Denfeld News

Aug. 11, 2006
Duluth News Tribune

High-octane performers
By Lee Bloomquist

For "a knucklehead from Wright," and a would-be hockey player from Duluth, Jason Line and Greg Anderson are doing pretty well for themselves.

Line, the National Hot Rod Association's Pro Stock division points leader, and Anderson, the three-time defending division champion, bring their Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GTO's home this weekend in the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway and Resort.

Heading into Saturday's qualifying, the Ken Black Racing teammates rank 1-2 in the NHRA Pro Stock season points race.

"For a knucklehead from Wright I've been fortunate," said Line, who in four years in the NHRA has become known for an unassuming personality and laugh no-matter-what-happens outlook. "I think I'm having about the same year as I've had the last two years, but I think everybody else is having a worse year."

Maybe.

Line and Anderson, Northland natives with different approaches to the pressures of big-time drag racing, represent one of the most dominant one-two punches in the world's fastest motor sport.

Anderson, 45, grew up in Duluth and in 1979 graduated from Duluth Denfeld, where he played hockey through his sophomore year. He didn't attended college.

Since starting NHRA Pro Stock drag racing in 1998, he's earned a reputation as one of the most intense and winning drivers on the circuit.

But with success comes pressure and what can be fickle fan support.

Three straight NHRA pro stock titles, four national elapsed time records, a national speed record, and a desire to beat everyone, can do that says Anderson.

"There's no question I get some hatred or whatever you want to call it," said Anderson.

"Some people don't like it when a guy wins all the time. The crowd sometimes goes wild when I get beat because the crowd wants the underdog. I guess when you get to this stage, it is kind of like what's happened with Jeff Gordon (in NASCAR)."

Line, 37, a 1987 graduate from Cromwell High School, never attended college, yet spent three years, nine months and 11 days as a "paper pusher," in the U.S. Air Force ("But who's counting," says Line).

After entering NHRA Pro Stock racing in 2003, Line has 11 final-round wins (four in 2004, four in 2005), and three this year. In 2004, he was one of two drivers to beat Anderson in a final-round race and was named Rookie of the Year.

Though their cars are identically prepared -- and both men wear similar spiked haircuts -- Line and Anderson are on opposite ends of the quarter-mile when it comes to emotions. Anderson says he feels pressure to perform.

"It's kind of funny that anytime I slip up, the reporters are on me like flies," said Anderson. "But so much is expected of me that it bothers me if I don't have a perfect light."

Don't let Line's laid-back manner fool you, said Anderson.

"Jason still hasn't won a championship, so they don't come to him and say, 'What's wrong?' " said Anderson. "But don't let that laugh and giggle fool you -- he's got the killer instinct. I kind of wish I could be like that, but I get down on myself."

Two weeks ago in qualifying, Anderson set a national record elapsed time of 6.631 seconds to qualify in the top spot at the Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif. He then absorbed a second-round loss to Allen Johnson.

Anderson picked up a 20-point bonus for setting the elapsed time record, but Line won the event.

"We haven't been 100 percent this year," said Anderson. "At the last race, it was the fastest car. But I like that kind of pressure. I'd rather have the fastest car out there because then it's then up to the drivers and there's a lot of pressure on me to perform differently."

Anderson led in the points standings for 12 events before Line took the lead in mid-July in Denver.

Eight races remain in the 23-event schedule.

To prepare for BIR, Anderson said he and Line spent the past week practicing starting line reaction times at a test facility at team headquarters in Mooresville, N.C.

Both planned to visit their parents in Duluth and Wright before heading to Brainerd.

"You try not to treat it (BIR) any different," said Anderson. "But it's still where my family is at the race and Jason's family is at the race, so you want to do well in front of them."

In what's becoming a rarity, Anderson and Line not only drive their cars, but work on the engines during the week.

"We're kind of a dying breed," said Line, a former race tuner for Joe Gibbs Racing's NASCAR team. "I'd say that Larry Morgan, Warren and Kurt Johnson and ourselves are about the last ones."

Although Anderson and Line's GTO's have different chassis, each produces about 1,350 horsepower, creates about a g-force of three at the start and reach about 208 mph in the quarter mile.

"We're able to tune the cars almost identical," said Anderson. "We try to put the same amount of power into each and when we race each other, may the best man win. There's no team orders. We don't want any 'gimmes,' or easy ones -- You're not going to see that from this team."

Line, who sometimes laughs at himself even after losing, says he may someday feel the same pressures as Anderson.

But for now, he's enjoying the moment.

"I'm just Jason Line from Wright," said Line, who in January became a father for the first time. "I think we're both serious about it, he just has a different way of doing it. Racing is important, but there's more important things in life. Your family is important and there's things like when we're at a race working on our car and somebody will come up in a wheelchair. Losing a race isn't the most important thing."

And what if push comes to shove in an Anderson vs. Line race for the season points title?

"I'm bigger than he is," joked Line. "Being selfish, I would like to win. But I'd also be happy for him to win. You have to think about the big picture. If you don't win this year, you come back next year and try again."

"I feel like I'm inches away from going on a run," said Anderson. "But it's still way up in the air. If it comes down to Jason and myself, as long as it's one of us."

Notes
Kurt Johnson, born in Virginia, won last year's Pro Stock title at BIR. Johnson is fifth in the 2006 season points race. His father, Warren "The Professor," Johnson, who grew up in Markham, is 13th in Pro Stock points.

"I think it's come down to a three or four-horse race between Jason (Line), myself, Dave Connolly, Jim Yates, and Kurt Johnson," said Greg Anderson.


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