Sonoma: Gary Densham preview

Auto Club Ford Aims for Second Win of 2004 Season SONOMA, Calif. (July 30-Aug. 1) -- Gary Densham used to love traveling to the Bay Area where, at places like Sacramento, Fremont and Half Moon Bay, he honed the skills that have made him one...

Auto Club Ford Aims for Second Win of 2004 Season

SONOMA, Calif. (July 30-Aug. 1) -- Gary Densham used to love traveling to the Bay Area where, at places like Sacramento, Fremont and Half Moon Bay, he honed the skills that have made him one of the most respected Funny Car drivers in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Lately, though, the driver of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford, one of the three Mustangs in the John Force Racing stable, hasn't found the trip quite as enjoyable as it once was.

In fact, it is with considerable trepidation that Densham returns this week to Infineon Raceway, the Bay Area's new performance showplace, for the 17th renewal of the Fram/Autolite Nationals.

Facing the potential of being eliminated as a serious contender for the 2004 POWERade Championship and its accompanying $400,000 bonus, Densham now is faced with the daunting task of having to win rounds this week on a track on which he has had little previous success.

     A non-qualifier two of the last three seasons, Densham hasn't advanced beyond
the second round in 13 previous appearances at Infineon.  He's won just three rounds.

That's in direct contrast to his early Bay Area racing memories.

"We always had a lot of great fans up in the Bay Area," Densham recalled. "We used to run the Governor's Cup and the Fox Hunt at Sacramento, all the 16-car and 32- car Funny Car shows at Fremont. Those were pretty good old drag strips for their time.

"Now, they're either gone or haven't changed. But it was great growing up in that era. (The Bay Area) was the first place I started traveling out of the L.A. area. We used to do really well at Sacramento; won an awful lot of races there. I think we won the Governor's Cup two or three years in a row, the New Year's Day race, the Fox Hunt."

It was an era in which Densham built, drove and financed his own Funny Cars. Since he was employed full-time as the auto shop teacher at Gahr High School in Cerritos, Calif., he confined his early racing to tracks within easy driving distance.

That was doubly important for the simple reason that, for the first 20 years of his career, his crew was made up almost entirely of students and former students.

Lately, though, when Densham has made the trip north, it hasn't been for pleasure. Even given the resources of John Force Racing, the team for which he has driven the last four seasons, Densham has struggled. A non-qualifier in 2001 and 2003, he lost in the first round in 2002.

"For whatever reason, we haven't done real well at Sonoma. They've made it into a beautiful facility but, when it first got going, it was just kind of an afterthought to the road course. Now its one of the premier stops on the tour."

- www.johnforceracing.com

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Densham