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Anderson facing toughest challenge ever

June 13th, 2014 8:04 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Anderson facing toughest challenge ever

BRISTOL — Four-time NHRA Pro Stock World Champion Greg Anderson has faced challenges before, but nothing quite like the beginning of this season.

Just a week before the start of the season, Anderson was literally faced with a life-and-death scenario. No longer an option to delay, he had to have heart surgery which forced him to miss the first five races of the season.

He comes into this weekend’s NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway 13th in the Mello Yello point standings, but only 106 points behind 10th place Rodger Brogdon in the cut-off spot.

“I’m trying to play catch-up right now and I’m trying to make the Countdown (NHRA’s six-race playoff at the end of the season),” Anderson said. “I’ve got a lot of ground to make up. I lost a lot of points those first five races. I didn’t have a choice. It was a life or death situation. I got it fixed up just in time and I feel better than I ever did.”

Anderson, fourth on the NHRA’s all-time win list with 74 victories, scored the first of those at Bristol in 2001. He believes another win at Thunder Valley can propel him into the playoffs. From there, he believes anyone has a chance to win the championship in the competitive world of Pro Stock.

While he doesn’t like being in the top 10, not following doctor’s orders would have likely been fatal for the 53-year-old driver.

“We found out about the problem I have called a bicuspid aortic valve three years ago,” he said. “We’ve been keeping a close eye on it, taking a CT scan every six months to measure the size of my aorta. It finally got to point where it was getting too big and they feared it bursting. 

“I should have went in the day after the World Finals last November. I got my six-month scan then. I waited until the real six months was up in February which was a week before the start of the season. The doctor said, ‘Guess what, it’s time.’ So the timing wasn’t good, but I got too nonchalant about it. You feel invincible like nothing ever is going to happen. You just have to make the right decision and we got it done just in time.”

Speeds in excess of 200 mph in his Chevrolet Camaro give him a feeling of being superhuman. He said racers are also bad to believe the world revolves around what they do in the race car.

“It definitely gives you a reality check and you understand what’s important in life,” he said. “As racers, we think nothing else matters but racing. That puts it into perspective, what’s important, family and health. Your job has to be somewhere down the line. I needed that reality check. I feel more positive now when I come to the race track and I have more fun with it.”

By his estimates, his Summit Racing team is 70 percent back to being competitive on a weekly basis. He described it as still a work in progress although they’re gaining on it. Still, he wants to be more than someone who simply makes the Countdown

“The top 10 cars are race-winning cars,” he said. “Like I’ve said, if I can’t get to the point where I can win races before the Countdown, I don’t need to be in it anyway because it’s going to take race wins to win the championship.”

While he didn’t lose any of his desire, he lost both weight and muscle during the heart procedure. With his bones and a pacemaker protruding, he now wears a protective shield made of carbon fiber and kevlar over his chest. It’s a piece of safety equipment he plans on keeping even after fully recovered.

“ I figured I better have something to cover that up when I pull that parachute,” he said. “I feel absolutely nothing in the race car, no pressure from the seat belts or parachute. I’m not going to take it off once this heals up. You ever get in a wreck, you won’t be severely bruised like everyone else.”

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