Movie and comic book superheroes often have a shield for protection. Greg Anderson may be a drag racing superhero, and he might be using his own shield to conquer the series.
Anderson’s return to the cockpit in 2014 has been anything but easy for the 53-year Minnesota native. After learning that he needed heart surgery during the winter break, his world was turned upside down. Going through recovery fostered a new outlook on life in Anderson.
Post-surgery, Anderson lost a great deal of muscle mass in his chest. The thought of making run after run on the track made it clear that he would need to protect that vulnerable area during a race. He contacted Simpson with an idea.
“It came to me a month after getting out of the hospital when I realized how skinny I was probably going to be when I came back to driving a race car,” said the four-time national Pro Stock champion. “I wasn’t going to have a lot of muscle build up and basically have my chest bones and my pacemaker protruding. I thought that’s not going to feel very nice against the seat belts. So I had to make a protector over my chest, so the belts won’t be pulling directly on the pacemaker or my chest bones.
“I went to see the boys at Simpson and they said they could make a mold of my chest. We took the expanding seat material that we use to make our seat inserts and I laid down on some of that and made a mold of my chest. From that, they took a piece of carbon off of that mold and made the shape to fit…We have the exact shape of my chest and fitted it with a little foam, so that now when I cinch down on my seatbelts, I don’t feel anything. It disperses the load everywhere.
“It’s a great idea and now looking at it going forward, I don’t think I’ll ever race without it… it feels better and I don’t feel the seat belts rubbing on me. Everybody that I’ve talked to that’s been in any kind of wreck before, the first complaint they have is that the seats belts gave terrible bruising. This will definitely stop that. Obviously, if you were to stretch far enough in the seat belts to hit the steering wheel it would help with that. There are a lot of things it can help. Let’s face it, when you sitting in a race car, your body is not moving any so it doesn’t restrict you on doing anything. It’s not a problem at all. It was definitely be a benefit if you had a wreck.
“For me, it’s probably going to take me six months up to a year to build enough muscle back to where everything is not sticking out. I’m stuck using it for at least the year, but honestly now, I don’t think I’ll ever race without it. I know how it feels against the seat belts and remember what it used to feel like and you just have that thin little area centered on your chest that pulls on your chest. That’s probably not a good thing when you get in a wreck. In the future everyone should be looking into it.”
The rigors of a full-time NHRA drag racing schedule can take its toll on the driver’s body and the only way to get Anderson back in racing shape was to get behind the wheel and starting making launches. He did so at the adjacent Mooresville Dragway near their race shop, making over 60 short passes to get that feel back in his driving
“I didn’t know until I got to Houston what it was going to be like pulling a parachute. That way I would really feel the load on my chest. When I got to Houston and made that first run, I couldn’t even tell I pulled the parachutes. There was no load at all transferred to the chest. It was a win-win deal. It’s a great idea. Now going forward, I don’t think I’ll ever do without it for all those reasons.
“Sometimes, it’s more exciting to stop these cars than it is to start them. At least when you leave the starting line all the Gs are going against the back of the seat, which is a padded insert. But we have nothing for the parachute which is as many Gs at the finish line. It’s 3Gs at the starting line and 3 negative Gs when you pull the parachute.”
The Ken Black racing team selected Sweden’s Jimmy Alund to replace Anderson while he recovered back home, but when the NHRA made its Carolina swing for the spring 4-Wide Nationals, he couldn’t resist being there.
Rooting for his Summit Racing team made up of two-time champion Jason Line, along with Alund, Anderson found himself in the unusual place of outside the car at a racetrack and witnessed firsthand Alund’s lone NHRA National win in Anderson’s ride.
“I was as proud as I could be and also sitting back thinking ‘You know, that’s my race car,’” grinned Anderson. “That’s supposed to be me winning those races. I haven’t won in a year and a half now and I need to win badly. I feel great for Jimmy and I’m so proud that we picked him to fill the seat because he did a fantastic job. To see him win that race; it just made the story great. That just made me desire even more to get back in the seat.
“I had to come up with a good story for the doctor and convince him I was ready. They just want you to go home and sit on the couch for three or four months to make sure you’re 100 per cent sure you’re healed. I guess as race car drivers we’re a little bit different. We can withstand a little bit of pain and believe we heal quicker than most. Whether it’s true or not we at least have that belief and we think we can get back in the game quicker. I just had to prove it to him. Of course, I didn’t want to risk anything to turn it around and bite me and I sure as hell didn’t want to do the procedure over again. That would have been tough. I wanted to make sure everything was right and that’s where the chest protector came in to make sure I didn’t take a backward step and have to go back to the hospital. Everything is perfect, everything is fine. I have no more excuses, the sympathy period is over. That thing protects me. I have no complaints at all and don’t feel any pain of any kind.”
Before the Charlotte race, Anderson could only participate through the NHRA Audiocast and ESPN3. The hardest part of having to sit back was not knowing what to do since all he’s ever done is drag race.
“It was terrible. It was absolutely terrible,’ sighed Anderson, a 74 time tour winner. “I’ve never missed a drag race since I’ve been drag racing whether it was as a crew member, crew chief, or as a driver, so it was horrible. I guess I don’t make a very good spectator because sitting on that couch watching, well, it was miserable. You’re so out of touch. Then the Internet would go out and then come in and you’re throwing stuff at the TV. You don’t want to be on the phone constantly bugging the guys. They are trying to do their job. The bottom line is they did a great job in my absence. They might have not missed me at all, but I missed the hell out of not being there.”
Next on Anderson’s agenda is making it into the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Missing the first five events of the season has him in the perilous situation of having to be aggressive with only 12 races to go. Time is a factor.
Last weekend in Atlanta at his sponsor’s Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals, Anderson proved he’s up to the task, making it to the final round before bowing out again Jeg Coughlin in a close Pro Stock race.
“I’ve got to hustle, there’s no question,” said Anderson. “I’ve got to go out and win races. I can’t go out and just place or win a round here or there. The way the competition it is this year, the top 10 cars are race winning cars right to the No. 10 spot, so I know I have to go out and win races. It seems like forever for me. It’ll be two years at Englishtown by that time if I don’t win before then. That’s a tremendous amount of time for me.
“I’ve got to turn it around and make it happen and Jimmy obviously proved the car can win. So, it’s up to me now and I have no excuses. It’s time to start winning and unless I win, I won’t be in the Countdown. I’m not complaining about that. That’s the way it should be. If you’re going to be in that Countdown, you better be able to win races. No sense qualifying for that, if you’re not qualified to win a race. I need to win some races to get in it. Then I think I’ll be ready to go for the gold at the end of the season.”