JONESBOROUGH — When Greg Anderson arrived at Blackthorn Club at the Ridges on Thursday to take part in the NHRA Bristol Dragway Celebrity Golf Benefit, he did so with a new outlook on life.
Anderson, a grizzled veteran of the hypercompetitive Pro Stock division, is mired in 13th in the points standings and facing a fierce fight over the summer to qualify for the Countdown, the NHRA's version of the playoffs.
But on Thursday, Anderson was simply looking forward to swinging his golf clubs for the first time this year and preparing his mind for an enjoyable weekend at the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
Anderson's transformation started just days before the 2014 NHRA season was set to begin at Pomona.
Three years after being diagnosed with bicuspid aortic valve disease, the native of Duluth, Minn., showed up at his doctor's office for a routine CT scan that threw Anderson's professional life into turmoil. He needed immediate surgery to repair his aorta, which forced him to miss the first five races of the season.
"It finally got to the point when it got too big and they feared it bursting," Anderson said. "Timing wasn't good, but that was my fault. You feel invincible, you figure nothing is ever going to happen, and I was wrong."
In hindsight, Anderson wishes he had gone in for the scan the day after the 2013 season came to an end. But on the other hand, Anderson got the scan in the nick of time. When he woke up from the corrective surgery, Anderson said his doctor told him that his aorta had basically fallen apart during the procedure.
After pondering his own mortality, Anderson came to the realization that his family and his health should both come before racing, and he says that newfound balance has helped him in every facet of his life.
"It definitely gives you a real reality check and you realize what's important in life," Anderson said. "As racers, we think we're invincible and nothing matters in life but racing, but that puts it in perspective right there. I needed that check. I've got it now.
"I feel more positive when I come to the racetrack, I'm not as tense and I guarantee that's going to lead to more success."
As Anderson looks to climb back into the top 10 in the Pro Stock points standings, he knows he's in an uphill fight. The division is stacked deep with competitive teams, and making up ground isn't an easy task.
"The top 10 cars are race winning cars and everyone that's in that top 10 has won races," Anderson said. "Just to make that top 10 will be a He-Man challenge.
"For the first time in my career, I'm kind of thankful for the playoff," he continued. "Under the old system, I would have been out. Now I have a second chance. Anybody who gets in that playoff can win it."
But getting into the playoffs won't be enough for Anderson, a four-time Pro Stock world champion. Anderson is well aware he will need to pile up some wins in order to contend for his fifth title, and he figures Thunder Valley is a good place to pick up a victory.
"It's a tough road to hoe and it's going to take race wins," Anderson said. "I've got a better mindset than I've had in years, so that's going to help me."