Denfeld News

August 12, 2010
Duluth News Tribune

NHRA driver Anderson of Duluth returns for quick stop in Northland
By Jon Nowacki

Greg Anderson admits his memory isn’t what is used to be, so the three-time NHRA drag racing champion was a little embarrassed when people approached him at Powerhouse Bar in Proctor on Wednesday and asked, “Do you remember me?”

Anderson was too honest to answer anything but, “No, sorry, I don’t.”

Anderson, a 1979 Duluth Denfeld graduate, returned home to sign autographs and take pictures for an ALS fundraiser, and he used the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. Anderson is in Minnesota for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals today through Sunday at Brainerd International Raceway.

“I don’t remember much. I’m getting old,” Anderson said, laughing. “I remember a lot of the names, but the faces aren’t jogging the memory.”

Fifth Street was blocked off so Anderson could display his Pro Stock Pontiac and, nearby, a makeshift classic car show sprang up. A Twins-themed Polaris snowmobile and trailer were being raffled off for ALS, commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a degenerative nerve disease that leads to muscle deterioration and ultimately death. There’s no known cure.

Anderson, 49, is best friends with Proctor businessman Dan Hartel, who helped start the Black Woods Blizzard Tour. The tour has raised more than $3 million for ALS patient care in 11 years, including a record $500,000 last year.

Anderson and Hartel’s mutual friend, Kevin Kolquist, died of ALS in 2007 after a long battle with the disease.

“This is a chance for Greg to come back and also, maybe help us raise a little money for the cause,” Hartel said. “He hasn’t been back for so many years, and a lot of his friends come and see him, so it’s kind of a big thing for a local boy, but he doesn’t think of it that way. He’s just Greg, the same guy he’s always been.”

Chris Shaw of Proctor has been going to the BIR Nationals every year since 1991 and stopped by just to say “hi” to Anderson and “thanks for coming up.”

Bob Hakala of Duluth is a longtime drag racing fan who used to hang out with Greg Anderson’s cousin, Denny Anderson.

“Greg is an icon around here,” Hakala said. “When you’ve got somebody like him, who does what he’s doing right here, it’s great for the community. The hometown boy comes back to raise awareness for ALS. He’s that kind of guy. He’s a great example of what we need around here.”

Anderson has overcome his share of adversity this year. Team owner Ken Black suffered a debilitating stroke in December and is gradually working his way back to health, and in January, Anderson’s home in Concord, N.C., was destroyed by a neighborhood fire.

Anderson is fourth in the season points standings and is the defending Pro Stock champion at Brainerd after beating his teammate, Jason Line, a native of Wright, in last year’s final. Line has yet to win at his home track.

“That was what I would consider a perfect day, but one look at Jason’s face, and I could tell he was not happy at all. He took that loss to heart,” Anderson said. “There is nowhere he would like to win more than Brainerd. It means the world to him, so I’d love to see him get it this year.”

Anderson used to return to Duluth every year the week before the BIR Nationals. His uncle, Les Williams, would hold a barbecue, but with all the travel, the schedule is always tight, so Williams took his annual cookout to Brainerd the last two years.

Anderson said it got too difficult to get his entire crew to come to Duluth, but he said he will always try to make time for things like Wednesday’s ALS fundraiser.

“The toughest part for me,” Anderson insisted, “is remembering the names and the faces, because this wasn’t bad at all. The No. 1 reason I’m here is because of ALS. I still had to take an extra day away from the shop, but for a cause like this, we’ll make it happen. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.”

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