Joliet: Gary Densham preview

Densham opts for improvement at Lucas Oil Route 66 Nationals Semifinal finish last year best ever for Team Castrol driver JOLIET, Ill. (May 30-June 1) 0x2022 Gary Densham tries to get back up to speed, literally, this week when the NHRA...

Densham opts for improvement at Lucas Oil Route 66 Nationals

Semifinal finish last year best ever for Team Castrol driver

JOLIET, Ill. (May 30-June 1) 0x2022 Gary Densham tries to get back up to speed, literally, this week when the NHRA POWERade tour returns to Route 66 Raceway for the sixth renewal of the Lucas Oil Nationals.

The national record holder for Funny Car speed at 326.87 miles per hour, Densham has struggled at Route 66, failing to get the Team Castrol/automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang anywhere near 320 mph (a 314.31 mph best) in seven previous appearances .

Now that may not seem that slow by most standards, but for Densham and Crew Chief Jimmy Prock, it's downright pedestrian.

"When the speed's down like that," Densham said, "it just means that the car wasn't running like it should. But Jimmy'll fix it."

However, the timing on that fix could be critical.

Although he is third in the current POWERade points race (after leading earlier in the season), Densham is dangerously close to losing contact with the points leaders. He comes in 260 points back of his pacesetting teammate, Tony Pedregon, and 166 points behind second place Whit Bazemore.

"They're running away from the rest of us right now," he said, "but there's still time."

Nevertheless, there's more at stake here than just points.

Over the last two races, Densham's status as Funny Car racing's undisputed "King of Speed" has been seriously challenged first by former NHRA Top Fuel Champion Gary Scelzi and, more recently, by Bazemore.

Scelzi, driving a Funny Car this year for Don Schumacher Racing as a teammate to Bazemore, actually posted the fastest speed in history two weeks ago at Englishtown, N.J., when he was clocked at 326.95 mph, a speed not certified as an official record because he was unable to provide the required one per cent back up run.

Bazemore reached 326.48 mph last week at Topeka, Kan., before being turned back by Pedregon in the final.

Before the emergence of the two Dodges, Densham and his flying Ford had the high speed arena virtually to themselves on the strength of track records this year at Las Vegas (326.56 mph), Houston (325.69 mph) and Bristol, Tenn. (325.06 mph).

And while there are no bonus points for being the fastest on the block, Densham has grown fond of being the world's fastest Funny Car driver. He doesn't want to go back to being just the "world's fastest schoolteacher," an allusion to his 29 years as an auto shop teacher at Gahr High School in Cerritos, Calif.

The 56-year-old resident of Bellflower, Calif., does have a foundation on which to build.

He's coming off a semifinal finish last week at Topeka and, in last year's Lucas Oil Nationals, he advanced to the semifinals, the only two rounds of racing he has won in his entire career at Route 66 Raceway.

"You've got to start somewhere," Densham mused. "I guess considering how we did here before, that's kinda like being on a roll."

DID YOU KNOW: Gary is the NHRA national record holder for Funny car speed at 326.87 mph, a mark he established 18 months ago at Pomona, Calif....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....last year, Gary became just the 14th different driver to lead the Funny Car point standings over the last 13 years. He led the standings for the second time in his career after winning the Mac Tools Gatornationals earlier this year at Gainesville, Fla ....Gary speaks to more than 60 student groups each year on behalf of the Automobile Club of Southern California, encouraging goal-setting and safe driving and detailing the number of careers available in the automotive field....Gary's 20-year-old son, Steven, a former Jr. Dragster champion, is licensed to compete in the Top Alcohol Funny Car division....Gary won his first NHRA national event on his 245th attempt, beating his boss, John Force, in the final round of the 2001 Mid-South Nationals at Memphis, Tenn.

-jfr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Scelzi , Gary Densham , Don Schumacher