.10; 3. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.809, 197.74 vs. 14. Andrew Hines, Buell, 6.924, 193.77; 4. Hector Arana Jr., EBR, 6.822, 200.74 vs. 13. Kelly Clontz, Suzuki, 6.914, 194.10; 5. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.839, 196.59 vs. 12. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.905, 195.48; 6. Eddie Krawiec, Buell, 6.878, 200.26 vs. 11. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.898, 197.08; 7. Chris Bostick, 6.878, 197.22 vs. 10. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.890, 195.73; 8. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.885, 195.68 vs. 9. Scotty Pollacheck, EBR, 6.890, 198.47.

Did Not Qualify _17. Ryan Oehler, 6.962, 195.25; 18. Michael Phillips, 6.991, 193.18; 19. David Barron, 7.123, 185.69.

UPDATED 2021 COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE/PROFESSIONAL WINNERS

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa. Billy Torrence (Top Fuel); Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 19 _zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C. Josh Hart (Top Fuel); Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car); Kyle Koretsky (Pro Stock); Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel); Matt Hagan (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock).

Sunday, Oct. 10 _ Texas Motorplex, Ennis

Sunday, Oct. 17 _ Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway

Sunday, Oct. 31 _ The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 14 _ Auto Club Speedway, Pomona, Calif.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 10 2021
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