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Greg Anderson left his hometown of Duluth in 1986, but he gets a chance to swell with pride every year when he returns to his “home track.”

Anderson used to take the two-hour drive to Brainerd International Raceway (BIR) as a teenager, with his father.

“It’s been special every time I’ve gone back there,” said Anderson, second in points in the NHRA’s pro stock division. “See all your family, friends and buddies and hang out. You got your own cheering section and it feels like you’re back home.”

The Lucas Oil Nationals make their 38th appearance at BIR starting Thursday.

Anderson, 58, said he senses “blood in the water,” looking to keep a recent string of successes alive in his home state.

“We’re starting to peak at the right time,” Anderson said in a phone interview. “We have two races left basically before the playoffs start.”

NHRA is still peppered with such legends as 70-year-old John Force in the Funny Car Division, fresh off his 150th career victory. After dealing with some mechanical issues with his car, Force has moved to second in the Funny Car standings.

“Like anything, setting records is what NHRA drag racing is all about,” Force said. “That’s what John Force Racing is all about. Good to get it. Good to get it out of the way. We’re running for a championship.”

Force especially loves the Brainerd course, estimating he’s won eight or nine times there in his career. Fans always pack the course while lining up for autographs, he said.

“For some reason, I’m good there,” Force said. “I can win. Let’s see if I can do it again.”

While Force is in second in his division, he knows the leader well: Robert Hight, his son-in-law. So there’s some extra motivation for Force to pass Hight.

“There’s a bunch of them lined up trying to get to the No. 2 spot,” Force said. “I don’t know if they’ll catch Robert or not. My mind-set is I want to get around him. He wants to stay in the lead, that’s what we’re paid to do.”

Both Anderson and Hight said the weather will play a huge factor, especially in Minnesota, where it fluctuates day-to-day. He expects four days of smooth racing, and is excited to see what that means in terms of the competition and times.

As for the actual track, Anderson said he expects the same high-quality course.

“It’s one of the best surfaces we race on throughout the year,” Anderson said. “A lot of the tracks, the surface itself isn’t that good. You struggle to get the proper traction and make proper runs. That’s never the case at Brainerd. They make improvements every year.”