Jason Line has been a pain in the back to teammate Greg Anderson this season, and Anderson is loving it.
"He's been cheating," Anderson said jokingly Thursday. "Doesn't he know he shouldn't beat the boss?"
Anderson, the reigning and four-time NHRA Pro Stock champion, has lost only two races this season. Both were against Line, who went on to win the first two titles of the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series season.
"I used to feel guilty when I beat him, because no one wants to win as much as he does," said Line, who won the championship in 2006, three years after Anderson hired him. "But I don't anymore. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best."
The two went toe to toe chiding each other after a news conference to promote the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which begin today with two pro qualifying sessions and Sportsman racing.
Anderson, 50, owns 65 titles to Line's 23, and Anderson has a 21-15 edge in their head-to-head matchups.
After two events this season, Line is first and Anderson second in the Pro Stock standings.
But they work and race like brothers, not adversaries.
Line and Anderson, who also manages KB Racing for team owner Ken Black of Las Vegas, have many reasons to savor their victories, no matter which of them wins, after the run of misfortune the team endured.
Black, a father figure to Anderson and Line, suffered a major stroke a little more than a year ago.
About a month after Black's stroke, Anderson's house near Charlotte, N.C., burned down.
Their luck began to swing late last season as Black's health improved -- he has almost fully recovered from his stroke -- and Anderson won three of the past five events, including the Las Vegas fall race, in which he beat Line in the final round.
But then, a few days after Anderson won the season championship Nov. 14 at Pomona, Calif., the transporter hauling his winning car back to Charlotte caught fire a few miles from the Southern California track, destroying the car.
"That was the car I won all those races with at the end of the year," Anderson said. "But I learned last year that you have to turn distractions into opportunities."
Line has also learned that lesson. He said he took too much for granted early in his career, before the off-track drama compounded the physical pain that he experienced in recent years.
The 41-year-old suffered pain and numbness in his legs as a result of spinal stenosis, a congenital narrowing of the spinal cord. He had outpatient surgery to fix the problem a month before the Feb. 24 season opener at Pomona.
But during testing at LVMS five days before the first Pomona qualifying session, Line was still unable to climb into his low-slung Pontiac. So Anderson drove his car.
"We didn't know if he'd be able to race at Pomona," Anderson said. "But he got better every day."
Line improved enough that he not only raced that week but eliminated Anderson in the Pomona semifinals. He ousted his teammate again two weeks later in the final round at Gainesville, Fla.
"I think about Ken all the time and what he went through to be able to get back to the track with us last year," Line said. "It made me appreciate being healthy. In the past, I took a lot of things for granted. I don't want to do that again."
Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0247.