Brainerd: Gary Densham preview

Past success at Brainerd Raceway source of optimism for Densham Team Castrol driver tries to regain Ford that made him a contender BRAINERD, Minn. (August 15-17) 0x2022 Gary Densham could use a friendly face even if it's an inanimate ...

Past success at Brainerd Raceway source of optimism for Densham

Team Castrol driver tries to regain Ford that made him a contender

BRAINERD, Minn. (August 15-17) 0x2022 Gary Densham could use a friendly face even if it's an inanimate one.

Struggling with new car blues, Densham returns this week to the friendly confines of the one track in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series on which he need not just hope for success. He legitimately can expect it.

Brainerd International Raceway, site of this week's 22nd annual Lucas Oil Nationals, always has served up good things for the 56-year-old former high school auto shop teacher.

Even when he was running his own racing operation, before hooking up three years ago with John Force, drag racing's biggest winner, Densham always seemed to fare better at BIR than at other tour stops.

It's the first track on which the journeyman driver ever reached the final round and it's the track on which he most often has raced for the Funny Car championship (1994, 1995, 2002).

So, where better to return the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang to the form that propelled it into the points lead earlier in the season?

After setting four track speed records, claiming a pair of Budweiser No. 1 qualifying bonuses, winning the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., and briefly leading the POWERade point standings, Densham's effort suddenly has gone flat.

Since making a chassis change to start the just completed Western Swing, the five-time tour winner has not even managed to break the 5.00 second or 300 mile-an-hour barriers. Moreover, he hasn't won a single round of racing, hasn't qualified higher than ninth and, two weeks ago, suffered the ultimate indignity when he failed to make the starting field for the Fram/Autolite Nationals at Sonoma, Calif.

"It's been all bad," Densham said.  "We were cruising along there,
setting records, winning races.  Then we got this new car...."

Built by McKinney Corporation in Otterbein, Ind., the new chassis is identical in design to the one in which Tony Pedregon dominated the series at the end of the 2002 season and into 2003; the same one in which John Force this year lowered the NHRA national record to 4.721 seconds at Joliet, Ill.

For Densham and Crew Chief Jimmy Prock, however, the transition hasn't worked out quite as well 0x2022 and neither understands exactly why.

"I'm beginning to think there's something to the 'Plueger Curse," Densham joked, referring to a malady first identified by Force. Until this season, Force exclusively had driven cars built by friend Steve Plueger. The only time he opted for a car built at another shop, he crashed it the first weekend at Pomona Calif. He was back in a Plueger car the next week.

This year, when he made the move to a McKinney car, Force was winless in the season's first 12 races, unprecedented for one who has won 108 times on the tour and claimed 10 consecutive championships.

So, when Densham stumbled after making the conversion to McKinney pipe at last month's Mile-High Nationals, he wondered aloud if Force hadn't passed "the curse" on to him.

"I know there's no curse," Densham laughed, "but you want to place the blame somewhere and we just haven't been able to figure it out. Jimmy'll find the answer, though."

-jfr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Densham