Baytown: Gary Densham preview

Densham hopes to end Houston drought. National Record-Holder Seeks First Career Win at Houston. BAYTOWN, Texas (April 11-13) -- He may not be Kid Rock or even George Strait, but there's no doubt that Gary Densham's spring tour, which...

Densham hopes to end Houston drought.

National Record-Holder Seeks First Career Win at Houston.

BAYTOWN, Texas (April 11-13) -- He may not be Kid Rock or even George Strait, but there's no doubt that Gary Densham's spring tour, which moves this week to Houston Raceway Park, is attracting as much attention as any other.

The Speed Thrills Tour, playing this year at 23 venues including L.A., Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle and St. Louis, features a barrel-chested former high school auto shop teacher (Densham), a bespectacled mad scientist (Jimmy Prock), lots of pyrotechnics and a hybrid race car (the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang) that's downright bad to the bone.

It's a simple show, really, the 21st Century equivalent of shooting a man out of a cannon.

Prock arms the Mustang with a supercharged 7,000 horsepower engine, crew members strap Densham inside and the 56-year-old lights the fuse.

The result? On two separate occasions, most recently at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Densham has accelerated from zero-to-326 miles per hour in only 440 yards, 1,320 feet, the length of a single city block. No one else has done that even once, at least not in a full-bodied car like the one Densham drives for car owner John Force.

Now, the resident of Bellflower, Calif., is focused on going even faster but only if it helps him achieve his primary goal, which is to win this week's 16th annual O'Reilly Spring Nationals and, ultimately, the NHRA POWERade Funny Car Championship.

Amazingly, both of those goals are within his reach 32 years after he first climbed behind the wheel of a race car. Currently second in POWERade points behind only teammate Tony Pedregon, Densham revels in his recurring role as Funny Car drag racing's "King of Speed."

However, being the first to reach 330 mph, the next major performance barrier, is not yet a blip on his radar screen.

"It's a long way from 326 to 330, I'll tell you that," Densham said, "but if there is a car out there that can do it and you'd have to have absolutely perfect conditions then I think with Jimmy Prock's magic, this one's the one."

The NHRA national record holder at 326.87 mph, a mark he established more than a year ago at Pomona, Calif., Densham was clocked at 326.56 mph last week in qualifying for a Las Vegas race in which he was ousted in the semifinals.

Given this week's expected weather conditions, the Houston track's sea level elevation and the recent performance of the Auto Club Ford, if nothing else Densham should eclipse Force's four-year-old track speed record of 321.88 mph.

What he really would like to do, though, is conclude his Houston show by joining Top Fuel and Pro Stock champions on the podium for one final curtain call. Such a result would be especially meaningful given the fact that he is 0-for-17 in previous appearances at HRP, having advanced no farther than the semifinals.

However, even if he doesn't earn his sixth tour victory, even if he misfires on the quest for 330 mph, the show will go on and, for Densham, the thrill won't be gone.

"Going fast," he said, "is flat fun."

In other words, speed thrills.

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Gary Densham