Millington: Gary Densham preview

'Defending Champion' new title for veteran funny car driver MEMPHIS, Tenn. Gary Densham has been called many things in his 30-year drag racing career; many more in his 28 years as a high school auto shop teacher. Not until this week, however,...

'Defending Champion' new title for veteran funny car driver

MEMPHIS, Tenn. Gary Densham has been called many things in his 30-year drag racing career; many more in his 28 years as a high school auto shop teacher. Not until this week, however, had anyone ever called him "defending champion."

It's a designation to which the 55-year-old veteran quickly could grow accustomed.

Densham returns this week (Sept. 20-22) to Memphis Motorsports Park where, just a year ago, he beat boss and teammate John Force to earn a breakthrough victory in the O'Reilly Auto Parts Mid-South Nationals.

As a result, this is the journeyman driver's first ever chance to repeat as champion of any event in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

"It's all good," Densham said of his return trip to a track which was one of his favorites even before he edged Force by a scant .045 of a second for his first tour victory in 28 professional seasons.

"When we won last year," Densham said, "we didn't have a dominant car. It was a good car, but it wasn't dominant. It was one of those deals where everything just fell into place including the final with John. We both smoked the tires and we were just fortunate enough to recover in time to get the win light.

"Last year, we didn't have high expectations when we came in.  This year,
we do.  So I guess that's the difference."

Indeed, Densham is among the Funny Car favorites at Memphis, a track on which he was runner-up to Gary Clapshaw in 1995 and one of only two on which he had won as many rounds of racing as he had lost prior to joining Force's Team Castrol effort three races into the 2001 season.

He set the NHRA national speed record for Funny Cars at 326.87 miles per hour last February at Pomona, Calif., led the point standings for the first time in his career (the only driver other than Force to have been No. 1 this season) and, at the annual Car Craft Magazine All-Star Banquet was named, along with Crew Chief Jimmy Prock, drag racing's Person of the Year for 2001-2002.

That's pretty heady stuff for a guy who went 245 races without once reaching the winners' circle.

If he hopes to earn his first repeat victory, however, Densham likely will have to outperform his teammates. In addition to Force, who has won a season high six races this year in pursuit of an unprecedented 10th consecutive NHRA Championship, he also will have to overcome Tony Pedregon, who last Monday drove his Castrol SYNTEC Ford to victory in the Lucas Oil Keystone Nationals at Reading, Pa.

"Right now, we're struggling a little bit," Densham said, "but Memphis has always been good to me, so I'm pretty excited to be the defending Funny Car Champion. Of course, that doesn't mean much over at Camp Force. We've got three bad hot rods over there. If we can win the family feud, I'd say we have a good chance of winning the race."

In addition to his two victories this year, Densham also has a pair of runner-up finishes. Nevertheless, he has been eliminated in the first round in four of his last eight starts and, as a result, has slipped to third in points behind Force and Pedregon.

The points leader for four races in mid-season, Densham now is clamoring to insure the best finish of his career. It's a viable goal. His best previous finish? Eighth, last year.

-www.johnforceracing.com

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