Memphis: Gary Densham preview

Team Castrol driver's first final round, first win came at Memphis MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Sept. 19-21) -- He may not be as big an Elvis fan as his boss, John Force, but Gary Densham has an affinity for Memphis that even Force can't match. ...

Team Castrol driver's first final round, first win came at Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Sept. 19-21) -- He may not be as big an Elvis fan as his boss, John Force, but Gary Densham has an affinity for Memphis that even Force can't match.

     "I love going (to Memphis Motorsports Park, site of this week's 16th annual
O'Reilly Mid-South Nationals)," Densham said.  "It's my favorite track."

It wasn't always so.

"I used to hate to go there in the middle of the summer (before the race was moved to its current fall date in 1997)," acknowledged the former high school auto shop teacher, "but you know, when you're a racer, you like the places where you do good and we've done pretty good at Memphis."

Indeed, two of the defining moments in Densham's 30-year career occurred at MMP, one of only three tracks in the NHRA series on which the 56-year-old veteran has won more rounds than he has lost (13-8).

"It's been said that my first final round was at Brainerd (Minn.)," Densham said, "but, really, it wasn't. My first final actually was at Memphis because they used to run (the Mid-South Nationals) before Brainerd."

After losing the 1995 Mid-South final to Gary Clapshaw, Densham came back to Memphis six years later to end a 244-race NHRA victory drought with a breakthrough win made the more memorable because it came at Force's expense.

"To win my first race against the guy who has won more races than anyone else, that made it all good," Densham said.

It wasn't easy, though. "The World's Fastest Schoolteacher" won in 5.070 seconds at 290 miles per hour; Force, winner of a record 108 tour events and 12 series championships for Castrol GTX®, trailed in 5.111 seconds at 283 mph.

The fact that Densham now has six victories to his credit, all at the wheel of the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, has done nothing to diminish the significance of that first win.

Nevertheless, he's hoping this week for one more Memphis milestone.

"It seems only right for Memphis to be the first place for me to win twice," he joked.

He may have a race car capable of helping him reach that goal.

After a mid-season swoon during which he followed four consecutive first round losses by failing even to qualify for the Aug. 3 Fram/Autolite Nationals at Sonoma, Calif., Densham has a victory and a semifinal finish to show for his last two starts.

That performance has lifted him from fifth to fourth place in POWERade points behind only his teammates (Force and Tony Pedregon) and Dodge driver Whit Bazemore.

Densham, who is making plans to field his own team next year, has won two races in each of his three seasons with Team Castrol and has led the point standings in each of the last two campaigns. He was fourth in points a year ago, the best finish of his career.

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- www.johnforceracing.com

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