BRAINERD, Minn. - Sometimes the hometown guy just can't catch a break. Then there's Greg Anderson. The Duluth, Minn. native has seen the good and bad at his home track, Brainerd International Raceway. In 2003, he doesn't want good or bad. He...
BRAINERD, Minn. - Sometimes the hometown guy just can't catch a break. Then there's Greg Anderson. The Duluth, Minn. native has seen the good and bad at his home track, Brainerd International Raceway.
In 2003, he doesn't want good or bad. He wants great.
Anderson has nothing but the highest expectations of himself and the rest of his Vegas General Construction team. Especially when they bring their Chevrolet Cavalier to the starting line at the 22nd annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals, Aug. 14-17 at Brainerd International Raceway. Kenny Bernstein, John Force, Jeg Coughlin and Geno Scali are the defending winners in their respective pro categories at the $1.9 million race, the 16th of 23 events in the $50 million NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. It is the 10th of 15 events for Pro Stock Bike competitors.
After the first 13 events of the season, Anderson holds the top spot in the POWERade Pro Stock championship point standings. A victory in Brainerd is something he has been working toward for a lifetime.
Minnesota may be known for producing some of the best fishing and outdoor activities, but it is also the place where Anderson started his drag racing career. He has spent his life around cars, tuning them to conquer the quarter-mile track at blazing speeds.
It is a career that almost never happened. After Anderson spent his childhood helping his father run a part-time sportsman program, the family decided it was time to stop racing. So Anderson went to work for a close family friend who competed in the Pro Stock category - John Hagen.
Haden's racing career ended tragically following a crash at the 1983 event in Brainerd.
"I basically was John Hagen's crew chief for four or five years," Anderson said. "He was like a second father to me. He was good friends with my dad and I spent as much time at his house as I did my dad's house."
The accident sent Anderson packing for home. He went to work for a hometown business, and had nothing to do with drag racing again until 1986. That is the year that Anderson went to Brainerd International Raceway again, this time as a fan. Kurt Johnson, son of Pro Stock legend Warren Johnson spotted him, and before long, he was again employed to tune an NHRA entry.
"Being at Brainerd can be bittersweet for me," Anderson said. "One of my closest friends was killed there and that is always in the back of my mind when I go there. That was absolutely the low point in my life and it took me a couple of years to pull out of that. That track is also the place where my career started again and it is a place where all of my friends and family can come together.
"We want to win that race. It would be a great tribute to John to be in winner's circle at Brainerd."
After experiencing great success working with Warren Johnson, Anderson decided to give driving a whirl. Anderson started driving in 1998, and has since raced at Brainerd three times. He lost in the second round in his first attempt, in 1999. The following season he raced a partial season, opting not to compete at Brainerd. In 2001, he posted a DNQ.
In 2002, however, Anderson went to the finals, earning a runner-up to Jeg Coughlin.
"I'm looking forward to going to Brainerd, being with all of my friends including all of the knuckleheads I grew up with," Anderson said. "I have family members that chase the NHRA all over the country, and finally we get to race at home and show them what we can do. We've run well at the track in the past and now we need to take it one step further and get the win."
Of the 20 different venues on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing schedule, Anderson is quick to rank Brainerd high on his list of favorites.
"When you look at the pecking order, the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis is the top," Anderson said. "But to me, Brainerd is next in line. It's where I grew up. I get to see people that I went to school with and long-time friends of my family. Brainerd is right up there with Indy. We almost won Brainerd last year, so we're going to give it our best to do it this year."
During the offseason, Brainerd made a change to the racing surface that should please the fastest drag racers in the nation. The track doubled its concrete launching pad from the starting line. That is not the only reason why Anderson is pleased to see the event approaching on the schedule.
"They put down a new surface and extended the launching pad which should make it even better and faster," Anderson said. "I'm excited about racing there. But I also just like the atmosphere of that event. There is a huge camping facility. People can bring the entire family for the weekend and there are plenty of things to do surrounding the race. This place is very scenic and it is nice to be able to stay at the track all weekend and know there are lots of activities going on and the people are all laid back and ready to enjoy the most from the event.
"I know we are going to make the most of the event. We are going to the Minnesota Twins game on Thursday and we are going to have a big party with all the friends and family that night. Then it will be time for racing."
Anderson has big plans to enjoy the weekend at Brainerd, but he is the first to admit that he has thoroughly enjoyed the 2003 so far. Anderson has earned five victories in the first 13 events of the season going 31-8 in round wins. His former co-worker, Kurt Johnson, is second in points with four victories and a 30-9 round record. Anderson's former employer, Warren Johnson, is third with three wins and a 21-9 record.
"I'm having a blast this year," he said. "The best thing about this season is that every race track we go to, we know that we have a great chance of winning. Normally there are just some tracks that we can't run well at. But this year we have not had a bad track yet. We've done well in all kinds of conditions too.
"We're ahead of schedule as far as having a decent handle on this car. It's great when you leave your home and you know that you have a chance of winning the race, and even picking up enough points to distance yourself from the other guys. We're very upbeat our program right now."