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I had worked with Rob Downing the year I worked with Mark and I knew we would get along, and Jeff, I had known him from when I was at Warren’s. So I brought in those two and I brought in Jason and Joe full time and a couple of other part-time people and that is when it all took off. The chemistry was all of a sudden there and we went and won the championship and won 12 races last year. Hopefully, we’ll do better this year. Since we started this team it has gotten better and better, and hopefully it will continue. The chemistry is the main thing.

DRO: Jason got his first ride in your second car toward the end of last year. Was that part of the deal in him coming to work for you?

Anderson: That wasn’t part of the deal in the beginning. The only deal I had with Jason was that he would come over in the evenings two or three nights a week and dyno the engines. He was the head dyno operator at Gibbs, so that’s what he did and he was having a ball with it. He’s a drag racer; he’s not a round tracker but a drag racer. He had a great job over there, great opportunity. He had access to all this high-dollar equipment, a $2 million dyno he ran over there. It was a dream job. But he loved drag racing and he had raced door cars all of his life. Most people like that, their ambition or goal in life is to some day drive a Pro Stocker, just like your alcohol dragster driver someday wants to drive a Top Fuel dragster. The door car guys stay with the door car guys and the dragsters stay with the dragster guys.

He just never thought he would have an opportunity and when he came over here, well you know they do real well in the round-track world; they get paid a lot of money and drag racers just don’t have that budget. We just can’t go hire people away from Winston Cup teams by paying them more money.

So I didn’t steal Jason; I had to have him want to come over. We hadn’t really considered adding a second car yet, but we finished third in points and said, “You know what? For the last several years in a row no single-car team has won the championship. There’s Jeg’s two-car team, Warren’s two-car team, and so forth. Yates was the last one that did it, but even he had several sorta’ team cars helping him, if you’ll recall. No single-car team had done it recently, so we decided that maybe we needed a second car. So I offered Jason, if he were willing to leave Gibbs and come full time I couldn’t pay him as much or more than they were paying him, but I offered him the ride and that’s what it took. That was the carrot it took to get him out of there and over here full time.

That’s where it all started and the bottom line is the guy had already won Stock Eliminator championships and I’m a firm believer that if you can win in one class, you can win in another. There are people who seem to separate themselves from the pack and I was sure he could win in this class. It would just take him a little time to learn the ropes and get adjusted to the speed, but I knew eventually he would be a good driver.

DRO: But his debut race didn’t turn out so well …

Anderson: Yeah, we started it last year and his first race was Columbus in a brand-new racecar and we only had four or five test laps on it and we thrust him into the seat right away too early. We got to the worst racetrack we’ve ever raced on and he flips the car. It was just bad circumstances. It was our fault for putting him in the car, a brand-new untested car. It was NHRA’s fault for the track being that bad, and it was his fault for being inexperienced and not knowing he had to get out of it when he had a situation like that. He didn’t know you had to have a lot of respect for these things. He figured you could steer it out of anything, but you can’t. You don’t drive these things; they drive you.

It all ended up a catastrophe, but who knows? Maybe it will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to him because most people don’t get that lesson right away and they push it and push it until finally they do something and go over the edge.

DRO: Did you have any second thoughts about Jason then?
Anderson: None. It didn’t shake us up. We just went back and had another car built. We tested it better this time and we started at a track that we knew would be safe and a little slower for him and then we went to another good track and kinda’ eased him up this time. We only let him run four races so he would still be eligible for rookie of the year this season. We’re geared up for the full deal this year and we’ve progressed at every race with him, way ahead of schedule and he’s already winning.

DRO: Jason’s a big guy to be driving a racecar. Did that give you any concern?

Anderson: He is a big guy. When he came in he was 20 or 30 pounds heavier, but you need that weight in these cars for balance to move around. So he went on a diet right away and he did what it took and he got down in weight. If he wants it that bad, that showed me he'll do whatever it takes.

Part 2 coming July 23.

Previous INNERviews

Top Fuel Driver
Bob Vandergriff Jr.
— 6/8/04

Outlaw 10.5's Steve Kirk — 5/7/04


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