Denver: Gary Densham preview

Densham tries to regain lead at Mopar Mile-High Nationals. MORRISON, Colo. Now that Gary Densham has lost the POWERade points lead to teammate John Force, one might expect the former auto shop teacher to simply savor his "15 minutes of fame" and...

Densham tries to regain lead at Mopar Mile-High Nationals.

MORRISON, Colo. Now that Gary Densham has lost the POWERade points lead to teammate John Force, one might expect the former auto shop teacher to simply savor his "15 minutes of fame" and fade into the shadows.

After all, he freely has admitted that while he always believed he could win races on the NHRA pro tour, never in his wildest imagination did he think he would ascend to the top of the Funny Car point standings as he did after driving his Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang to a May 19 victory at Englishtown, N.J.

"It's been all good," Densham said of a dream season which continues this week (July 19-21) at Bandimere Speedway where he will compete in the 23rd annual Mopar Parts Mile-High Nationals.

In fact, in the season's first 12 races, Densham went to the finals three times, won twice, claimed two Budweiser No. 1 qualifying awards, set the NHRA national speed record (at 326.87 miles per hour) and was the only driver other than Force to lead the points, which he did for four consecutive races.

That isn't the resume of one who is likely to slip immediately into high speed obscurity.

"We're not going to just go away," acknowledged 55-year-old journeyman who, for 30 years, raced Funny Cars in relative obscurity. "The championship isn't going to be decided until November and we definitely expect to be there at the end.

"If we don't win, it won't be from lack of trying, I'll promise you that," Densham said.

"John has given us all the resources we need to win, but this class is so tough right now that anybody can get to the winners' circle. Consistency is the important thing and that's the difference between last year (when he won the first two races of his career) and this year.

"Last year, we had a good hot rod but we weren't consistent," Densham said. "This year, even when we've struggled, we've found a way to go rounds and win points."

The best example of that newfound consistency was his performance at Bristol, Tenn., where he qualified only 16th but managed to get his Mustang to the final round before losing to Whit Bazemore

"That was probably a turning point," Densham said, "because I think theat we finally proved to ourselves that we could win even without our 'A' game. With (Crew Chief) Jimmy Prock's ability, we're never out of it."

Densham further benefits from the fact that he does not stand in awe of Force, despite his teammate's 101 tour victories and 11 championships.

"You've got to remember that John and I met back when he didn't even know the firing order," Densham laughed. "When we were on tour together in Australia (1974), I was more worried about whether he was going to survive than whether he was going to win.

"So I have a little different perspective than the other guys. Don't get me wrong, it's amazing what he's accomplished. But we've been friends for almost 30 years so I don't see him as some kind of superhuman guy. He's just John."

In fact, Densham beat Force to win his first two tour events. He nudged him by an indiscernible .045 of a second in the final round last year at Memphis, Tenn., and, a month later, beat him by an even narrower .006 of a second in the finals at Ennis, Texas.

"There's a lot of racing left," acknowledged the Bandimere Speedway record holder. "No matter what happens, though, it'll be fun. I've always said a bad day racing is better than a good day doing almost anything else."

DENSHAM at the Mopar Mile-High Nationals....

*Never has failed to qualify for the Mile-High Nationals, a streak that he can extend to 16 races this week.

*Bandimere Speedway is one of only two tracks on which Densham has a perfect qualifying record. The other is Brainerd International Raceway.

*Is the Bandimere Speedway track record holder for Funny Car speed at 312.78 mph, a mark he established last year.

DENSHAM Highlights....

*One of only two Funny Car drivers to have led the POWERade point standings this season.

*Four-time NHRA tour winner, all in the last 10 months.

*NHRA national FC speed record holder at 326.87 mph.

*Is only the fourth Funny Car driver in the last 13 seasons to have led the NHRA points for four consecutive events.

*If he wins just one round this week, will set a personal single season record. Until last year, the most rounds he had won in one year was 12 in 1995. He won 21 rounds last year, his first with TeamCastrol and John Force Racing. He already has won 21 rounds this year.

DID YOU KNOW:

Gary Densham went 245 races before winning for the first time....for 29 years, Gary was the auto shop teacher at Gahr High School in Cerritos, Calif., and for most of that time he campaigned a Funny Car with a crew comprised of current and former students....if he continues at his current pace, Gary will qualify to compete in the Budweiser Shootout, limited to the tour's top eight teams, for the first time in his career. He has earned two Budweiser qualifying bonuses this year as the No. 1 qualifier at Gainesville, Fla., in March, and at Atlanta, Ga., in April....Gary is just the 14th different driver to have led the Funny Car point standings over the last 13 years.

-www.johnforceracing.com

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Densham