Drag racing: Struggles continue for NHRA locals
BRAINERD, Minn. -- Drag racer Greg Anderson was asked what's different with Pro Stock after qualifying Saturday at the 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, and his answer, announced over the track PA system, was...
BRAINERD, Minn. - Drag racer Greg Anderson was asked what's different with Pro Stock after qualifying Saturday at the 36th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, and his answer, announced over the track PA system, was something the announcer called the most honest interview he'd heard in a while.
"We're not having fun anymore," Anderson said.
Anderson was referring to the good old days of Pro Stock, but it could have been a metaphor for a season of struggles for him and his Summit Racing teammate Jason Line.
"That would be whining if I did that," Anderson said.
Line, a native of Wright, qualified fourth with a 6.627-second run at 206.73 mph, while Anderson, a Duluth native, is sixth (6.631, 207.59) and 18-year-old Tanner Gray (6.607, 208.17) is No. 1 going into today's final eliminations.
Other top qualifiers were record-setter Leah Pritchett in Top Fuel (3.640, 330.63), Robert Hight (3.793, 338.00) in Funny Car and Hector Arana Jr. (6.879, 194.24) in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
As popular as the nitro racers are, and Anderson and Line in Pro Stock, Saturday's crowd pleaser was Pro Stock driver Shane Gray, Tanner's father.
While all drivers warm the tires, Gray was doing burnouts halfway down the track, making BIR look like a coal plant.
Anderson remembers when as many as 40 cars would battle any given weekend in Pro Stock, before big bucks whittled the field to about 15 and added even more pressure to win.
"We used to do dry hops and goof around and screw off and all kinds of things out there, but now we're so worried about that last one-thousandth of a second, our crew chiefs won't let us do anything at all different in the staging process," Anderson said. "Just little stuff like that, the crowd loves, but we're not allowed to do it because the crew chiefs would shoot us. It has become so tough and so tight and so stressful. Stress to the max."
Shane Gray, sitting 12th in the season standings, is in a position where he isn't as worried about points, but his son is.
Tanner Gray, who on April 2 became the youngest Pro Stock winner in National Hot Rod Association history at age 17, sits third in the season points between the 56-year-old Anderson and the 48-year-old Line. Tanner's grandfather, former Funny Car and Pro Stock driver Johnny Gray, will race at Indianapolis in two weeks making for three generations of Grays in the same class for the first time in NHRA history.
"That will be my first time getting to race my grandpa in anything, so that will be pretty cool," Shane Gray said.
Gray said that while he's just a rookie, he has already learned from veterans like Anderson and Line. He said he never really looked up to them in the same way that a fan or another aspiring driver might.
"Just from being around them so long, I never really looked at it like that. I just saw them as friends," Gray said. "It's definitely really cool to race against them now."
Conditions on Saturday were sunny and 80 degrees, about 10 degrees warmer than Friday, when Pritchett set a national Top Fuel record with an elapsed time of 3.640, while Hight and Courtney Force turned in the first and fourth quickest runs ever in Funny Car, in the same heat no less.
"The car hasn't been good for a while here, but we definitely have made some steps forward," Line said. "It's not great yet, but definitely better."
Line joked that he couldn't remember his last win.
"I can't remember back that far," Line said. "I just know it's been too long."
Anderson and Line get paid to win, and they did plenty of winning last year, with eight wins apiece, capturing 16 of 24 events on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series between them. Line and Anderson finished 1-2 in the points, with it coming down to the final day.
But lately, the wins have been hard to come by. So hard, in fact, that the Northland natives, who have 134 Pro Stock wins between them and seven points championships, only have three wins this season. Anderson earned the second of his two wins June 11 at Englishtown, N.J.; Line hasn't won since Feb. 12 at Pomona, Calif., which for these two, must seem like an eternity.
"It feels like forever," Anderson said.
Anderson had 15 wins in a single season en route to winning Speed Channel's Driver of the Year award in 2004, only the third drag racer to accomplish that feat.
"Those were good times," Anderson said, laughing. "I've said several times, you never know when you're last win is going to be your last win, and you start to think like that after a while."