Indianapolis: Gary Densham U. S. Nationals preview

Densham's racing 'wish list' gets shorter this week at Indy CLERMONT, Ind. Gary Densham's drag racing "wish list" gets shorter and shorter. Since coming on board last year as driver of the third of the John Force Racing Ford Mustangs, the...

Densham's racing 'wish list' gets shorter this week at Indy

CLERMONT, Ind. Gary Densham's drag racing "wish list" gets shorter and shorter.

Since coming on board last year as driver of the third of the John Force Racing Ford Mustangs, the former high school auto shop teacher has (1) claimed his first Budweiser No. 1 qualifier bonus; (2) won his first NHRA national event; (3) set the national speed record for the first time (326.87 miles per hour); and (4) led the NHRA POWERade point standings.

This week (Aug. 29-Sept. 2), he can scratch one more item from that list when he makes his debut as an "A" list invitee to the Car Craft Magazine All-Star Banquet, a prelude to Monday's 48th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

In addition to the Car Craft gala, which will introduce members of the 35th anniversary All-Star Team, Densham for the first time is considered a legitimate contender not only in the U.S. Nationals but in the companion Budweiser Shootout.

"Sometimes I think I'm dreaming," admitted the Bellflower, Calif., pro, "but if it turns out (that) I am, don't wake me up. I'm having too much fun."

Indeed, Densham has come into his own with Force Racing , the drag racing juggernaut for whom he now has won four times in less than one year at the wheel of the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Mustang.

While the victories are gratifying, especially to a journeyman like Densham, who didn't win in his first 245 races, it's the veteran's qualifying performance that has most impressed the skeptics. Not only has he made the starting field in all 16 races this season, he's qualified in the quick eight 14 times and twice has started from No. 1 (at Gainesville, Fla., and Atlanta).

In fact, it's because of his newfound qualifying consistency that he's racing for only the third time in the "Shootout," an elite eight-car preliminary which pays a winner's purse of $100,000. Only eight drivers make the field and they do so based on qualifying performance at the 23 events immediately preceding the U.S. Nationals.

In contrast to Densham, whose only previous "Shootout" experience came in 1996 and 1997, Force is making his 19th appearance and Austin Coil, Force's Crew Chief, will have a car in the field for the 21st time every year that the race has been contested.

"When I was running my own car, I didn't worry about the Big Bud Shootout," Densham said. "It was just a dream. When we finally made the field in '96, that was a major accomplishment. Now, though, I think we really have a shot at winning it."

He also never gave much thought to the Car Craft All-Star Team, whose newest members will be revealed Thursday night at the Indianapolis Downtown Marriott.

Nevertheless, he's a finalist this year along with Force (who has made the team 11 straight times), Whit Bazemore and Del Worsham.

Despite all the distractions, Densham hasn't lost sight of the primary goal, which is to win the biggest, richest and most prestigious drag race in the world.

He believes that this year, he has a race car, Crew Chief and crew capable of making it happen, especially after testing last week at 4.777 seconds.

That's even quicker than the 4.797 he ran in qualifying No. 2 at last year's Nationals, an event in which he previously had failed to make the field (eight times) more often than he had made it (six times).

The only Funny Car driver to break 4.80 in testing, Densham remains one of only two ever to have broken that barrier at IRP. Bazemore, whose best test effort was 4.85, remains the track record holder at 4.756 seconds.

www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , Gary Densham , Austin Coil