INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- While still savoring his victory in the most recent event in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series and contemplating next week's 49th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Gary Densham confirmed Thursday that he is making plans to...
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- While still savoring his victory in the most recent event in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series and contemplating next week's 49th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, Gary Densham confirmed Thursday that he is making plans to field an independent Funny Car team next season apart from the John Force Racing operation for which he has driven the last three years.
A tough economic market and questions about whether the Force team will consist of two, three or four cars next season has put the 56-year-old veteran in a position in which he feels it necessary to explore options that will insure his continued full-time participation in the series.
Although a final determination has not been made, Densham said he is making plans to compete for the 2004 championship in his own race car, something he did for 29 seasons prior to joining Force Racing in March, 2001.
"John and I have been friends for the last 30 years," Densham said, "and we'll be friends for the next 30. But he has a lot of masters to satisfy and a whole lot of bills to pay. He has to look out for his future and, by same token, I have to look out for mine.
"Nothing's carved in stone, but you have to plan ahead in this sport," Densham said. "So I've been talking to people who've helped me in the past and we're trying to put together a package that will keep us competitive. For both of us, this is a business decision. Nothing more."
Densham, who nine years ago took a leave of absence from his job as an auto shop teacher at Gahr High School in Cerritos, Calif., to pursue a second career in drag racing, presently is in the process of putting together a sponsorship package that will allow him to run the entire 23-race NHRA series in 2004.
"At this point, we don't have adequate funding for 2004," Densham said, "but I'm confident we can put something together."
"Gary is a great race car driver and a good friend," Force said. "He's been great for this race team and, while he may wind up running his own team next year, he'll always be part of the John Force Racing family.
"Right know, I don't know which way we're going (for next season). There are some sponsor issues. People keep asking me about a fourth car and, bottom line, that's not a reality and the third car still needs more funding."
In addition to sponsorship concerns and a volatile economic climate, Force is in the process of expanding his primary race shop in Yorba Linda, Calif. Moreover, he soon is expected to break ground on a 40,000 square foot satellite shop in Brownsburg, Ind., just down the road from Indianapolis Raceway Park, site of the Nationals.
More than most, Densham understands the sport's financial requirements.
Although each of his six career wins has come in a Force Racing Ford, the Bellflower, Calif., resident went to the final round six times at the wheel of his own cars and was a consistent Top 10 runner until the unexpected loss of part of his sponsor package threatened to sideline him for at least part of the 2001 season.
That's when he and Force first got together.
"When I came over here in 2001, it was because I lost a sponsor and it looked like I wouldn't be able to run the entire series," Densham said. "That made John's offer to drive one of the Fords too good to turn down.
"We were just going to run it maybe 10 times and then I was going to run my own car at the rest of the races but, fortunately, we were able to bring some additional sponsorship and turn it into a full-time deal.
"I've really enjoyed working with (Crew Chief) Jimmy Prock, who I think is a mechanical genius, and it's been fun racing on John's money, but there are things about running my own car that I've missed, too.
"I think I've always been pretty innovative and I've been a very hands-on type of racer and, you know, I think I've learned some things the last three years that I can apply to my own cars."
Force, who met Densham when the two were touring in Australia in 1974, has nothing but praise for the man who made it possible for him to achieve the success he has in drag racing.
"If Gary Densham hadn't taken me under his wing in 1974 and got me out of Australia, I'd still be there," he said. "I didn't know anything about racing except that I wanted to do it."