Four-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson’s preparations for the 2014 drag-racing season came to a screeching halt early this year due to heart surgery.
The Mooresville resident now has his sights set on his return.
“I’m not going to do it until the doctors say I’m ready, but I’m doing all I can to get my body ready,” said Anderson, 53, winner of 74 Pro Stock events. “I am certainly lobbying as hard as I can with the doctor to let me back in at 11 weeks instead of 12 weeks, because that gives me one more race.
“I’m not trying to risk my health, but I really feel that I am ready. I am shooting to come back for the Houston, Texas, race (April 25-27).”
After three years of monitoring Anderson’s heart, doctors came to the conclusion about a week before the 2014 season that the valve defect he was born with needed to be repaired.
An aneurysm had developed and doctors feared it would burst. When doctors began monitoring the aneurysm it hadn’t shown any enlargement until this year.
When Anderson was told a week before the 2014 NHRA season that he needed surgery, he described it as a “shock.” Then he told the doctor that wasn’t possible; he needed to wait until November, after the racing season.
“He looked at me like I had three heads,” Anderson said. “You feel indestructible as a racer. I wasn’t worried about my safety, my health or my life, which I’m a complete idiot for that. I was worried about missing races.”
By the time Anderson left the surgeon’s office, he was convinced the operation would be done in November; however, when Anderson arrived home and outlined the situation to his family, he was told emphatically he wasn’t waiting.
“I called (the doctor) back and he laughed and said, ‘That’s the only reason I agreed to it when you walked out of here was because I knew you’d be back in a day,’ ” Anderson said.
Dr. Liam Ryan replaced Anderson’s defective heart valve with a cow valve so he wouldn’t have to take a blood thinner, as required with an artificial valve, and could race. He also placed an inch-wide titanium plate on each side of his sternum to strengthen it and replaced the tube behind the valve.
Anderson spent a week in Charlotte’s Carolinas Medical Center. He lost a large amount of blood during the surgery and didn’t know his name for two days.
By the third day, Anderson’s condition began returning to normal. After his release from the hospital, he spent three race weekends on the couch at home watching NHRA drag racing on a computer, “which is very, very frustrating.”
“I’ve never done that before and I don’t like doing that,” Anderson said. “You are completely out of touch.
“The first month and a half was brutal. Not just because of the pain of the chest being split apart and all of the complications, but missing the races and not being in touch with the race team.
“It was a way bigger bite off than I ever thought it would be, but once I got past that first month and a half and I could start going to the (Summit Racing) shop, then it got a little bit better. Then when I was able to go to my first race at Las Vegas, it was like everything just felt normal again.”
That normality disappeared when he watched someone else drive his car. Then it was “another hit in the head” and “another shock.”
Anderson attended the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals earlier this month at zMAX Dragway and watched his substitute, Sweden’s Jimmy Alund, win his first NHRA event. That merely made Anderson more anxious to return to his ride.
“For the first time in my life I’ve had to sit on the sidelines, and it’s been tough,” Anderson said. “Now it’s time to get back in the car. When you’re a racer, you’re a racer and when you’re away from the racetrack, life isn’t right.”
East Lincoln schedules Relay for Life Night
East Lincoln Speedway has scheduled April 26 as its Relay for Life Night. Set to compete that night are Stock 4s, Super Stock 4, Renegades, Limited Sportsman, Late Model and Micro Sprints.