Brainerd: Gary Densham preview

Densham fishing for answers at 21st Rugged Liner Nationals. BRAINERD, Minn. Like so many other summer visitors to the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," Gary Densham is going fishing. The difference is that the 55-year-old Densham and his fishing ...

Densham fishing for answers at 21st Rugged Liner Nationals.

BRAINERD, Minn. Like so many other summer visitors to the "Land of 10,000 Lakes," Gary Densham is going fishing.

The difference is that the 55-year-old Densham and his fishing buddy, Jimmy Prock, aren't going after walleye, trout, sturgeon, king salmon or even crappie.

When the two unload their rig here this week (Aug. 16-18), they'll be going after something even more elusive answers to perplexing performance problems that, in little more than a month, have sent Densham plummeting from atop the POWERade drag racing standings, to which he ascended for the first time in his 30-year career, to third place, 125 points off the pace.

It's not that the Densham-driven, Prock-tuned Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang has been performing poorly.

It's just that it's been erratic and inconsistent and, if the former high school auto shop teacher has any hope of chasing down teammate John Force for the $400,000 bonus that goes to the 2002 Funny Car Champion, things have to change.

That's why Densham is so looking forward to the start of the 21st annual Rugged Liner Nationals, the only event in the NHRA POWERade Series in which he had a winning record before he signed on last year to drive one of Force's 325 mile-an-hour Mustangs.

If fact, the veteran from Bellflower, Calif., might be returning as a two-time former champion at BIR had he not run up against Force in the final round in both 1994 and 1995.

"We always did pretty well at Brainerd," Densham said. "We raced John in the final those two years but I think we also went to the semifinals one year (1997) and hadsome close races in the early rounds a couple (of) other times. It's definitely one of my favorite stops on the tour."

Recent disappointments notwithstanding, Densham has enjoyed a spectacular 2002 season, his second with Force Racing and Prock.

After winning the first two races of his career last season, the barrel-chested journeyman has added two more wins this year (at Las Vegas and Englishtown, N.J.), set the NHRA national speed record for Funny Cars at 326.87 miles per hour and led the points for four consecutive events, the only driver other than Force to have led this year.

Nevertheless, his performance in the recent Western Swing, a mini-tour composed of events at Denver, Colo., Seattle, Wash., and Sonoma, Calif., yielded a pair of first round losses and a second round loss. If it had been a fish, Densham would have thrown it back.

In the season's first eight races, Densham twice qualified his Ford No. 1, won two times, was runner-up once, had the top speed at six events and posted a 15-6 record.

In the last seven races, he's failed to reach the finals, started no better than fourth, surrendered his "king of speed" title and gone 7-7 in head-to-head competition.

"We're going to get better," he said and history suggests he may be right. In addition to his past success at Brainerd, he has an impressive recent history in the other races that constitute the "stretch run" including the Labor Day Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, an event in which he qualified No. 2 last year and in which he is only one of two to have broken the 4.80 second barrier.

"This championship isn't over," Densham said. "All it takes is a couple of good races and we're right back in it. Of course, that applies to a lot of teams right now. I've always said a bad day racing is better than a good day doing almost anything else. A good day racing? Well, we're expecting to have a lot more of those, too."

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Gary Densham