Densham Optimistic in Return to Track that has Yielded Little Auto Club Driver Confident in New 'Hot Weather' Tune-Up COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 11-13) -- After 15 years of frustration, Gary Densham finally won a round of racing last year at ...
Densham Optimistic in Return
to Track that has Yielded Little
Auto Club Driver Confident in New 'Hot Weather' Tune-Up
COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 11-13) -- After 15 years of frustration, Gary Densham finally won a round of racing last year at National Trail Raceway, site of this week's 40th annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals.
Of course, the former high school auto shop teacher's euphoria was short-lived. He was beaten in round two by then teammate Tony Pedregon, who went on to win the entire event.
Nevertheless, despite a less-than-stellar 1-10 record at National Trail, it is a surprisingly upbeat Densham who will climb behind the wheel of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang for the start of Funny Car qualifying on Friday.
Not that the barrel-chested 57-year-old isn't normally positive.
After all, his most often-repeated phrase is "a bad day drag racing is better than a good day doing almost anything else."
Still, the Pontiac Nationals had tested even his strong resolve.
"I think we got the monkey off our back last year," Densham said. "They say winning the first race is the hardest and as one who didn't win for 20 years, I'd have to say that's true. But we proved at Columbus that it's just as hard to win the first round as it is to win the first race.
"We came here 15 times and never got past first round. That's consistency, but it's really not the consistency you want."
Of course, Densham owes his optimism to more than one round win.
The Jimmy Prock-tuned Auto Club Ford may be the best Funny Car shut out of the winners' circle this year.
Like rookie teammate Eric Medlen, driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Mustang, Densham has been to the final round. Nevertheless, he remains winless nine races into the 2004 campaign.
However, like Medlen, he and Prock have been working feverishly on developing an engine/clutch combination only marginally affected by the kind of hot weather conditions racers customarily face for the first time at the Pontiac Nationals.
"I think we've got a car that'll run in the heat," Densham said, "and that's something that we haven't had the last three years.
"Jimmy's worked really hard to give us a hot rod for the heat and we're both pretty encouraged with what we have right now."
Indeed, Densham unloaded a 4.780 second quarter mile in the heat of the first round two weeks ago at Topeka, Kan., at the time the quickest effort of the event.
"This is the part of the season that really has hurt us (in points)," Densham said. "We got onto the hot racetracks and we just weren't able to deal with them. Now I think we can."
Densham has led the points once in each of the last two years. His bugaboo has bene a mid-season swoon which dropped him to fourth place in the 2002 standings and to fifth place at the end of last year.
"You've gotta get hot in the heat," said the six-time tour winner. "Otherwise you've got no chance (to win the championship)."