Denfeld News

August 22, 2011
Duluth News Tribune

Duluth native races to inspired win at Brainerd
By Jon Nowacki

BRAINERD — Greg Anderson couldn’t believe what he saw during driver introductions on Sunday at the 30th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.

There, gleaming in the sunshine in the drag-racing staging area, was a restored 1978 Plymouth Arrow, the same car he and his mentor, the late John Hagen, raced in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

That was all the inspiration Anderson needed as the Duluth native went on to win the Pro Stock division for the third time at his home track while at the same time denying Erica Enders an opportunity to make drag-racing history.

“It totally surprised me,” Anderson said of seeing the white, blue and red Arrow. “That was the car I worked the most on, and we set some records with. My memory is fuzzy sometimes, but seeing that thing was like going back in time. Everything came back crystal clear.

“You always try to find a way to get yourself up for the day, and that was way beyond anything I could have come up with.”

Enders was looking to become the first woman to win in Pro Stock, but Anderson, a four-time national champion, edged her by .011 of a second, or about the nose of his Pontiac GXP, with a 6.599-second run at 209.26 mph. Enders had a slight lead with her reaction time (.031 to .027) before Anderson reeled her in.

Enders, 27, already is the most successful woman in the history of the class and is now a five-time runner up. She has three seconds this year, including a loss to Anderson in the final six weeks ago in Chicago.

“Erica is going to win,” said Anderson, who now lives in Mooresville, N.C. “Lately it seems like it’s been up to me to ruin her story line, but that’s my job. When she does win that first one, it will mean all that much more to her because of how hard she had to battle and fight for it.”

While women such as Shirley Muldowney, Melanie Troxel and Angelle Sampey have had success in the other classes, it has been extremely rare in Pro Stock.

“Close again,” Enders said. “The Summit guys are the ones to beat out here, but we’re going to get ’em one of these days.”

Enders did just that in the quarterfinals, upsetting Anderson’s teammate, Jason Line, a native of Wright, in a photo finish — beating him by a mere .0008. Line was seeking his first victory at Brainerd and came in as the No. 1 qualifier.

That left Anderson to carry the Summit Racing Equipment banner.

Anderson’s fourth win of the season was the 69th of his career, tying him with Kenny Bernstein for fourth all-time. It also moved him past Line and into first place in the season points standings.

After Anderson won his first BIR title in 2003, he gave the “Wally,” the NHRA winner’s trophy, to Gerry Hagen, John’s widow.

Gerry was present on Sunday when Engelhart Performance of Elkton, Minn., unveiled the restored Arrow, complete with “Greg Anderson Crew Chief” lettered on the hood scoop.

John Hagen died in August 1983 while racing a Dodge Omni at Brainerd. The incident helped bring safety upgrades to the track, but left a lasting void for his family and friends. Anderson, just 22 at the time, saw the car roll more than 20 times and was one of the first on the scene, finding the 46-year-old Hagen in a pool of blood.

“That was the most horrendous thing a person could ever see,” Anderson said. “John was like a second father to me, and this is where it all started. He and my dad got me started into racing, so I owe it all to them. Seeing that Arrow brought a smile to my face, and it brought a smile to Gerry’s face. That meant the world to me.”

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