Denfeld News

Aug. 7, 2008
Duluth News Tribune

Can modified hot rod format bring old results?
By Jon Nowacki

Driver Greg Anderson was skeptical when a new playoff system was introduced before the 2007 National Hot Rod Association season.

The Duluth native easily would have won his fourth NHRA Pro Stock points title under the previous format, but with the new system, he wound up second to Jeg Coughlin. This year, the NHRA has modified the format again, and drivers such as Anderson couldn’t be happier.

“There were a few complaints about the new style, and to the NHRA’s credit, they listened and straightened it out,” Anderson said. “They made some changes I think everyone is happy about.”

Like NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship, the new system readjusted the points standings after the regular season, with the points leaders separated by 10-point increments. If a driver built a commanding 200-point lead during the regular season, it suddenly was reduced to 10 points over second, 20 over third, etc.

Unlike NASCAR, the NHRA’s Countdown readjusted the points standings twice, leaving four drivers to vie for the points title during the final two races.

This year, however, the field will only reset once — before the NHRA Nationals Sept. 11-14 in Charlotte, N.C. That will leave 10 drivers to vie for the title during the final six races. The series points leader also will receive a 20-point bonus, increasing the lead over the second-place qualifier to 30 points.

“We just felt there should be more of a reward for winning the regular season,” Anderson said. “Before, it was a two-race shootout between four cars, and whoever had the hot car the last two races won it. … I could win 15 races, have a huge lead and lose one of those two races and that would be it.

“But I knew the rules going in and didn’t find a way to get it done. Now, I’ll have no excuse. I certainly feel that six races is enough time to prove you’re the better team.”

Anderson, 47, leads in the season points standings with 1,106 points and a Pro Stock-best five victories, followed by teammate and Wright, Minn., native Jason Line (1,000) and Iron Range native Kurt Johnson (991). Three races remain before Charlotte, starting with the Nationals today through Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway.

Anderson had a Pro Stock-best eight victories in 2007. He understands why NHRA implemented a new system, but knew it needed to be adjusted.

“The NHRA’s goal was to manufacture the most suspense it could for the end of the season,” Anderson said. “They have had cases before where a driver had this humongous lead coming down the stretch and nobody else could mathematically win with three or four races left. I guess that was a little boring for the fans.”

That’s because of drivers such as Anderson, who had an incredible 15 victories in 2004 en route to being named Speed Channel’s Driver of the Year.

“I guess it’s my fault,” Anderson said with a laugh. “I probably created this doggone rule, but now I have to live with it. You know us racers: We try to win every race we go to. That’s our job: To make it one-sided. That’s not how the fans want it, that’s not how the NHRA wants it, but that’s how the drivers want it.”

In Line for a Title?

After winning his only Pro Stock title in 2006, the 39-year-old Line is happy to be contending again after finishing fifth last year. He has drawn criticism for his driving, but said he and Anderson will continue to be hands-on, unlike some drivers who almost focus solely on racing.

“That’s definitely the trend, but Greg and I aren’t good spectators by nature,” Line said. “For us, working on the cars is half the fun. The driving, at least for me, is kind of the bonus. You’re always going to have critics, but I think it’s counterproductive to listen to them. I’m more worried about what the rest of the guys on the team think.”

Safety Measures

NHRA announced that the race distance for the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes would be shortened from the traditional 1,320 feet, or quarter-mile, to 1,000 feet, after the death of Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta on June 21 during qualifying in Englishtown, N.J.

Anderson said drag racers ideally want to race on the classic quarter-mile strip, but some of the tracks on the circuit don’t have adequate shutdown areas to safely slow cars in the event of a mistake or malfunction.

Top Fuel and Funny Cars still should reach speeds of about 300 mph this weekend in Brainerd, Minn.

“There were some things that were completely unsafe about that race track,” Anderson said. “We missed it, we overlooked it, we didn’t pay attention to it, and we didn’t make sure it got fixed. There are several other tracks like that, and it’s going to take some time to get them up to par. They’re landlocked and out of length, so when the cars keep getting faster, they have a harder time getting them to stop, and finally, we lose a driver because of it.”

Kalitta, 46, was a two-time Top Fuel champion and married father of two.

“Scott was a good friend and a great man, and it’s really sad that something tragic has to happen and then we make a move,” Anderson said. “It’s our fault as racers. We have to be proactive and get ahead of the game on these things. We know what can happen with these cars.”

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