After cardiac surgery in February, Pro Stock racer back in the driver's seat
Greg Anderson knocked off the rust and cleared up any reservations he might have had upon returning to the driver’s seat in Houston following heart surgery in February. Now, the four-time Pro Stock world champion is ready to send his Summit Racing Equipment Chevy Camaro back to the winner’s circle.
After missing the first five races of the season while recovering from the surgery, Anderson made his 2014 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series debut at the most recent event in Houston. Anderson fell in the first round to reigning world champion Jeg Coughlin and is ready to focus solely on racing heading into this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
“In Houston I got reacquainted with the car, there were no complications so now it’s back to hard-knuckle racing,” Anderson said. “It’s time to go win some races. We’re ready to lock horns and see what happens. We’ve had a lot of success in Atlanta and I love that track.”
Brown (Top Fuel), Johnny Gray (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) were last year’s winners of the event that will once again be televised on ESPN2. It marks the seventh of 24 events during the 2014 NHRA season and it is also a facility where Anderson has had great success.
On an impressive resume that includes 74 career victories, four wins in six final round appearances took place at Atlanta Dragway. But one can sense urgency in Anderson’s voice when talking about returning to the winner’s circle. The talented Pro Stock driver hasn’t won since Englishtown of 2012, a span of nearly two years and 39 races. It’s also far too long than Anderson is comfortable with.
“We have to find out how to win and how to get this car going faster,” Anderson said. “We’re trying to find everything we can to improve the performance of the car, but both the driver and the car has to be better. As a driver, you have to be .020 or better on the tree if you want to be successful and the car has to be fast. It’s been almost two years since my last win and we’re working really hard to find that total package.”
That work has included a massive number of test sessions in the past two weeks to get ready for Atlanta. Anderson qualified 11th in Houston and was satisfied with the steps the team made in his return. But the next step must be a massive leap in his eyes and he hopes to see that at Atlanta Dragway.
The good news is Anderson has long had success in Atlanta with Summit Racing as the title sponsor. He has thrived on the added pressure racing at a sponsor’s event provides and he’s hoping to dial up that same mindset again this weekend.
“We’re back to big-time racing in front of our sponsors,” Anderson said. “It definitely adds some pressure and extra incentive. I always look forward to the Summit Racing-sponsored races and we’ve had a lot of success at these events. We seem to embrace that extra pressure and somehow focus better. We welcome that challenge and extra pressure. We love that extra heat in the kitchen.”
There’s plenty of heat in a loaded Pro Stock field led by points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, who won for the second time in three races by winning at her home track. Other marquee challengers include Anderson’s KB Racing teammate Jason Line, who won the season opener in Pomona, Allen Johnson, Dave Connolly, Shane Gray and Vincent Nobile.
“Every year it gets tougher and tougher,” Anderson said. “You look at the top 10 and they’re all race-winning car. Everybody in the top 10 is winning races and if you want to get in the top 10 you’re going to have to win races. The bar has been raised again and I have to go out there and start winning.”
In Top Fuel, Brown took home his third career victory in Atlanta a year and has been red-hot in 2014. After back-to-back wins, Brown is the points leader and has three victories overall this season. Doug Kalitta is right behind in the points standings and also owns two Atlanta victories. Other championship contenders include Tony Schumacher, defending world champ Shawn Langdon, Spencer Massey, 2012 Atlanta winner Steve Torrence, Khalid alBalooshi, Auto Club of Southern California Road the Future Award winner Brittany Force and J.R. Todd.
The 16-time Funny Car world champ, John Force, has seven wins in Atlanta, the most for any driver in a pro category, but Force is looking to break a nine-year drought at the track. He’s also chasing teammate Robert Hight in the points standings after Hight won for the third time in four races at Houston. Two-time Funny Car world champ Tony Pedregon has three wins at Atlanta and 2012 world champ Jack Beckman has two while other standouts include Tommy Johnson Jr., Alexis DeJoria, Courtney Force, Ron Capps, Matt Hagan, Del Worsham, Cruz Pedregon and Bob Tasca III.
Returning to Atlanta Dragway is appealing for the two-bike Pro Stock Motorcycle team of Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines. Krawiec, a three-time world champion, is the most recent PSM winner in Atlanta and also won in 2009, while Hines, the current points leader, won at Atlanta Dragway in 2010 and 2008. A host of challengers, including Hector Arana Jr., Gainesville winner Steve Johnson, defending world champion Matt Smith, Michael Ray and Scotty Pollacheck, will try to slow down that momentum.
All eyes at Atlanta Dragway will also be on the likes of Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens, DeJoria and Courtney Force in Funny Car, Brittany Force in Top Fuel, and Katie Sullivan and Angie Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle as the landmark 100th win by a female will be within reach. Female competitors currently have 99 NHRA victories, putting the total just one away from the magical mark.
The NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series will make its third stop of the 2014 season at Atlanta Dragway. Mike Castellana took the opening race in Gainesville and Mike Janis topped Castellana at the most recent event in Houston. Defending champion Rickie Smith reached the Pro Mod finals in Florida and is looking for a second straight world championship in the doorslammer category.
As always, fans will have the opportunity to interact with their favorite drivers as they’re granted an exclusive pit pass to the most powerful and sensory-filled motorsports attraction on the planet. This unique opportunity in motorsports gives fans direct access to the teams, allowing them to see firsthand the highly-skilled mechanics service their hot rods between rounds, and enjoy some cherished face time and get autographs from their favorite NHRA drivers.
Fans also will want to visit NHRA’s popular Nitro Alley and Manufacturers Midway, where sponsors and race vendors create a carnival atmosphere, with interactive displays, simulated competitions, merchandise, food and fun for the entire family.
Mello Yello Series qualifying begins Friday, May 16, with sessions at 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. The final two qualifying sessions will take place Saturday, May 17, at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Final eliminations are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 18. Pro Mod qualifying is set for Friday, May 16 at 3:45 and 6 p.m. and Saturday, May 17 at 12:45 p.m. Pro Mod eliminations are scheduled for Saturday at 2:45 p.m.
To purchase general-admission or reserved seats, log on to www.NHRATIX.com or call (800) 884-NHRA (6472). Children 12 and younger are free. For more information about the NHRA visit www.NHRA.com.