Bristol: Gary Densham preview

Densham happily back 'home' in bid for Thunder Valley title. National record-holder hopes to take final step at Bristol BRISTOL, Tenn. (April 25-27) -- In two previous appearances in the Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals, the NHRA POWERade...

Densham happily back 'home' in bid for Thunder Valley title.
National record-holder hopes to take final step at Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn. (April 25-27) -- In two previous appearances in the Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals, the NHRA POWERade Series event contested again this week at Bristol Dragway, Gary Densham went from first to worst and from worst to, well, almost first.

In 2001, the 56-year-old former auto shop teacher went from the heights to the depths in 24 hours when he was upset in round one of the inaugural Thunder Valley Nationals just a day after qualifying No. 1 for the first time in his 30-year career.

Last year, he took a totally different tact, starting dead last in the 16-car field before driving the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang all the way to the finals.

Now, the veteran from Bellflower, Calif., is in the perfect position to prove or disprove the "third time's a charm" homily.

Presently second in POWERade Funny Car points behind teammate Tony Pedregon, Densham is looking for a Tennessee bookend for the tour title he earned two years ago at Memphis.

"Tennessee's been really good to me," Densham said. "We ran good at Memphis back when I had my own car and since I got with John (boss and teammate John Force), we've just kind of continued it. I won my first race at Memphis. I got my first Budweiser (No. 1) qualifying bonus here at Bristol. I've been to the finals as often in Tennessee (three times) as anywhere else we go."

Working with talented young tuner Jimmy Prock, Densham has been a threat at every race this season at the wheel of the blue-and-white Ford in which he set the NHRA national speed record of 326.87 miles per hour last year at Pomona, Calif.

He won earlier this year at Gainesville, Fla., was the top qualifier two weeks ago at Houston and, but for a good guess by final round opponent Ron Capps (who was credited with an almost unfathomable .003 reaction time), would have won at Phoenix.

In fact, were it not for the performance of teammate Tony Pedregon in the Castrol SYNTEC Ford, Densham would be the unqualified performance leader this year.

The five-time tour winner has qualified fourth or better in four of five races this year and won the one event in which he failed to crack the top four (qualifying sixth at Gainesville).

He's posted top speed at the last two races thanks to track record-setting velocities of 326.56 mph (second fastest in history) at Las Vegas and 325.69 mph at Houston. Moreover, when he led Houston qualifying, he did so with a personal best quarter mile of 4.755 seconds.

Nevertheless, Densham is painfully aware of the tenuous nature of success.

He led the POWERade standings for four races a year ago before he and Prock "lost the handle" on the tune-up and slid back to fourth in the final standings.

"Once you've had success like we had last year," Densham said, "it changes what your expectations are. Now, we expect to be a contender every week."

Thus far, it's a challenge the team has mastered.

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Ron Capps , John Force , Gary Densham