Richmond: Gary Densham preview

Track record-holder expects strong performance at Atlanta. Densham tries to transform qualifying success into victory. COMMERCE, Ga. (May 2-4) -- Gary Densham might not seem like the trendy type, but there is one trend on which the 56-year-old...

Track record-holder expects strong performance at Atlanta.
Densham tries to transform qualifying success into victory.

COMMERCE, Ga. (May 2-4) -- Gary Densham might not seem like the trendy type, but there is one trend on which the 56-year-old former auto shop teacher is banking this week as the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing series moves to Atlanta Dragway for the 23rd annual Summit Racing Southern Nationals.

While it's true that none of Densham's five career Funny Car victories has come from a No. 1 start, it's also true that, to date, whenever the veteran has qualified the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang No. 1 one year, he's come back the following year to reach the finals.

That's why he's so anxious to get back to Atlanta, the track on which he started last year's Southern Nationals from the No. 1 spot by posting a track record time of 4.808 seconds.

"No. 1 is supposed to be a good thing," Densham joked, "but we haven't been able to make it pay off until a year later. But that's okay. If it's there, we'll take it."

The unusual trend first manifested itself last year at Bristol, Tenn., where Densham reached the final round of the Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals after qualifying No. 1 at the same event the previous year, the first time in his career that he had earned the $4,000 No. 1 qualifier bonus posted by Budweiser.

Last year, he qualified No.1 for the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla. This year, he won the race.

Which brings him to Atlanta, a track on which he historically has qualified well but on which he never has advanced beyond the semifinal round.

He hopes to end that drought this week at the wheel of the world's fastest full- bodied race car, a Mustang that twice has reached 326 miles per hour, most recently at the SummitRacing.com Nationals last month at Las Vegas.

"We've got one fast hot rod," Densham said. "(Crew Chief) Jimmy Prock is a wizard and that becomes clearer week-by-week.

"Last year, we had a fast car but it wasn't consistent. This year, we've been fast everywhere we've gone and that's more fun for all of us. That's what you have to have to win a POWERade championship."

After leading the Funny Car points earlier in the season (for only the second time in his 30-year driving career), Densham comes into the Southern Nationals in fourth place behind teammate Tony Pedregon, Whit Bazemore and Del Worsham.

"Every race, this team gets better," Densham said. "A lot of it is Jimmy getting used to running Funny Cars, which he'd never done as a Crew Chief before, but a lot more of it is just the whole team gelling together. We've got a lot of guys on our team who never even worked on a race car before (they came here), but they listened and learned and now they're part of something special."

One of the exceptions is Eric Lane, Prock's right hand man. A product of a California technical school with which Densham was affiliated, Lane worked on the crew that prepared and maintained the car that Gary ran independently before he joined Team Castrol and Force Racing in 2001.

-www.johnforceracing.com

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Gary Densham