Odd man out in the points race, Densham seeks solace at The Strip. LAS VEGAS, Nev. His series championship hopes may be at an end, but Gary Densham won't be without motivation this week (Oct. 25-27) when he drives the Team Castrol/Automobile...
Odd man out in the points race, Densham seeks solace at The Strip.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. His series championship hopes may be at an end, but Gary Densham won't be without motivation this week (Oct. 25-27) when he drives the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang in the second annual AC/Delco Las Vegas Nationals.
While teammates John Force and Tony Pedregon go toe-to-toe in a battle to determine who will win the 2002 POWERade Championship, Densham will try to become the first pro driver to earn a season sweep of events at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where he won the SummitRacing.com Nationals last April.
Furthermore, he is determined to regain the No. 3 position he lost to Del Worsham two weeks ago.
"It'd be kinda neat to finish 1-2-3," Densham said, "but really our motivation is to show everyone that what we did early in the season wasn't just a fluke.
"We've had some problems the last couple months and we just haven't performed like we know we can. We were in the hunt with John and then we started losing first round races, blowing up parts, running over cones. It was all bad."
In the season's first 10 races, the former high school auto shop teacher put his Auto Club entry on the "pole" two times, won twice, was runner-up in a third race, posted top speed of the meet six times and was ousted in the first round just once. Moreover, he raised the official NHRA Funny Car speed record to its current 326.87 miles per hour.
As a result, when he won at Englishtown, N.J., on May 19, Densham moved around Force and into the points lead for the first time in his 20 years on the NHRA tour.
However, in the next 10 races, he had no No. 1 starts, only one final round appearance (losing to Force at Brainerd, Minn.), no top speed awards and five first round exits.
The upshot is that he was passed first by Force (after leading for four events), then by Pedregon and finally by Worsham. Ironically, he lost the position to Worsham in an event that may finally have signaled a turnaround.
Two weeks ago, racing at the Texas Motorplex, Densham finally recaptured that early season form. After qualifying sixth, he ran 4.828 and 4.802 (quick time of eliminations) to reach the semifinals. Moreover, he was clocked at 322 mph, the first time his blue-and-white hybrid had been over 320 since May.
Unfortunately, his day ended in the semifinals when one of the two magnetos that fire the engine failed on the burnout prior to his match with Bruce Sarver. As a result, he could do nothing but watch as Worsham won the race championship and moved into third place, 32 points ahead of Densham.
A four-time tour winner, all since coming on board last season as driver of a third Team Castrol Mustang, Densham already is assured of his highest career finish. Until last year, he never had finished higher than ninth in driver points. After winning two times in 2001, he finished eighth.
Still, after leading the points and after occupying a top three spot throughout most of the year, the 55-year-old veteran isn't likely to be satisfied with sixth or seventh. Probably not even fourth.
"We'd like to get back to three," he said.
A strong showing at Vegas just might make that possible.
DENSHAM at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway..
*Won the Funny Car championship last spring at the SummitRacing.com Nationals, one of two tour victories this season.
*Failed to qualify for last year's inaugural AC/Delco Las Vegas Nationals after posting a "best" of just 5.925 seconds at 156.88 mph.
*The only driver other than John Force to have led the POWERade point standings this year.
*Four-time NHRA tour winner, all since joining Force Racing in 2001.
*NHRA national speed record holder in the Funny Car division 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.
*Already has set a personal record for rounds won in a single season. After winning 21 rounds in his first year with John Force Racing, has won 30 rounds already this year.
DID YOU KNOW:
Gary 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....Gary this year became just the 14th different driver to lead the Funny Car point standings over the last 13 years....when he's not driving the Team Castrol/Auto Club Ford, Gary spends his weekdays talking to student groups on behalf of the Automobile Club of Southern California and his weekends racing a Alcohol Funny Car with his son Steven, 20...Gary still is on pace to set a pair of personal records this season. He never has qualified for EVERY event in a season and he never has qualified for more than 23 consecutive races. If he can qualify his Auto Club Mustang at Las Vegas and at the season finale at Pomona, Calif.,will have qualified for 24 consecutive events and for all the races this season....For 29 years, Gary was the auto shop teacher at Gahr High School in Cerritos, Calif., during which time he ran as a Funny Car independent using current and former students as crew members. He took a leave of absence in 1999 to pursue his "other" career.