Brainerd holds a special place in Densham's heart BRAINERD, Minn. (August 12, 2005) -- In Gary Densham's four decades of competitive Funny Car racing, no single racetrack has been as good to him as Brainerd International Raceway, the site of...
Brainerd holds a special place in Densham's heart
BRAINERD, Minn. (August 12, 2005) -- In Gary Densham's four decades of competitive Funny Car racing, no single racetrack has been as good to him as Brainerd International Raceway, the site of this weekend's 24th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals. Of Densham's 18 final-round appearances, four have come in the heart of Minnesota's vacationland, including his first ever final-round showing in 1994. Obviously, this track holds a special place in the former schoolteacher's heart, who now drives the Racebricks Chevrolet Monte Carlo.
"I love everything about this place," the 58-year-old legend said. "I'm a Southern California boy, but there has always been a special place in my heart for Brainerd. I love the people. They're always so nice to all of us. I love the setting of this racetrack and the surrounding area. I hear it's cold as hell in the winter, but when we're here it's perfect."
Working with his patchwork crew of his former students from Gahr High School in Bellflower, Calif., Densham advanced to his first-ever final in 1994 at BIR. His final-round opponent was none other than John Force, his longtime protege© who Densham had helped get his start in the sport in the late 1970s. By the time they raced for this trophy, Force had an established championship race team with big sponsors. Densham was still a weekend racer that taught classes during the week.
"It was a thrill," Densham said of the race, which Force ultimately won. "It was very satisfying to finally get a chance at a trophy after all those years. The guys were pumped even though we were all a bit surprised. Like the team I have now, we weren't short on hard work back then and it was very cool to be in the spotlight."
The following season the final repeated itself, with Force edging Densham and his obviously improved team (they'd already raced to two other finals that season.) Remarkably, the scene played out seven seasons later when Densham was driving for Force in his third team car. Once again, Densham took the loss, but by then his linage as a top-caliber racer was solidified.
Finally, in 2003, Densham ended race day in BIR's winner's circle after a convincing victory over Tim Wilkerson.
"It really cemented this place as one of my all-time favorites," Densham said. "There are so many good memories for us here and we'd love to make some more this weekend. Our cars running pretty well and the break between now and the last race really helped us regroup so we're ready to go."
ESPN2 will air all the racing this weekend. Qualifying can be seen at 6 p.m. (ET) on Saturday while the eliminations can be seen at 7 p.m. (ET) on Sunday. NHRA 2Day will start at 11:30 a.m. (ET) on Sunday.