Englishtown: Gary Densham preview

Densham defends title at Raceway Park. Veteran tries to win back-to-back for first time in career ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (May 16-18) -- When Gary Densham rolls to the starting line Friday for the first round of qualifying leading up to Sunday's 34th...

Densham defends title at Raceway Park.
Veteran tries to win back-to-back for first time in career

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. (May 16-18) -- When Gary Densham rolls to the starting line Friday for the first round of qualifying leading up to Sunday's 34th annual K&N Filters SuperNationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, he'll do so in a Funny Car carrying more weight than any he ever has driven.

Fortunately for Densham, the added bulk is purely figurative, reflecting his growing stature as one of the Funny Car heavyweights in the 23-race NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

The defending SuperNationals champion, Densham has done little this season to damage his growing reputation as a legitimate title contender.

Presently fourth in POWERade points, he has a win, a runner-up and a trio of track records to show for his 2003 efforts at the wheel of the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang in which he twice has exceeded 326 miles per hour.

He acceerated to 326.56 mph earlier this year at Las Vegas, Nev., second only to his NHRA national record speed of 326.87 mph.

"When you're the defending champion, especially in a race like this one, there's no doubt that you get more respect," Densham said, "but when you're driving a John Force Racing Ford with a Jimmy Prock tune-up, you get respect everywhere you go. Everyone knows that we've got one real fast hot rod."

Since coming on board as driver of the third of the Force Racing Mustangs, Densham has won five times, most recently last March at Gainesville, Fla.

Nevertheless, it wasn't until he prevailed in last year's SuperNationals that the 56-year-old Californian began to attract attention as anything more than a novelty,

Before he came on board with Force Racing, a winless Densham was best known as the "world's fastest schoolteacher," a moniker reflecting his 29 years of service as an auto shop teacher at Gahr High School in Cerritos, Calif.

After joining the Force Racing effort in 2001, Densham distinguished himself primarily by ending a career-long victory drought with a win at Memphis, Tenn.

However, it was his SuperNationals victory that finally stamped him as one of the elite because it boosted him into the points lead for the first time in his career.

"I always thought, even when I was running my own car, that one day I'd win a race," Densham said, "but I never imagined that there would be a time when I would lead the points."

Actually, Densham led for four races before yielding to Force, who went on to win the championship for an unprecedented 10th consecutive season. Densham ultimately finished fourth in points, a career best.

"We had a little slump," Densham said, "and it cost us. To be successful at this level with this kind of competition, you have to be on your game every week. You can't afford a letdown. Our goal this year is to improve at those tracks where we had problems last year."

Of course, that doesn't mean the team wants to give anything back on the track's on which it excelled a year ago.

"I've had a lot of firsts since I hooked up with Force," Densham said, "but I've never repeated. Maybe this is the week."

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Gary Densham