After Summit Racing Equipment Pontiac GXP driver Greg Anderson earned his fourth world title in 2010, he was hearty in defense for much of the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season and fueled with resolve, but in the end, it was teammate Jason Line who produced an extraordinary year from day one to day last and secured his second Pro Stock championship and another big trophy for the Ken Black-owned team. Sure, there are mixed emotions for a driven competitor like Anderson who has amassed 70 event wins in an already long and successful career, but the bottom line is that the team got it done, and now it's yearning for more.
For Anderson, the beauty of the Summit-backed team is that it is truly one team with multiple race cars as opposed to separate teams under one umbrella with individual tuners, crewmembers, and agendas. Each car receives equal attention from a complex brain trust that includes veteran crew chief Rob Downing at the helm and noted tuners Tommy Utt and Jeff Perley bringing a plethora of expertise to the table. The cars in the Summit stable aren't in competition with one another, but that doesn't exactly eliminate the competition between the drivers.
Line humbled his teammate fast at the start of the season, beating Anderson en route to victory at the season opener in Pomona and continuing to bully his buddy on the racetrack as he earned the win over him in the final at the next event in Gainesville. The two would meet six times in eliminations during the season – four in all-Summit finals – and Line would come out ahead in each encounter but one, at the historic Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
"The good thing about this team here is that for the most part, we can put our egos away and be happy for the other guy when he wins," said Anderson. "But at the same time, does it sting personally? Sure it does. You're a racer, and every racer wants to win. It's a good day when one of the KB Racing cars is in the winner's circle, but when it comes down to it, each driver has to have that will to win. It doesn't matter if it's your mother in the other lane; you have to want that win."
Anderson wanted it bad all season, and although he was more than happy to see the points lead in the hands of his teammate for the greater good of KB Racing, there was undoubtedly relief in returning to the top and scoring his first victory of the season at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte's zMAX Dragway.
Line was back in the lead in short order, and one of the two Minnesota-born, factory-hot-rod-piloting brethren owned the precious perch at the conclusion of every race of the season but one; 2009 world champion Mike Edwards took the reins after winning in Sonoma.
The tally at season's end showed 11 wins (five in eight final rounds for Anderson, six in eight for Line), nine No. 1 qualifier awards (two for Anderson, seven for Line), and the national e.t. record back in the team's possession after Line raced to a 6.477 on the way to the win in Reading. The exceptional cumulative numbers don't tell the story, though, of a stunning turn of events as the Countdown to the Championship unfolded.
In Norwalk during the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, Anderson made history as he claimed the title in the prestigious K&N Horsepower Challenge for the fourth time – the most victories in the special competition of any driver. From there, he got scary, qualifying No. 1 and beating Erica Enders on a holeshot at Route 66 Raceway in Chicago and reaching four consecutive finals: Anderson won in Sonoma from the No. 2 spot, qualified on the pole in Seattle before forfeiting to Line in the closing act, then won back-to-back races (again from the second qualifying position) in Brainerd and Indianapolis at the final event of the regular season. The reigning world champion was to enter the playoffs in the lead, and how bright the future looked.
"I really felt going into the Countdown that I was in as good a shape as I've ever been," said Anderson. "Everything was really rolling smoothly, and even though Jason had a great car all year long, it seemed like leading up to the Countdown, all the mojo just kind of fell my way. I kept saying that we were peaking at the right time – which we were – but when it came to Countdown time, it was for all the marbles, so I told myself that I had to do an even better job."
In Charlotte, at the first race of the Countdown, Anderson was wound up to go far but lost, shockingly, on a holeshot in the first round. Another gut punch followed with a first-round holeshot loss in Dallas, and from there, he simply could not regain his footing. Though he posted semifinal finishes in Reading and Las Vegas, the last three races of the year were essentially decided at the starting line – and not in Anderson's favor.
"I got out of my game plan and trusting my car, my crew guys, my engine, and just racing and having fun," he admitted. "When I got beat in Charlotte, it was like a bullet to the heart. Then we pick up and have to go to Dallas the very next weekend, and I can remember telling myself, 'All right, that's it. I can have zero more mistakes from here on out. I've got to do something special.' That was completely the wrong thing to do. I put too much pressure on myself and wanted to manufacture wins, and you just can't do that. It snowballed, and I basically augured myself into the ground."
The bright spot for the four-time world champion (2003-05 and 2010) is that the title stayed in the KB Racing camp, and even brighter is the thought that the 2011 Countdown is behind him. Calling the last six races a "valuable learning experience," Anderson says that all he has to do is look in the mirror to figure out what to fix because the cars, engines, and crew are all in fine working order and improving all the time.
Indeed, the hum of intent and momentum has steadily emanated from the Mooresville, N.C., race shop since the trucks returned from Pomona in November in preparation for keen competition and another strong defense of the team's title in 2012. The reappearance of another world champ, Jeg Coughlin Jr. – in a Dodge this time – isn't sneaking up on them, either.
"We know that's going to be a great program and that they are very talented people with plenty of resources behind them," said Anderson. "All we can do is focus on making our own program better. We expect everyone in the class to improve -- that's what you have to think like -- and we're digging as hard as we can to make some gains because we don't want to get passed by.
"2011 was a great year for KB Racing, but now isn't the time to rest. Our team has 100 reasons to smile, and we are happy, but we are focused. Everybody says that you can't win them all, but I'd sure like to prove that theory wrong. Eleven is great, but we want 23."
The 2012 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season kicks off Feb. 9-12 at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona with the 52nd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries. Click here to get your tickets.