Growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, it’s almost a sacrilege for Greg Anderson to have put down his hockey stick to pursue a sports career away from the ice.
“The day I left there and I told all my friends I was moving to the south to pursue this racing dream of mine as a full-time career, they all laughed at me and usually thought, ‘He’ll be back. He can’t make a living racing,’” said the four-time NHRA Pro Stock world champion. “I’ve never moved back yet. I think I made the right decision.
“Now, all those same friends chase me around the country and will pop up at a race here or a race there,” he added.
Norwalk is one of those races. Only at Summit Motorsports Park, most of those friends are corporate ones. The Summit Racing Equipment Nationals is the lone race still sponsored by Anderson’s lead sponsor — headquartered in Tallmadge. And as if the pressure wasn’t ratcheted up enough this weekend, this year’s affair marks the 50th anniversary for Summit in the racing business.
“Coming here any year is special with Summit all over the billboards and all over our race car. It’s our most special race a year now,” said Anderson, a three-time winner of a Wally at Norwalk. “It use to be that (Summit) would have its banner on three or four different races. It’s now just this place alone. So now it’s one time a year and one race to look forward to every year.
“This is the race where you get to see all the employees and all the brass of the company,” he added. “So there’s a lot of extra pressure when we come here. But I like that.”
What Anderson doesn’t like about 2018 is the fact that he has a zero in the win column. Through 11 events, he holds the current points lead in the Mello Yello Series Pro Stock category, but he’s yet to crack through on Sunday.
“We’ve had a decent year so far, but we haven’t had a great year. We haven’t won races,” Anderson said. “I’m leading the points, so I guess things can’t be that bad, but I haven’t won a race. We like to win. There’s a hollow spot there.”
Only four times this season has there been an event that Anderson didn’t capture the No. 1 qualifier spot. He’s captured the top spot in qualifying seven times, then gone on to earn two runners-up, including two weeks ago at Bristol. He’s made at least the semifinal round on three occasions.
“Either we need to change to racing on Friday and Saturday, and put qualifying on Sunday or something has to change because we have to figure out Sundays period,” he joked.
Anderson’s last win at Summit came in 2015.
However, there’s been at least two or three seasons Anderson can recall where Norwalk provided a much needed bandaid or peroxide to his team’s confidence when it was exposed a bit.
“It seems like for whatever reason all the years we come here with all that buildup, whether we’re having a good season or bad season at the time, this place has been a season healer for us and helped us turn things around,” he said. “It’s made us focus better and race better. I’m absolutely hoping that happens here again this weekend.”
Longtime teammate Jason Line, also a Summit driver with two Norwalk wins, is another big name Pro Stock driver that has been stumped through the season’s first half. Perhaps no other class has been more competitive as only three drivers — Jeg Coughlin, Tanner Gray and Vincent Nobile — have two wins with five others having one.
“I always ask myself why I choose the most competitive class out here, but that’s obviously why I’ve stayed with it. I love the high-competition level. It’s what drives me,” said Anderson, who has 90 career wins and just recently earned his 100th No. 1 qualifier spot. “You’d think you’d have to scratch your head and wonder why I keep banging my head against the wall, fighting what I think is the most difficult class out here to win in, but that’s why.”
Anderson was introduced to racing by his father Rod, a solid sportsman racer in the NHRA's Division 5, who’d take him out to the race track. Once the senior Anderson hung up his helmet in 1979, his son joined Hagan's team, which soon ascended to the Pro Stock ranks. Over the next four years, the two became inseparable, traveling the country, with Anderson learning valuable lessons about racing and life from the personable Hagan.
Unfortunately, Hagan's tragic demise in a 1983 racing incident left Anderson questioning his future in the sport. However after a two-year absence, an invitation from another Minnesota racer, Warren Johnson, brought him back, where he implemented the knowledge from his previous experiences to further his career.
“This is just a crazy sport,” Anderson said. “Once you get into it, and actually get involved with it, you’re not getting out. You get it in your blood and you love it.
“It’s my dad’s fault, but I love him every minute for what he did for me,” he added. “And now my son, who I don’t think had much interest in it growing up, but as he came to the track more often, he started to get the bug and now he works on my car.”
At age 57, Anderson admits he’s probably well into the second half of his career, but the fire still remains. Not even heart surgery in 2014 to replace a failing bicuspid aortic valve, causing him to miss six races slowed his passion.
“Everyone in Camp Anderson is still on board and I’m not ready to give it up yet,” he said. “And I hope when that day comes, I’ll realize it and not want to stay past my time. I don’t know what that magical age is that you can’t do this anymore, all I know is it’s not today.”