Denshan, Force Racing gain sponsor

Auto Club will sponsor Team Force, including Densham in third Mustang, Gary Densham, who 27 years ago took an aspiring but naive young drag racer named John Force into his confidence and provided him with the rudiments necessary for future ...

Auto Club will sponsor Team Force, including Densham in third Mustang,

Gary Densham, who 27 years ago took an aspiring but naive young drag racer named John Force into his confidence and provided him with the rudiments necessary for future success, has been named driver of the newest vehicle in the John Force Racing fleet.

Densham, 54, a former schoolteacher from Bellflower, Calif., officially was confirmed as Force's newest Ford teammate on Wednesday. He will make his debut in a Force-owned Ford Mustang at the 32nd annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, March 16-18, at Gainesville, Fla.

Backed by crew chief Jimmy Prock and a team-in-training, Densham will drive the Steve Pleuger-built Ford for the first time, March 8-11, in a test session at Houston Raceway Park that also will include Force's Castrol GTX Mustang, the world's fastest Funny Car (324.05 mph) and the Castrol Syntec Mustang driven by Tony Pedregon, the world's quickest Funny Car (4.779 seconds).

While the third car originally was to have run only a limited schedule and operated primarily as a training vehicle for Prock and members of a crew that ultimately will make the transition to Top Fuel, Densham's involvement has interjected a new element.

The Gatornationals also will mark the debut of Auto Club sponsorship on all three cars fielded by Team Force for the remainder of the 2001 NHRA season.

According to Force, it became clear during negotiations that the Automobile Club of Southern California, which has helped fund Densham's racing effort the last four years, was interested in more than just a research-and-development program.

The upshot is that the Auto Club has opted to expand its existing alliance with John Force Racing and support a program that, with the acquisition of a major sponsor, will allow Densham to compete in the remaining events in the NHRA Winston Series while also continuing to spearhead the Auto Club's Youth and Education program.

Densham, the Auto Club's chief spokesperson for its youth and education program, and Pedregon, who has served for three years as the organization's Hispanic spokesperson, together made more than 60 presentations to more than 6,000 students during the 2000 season, and this year will be joined by Force, the 10-time and reigning NHRA Winston Funny Car champion., at selected career fairs and special events.

The Force-Densham relationship dates to 1974 when both were in Australia on tour. Densham already was a seasoned veteran but Force, in competition for the first time, was completely new to the intricacies of racing a car professionally.

"Densham took me under his wing and got me through it," Force said. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here because I probably wouldn't have made it back from Australia. But that's not why I hired him. I hired him because he's a good driver and because he can help Prock teach these new guys how to race."

Indeed, the primary reason Force cited for the third team was to train new crew members, both to work on John Force Racing's existing Funny Cars and on the coming Top Fuel dragster.

"The dragster's coming," Force said. "Our original plan was to run for the (Winston Top Fuel) championship in 2002. That's still our plan. We were going to test the dragster this season to get ready for next year. And that's still what we're planning to do. The only thing that's changed is that the dragster won't be ready as quick as we thought."

Densham, who has three Winston Top 10 finishes to his credit (9th in 1995, 10th in 1996 and 1997), still is seeking his first tour victory. He's been runner-up six times in his career -- three times to Force (1994 and 1995 at Brainerd, Minn.,1996 at Englishtown, N.J.) and once to Pedregon, to whom he lost in the final round of the 1999 AutoZone Winternationals at Pomona, Calif.

"Combining our efforts with those of John Force Racing presents the Auto Club with an outstanding opportunity to both increase our brand awareness and enhance our youth and education programs," said Thomas V. McKernan Jr., president and CEO of the Automobile Club of Southern California. "Gary Densham has served us well in this capacity, as has Tony Pedregon, who has done a wonderful job complementing Gary's efforts to broaden our programs so successfully.

"This is a win-win situation," McKernan said. "Putting John Force in the mix adds greater depth and excitement to our outreach programs. At the same time, Force Racing adds an outstanding driver and sportsman to the team and Gary receives the best opportunity of his career to achieve his dream of winning an NHRA national event. We're looking forward to a great partnership."

-dm-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Densham