Bristol: Gary Densham preview

Densham is new 'King of Speed" in NHRA POWERade Racing Series. BRISTOL, Tenn. Behold the new "King of Speed." Once billed as "The World's Fastest Schoolteacher," Gary Densham has graduated with honors. Today, the former auto shop teacher...

Densham is new 'King of Speed" in NHRA POWERade Racing Series.

BRISTOL, Tenn. Behold the new "King of Speed."

Once billed as "The World's Fastest Schoolteacher," Gary Densham has graduated with honors. Today, the former auto shop teacher isn't merely the fastest ever to wield a lesson plan, he's the fastest, period the fastest Funny Car driver on the planet, perhaps the fastest in the universe.

"Warp speed" has become a way of life for the 55-year-old veteran whose teaching career is on hold while he pursues the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Championship and its accompanying $400,000 bonus.

The NHRA national record holder at 326.87 miles per hour, Densham rolls into this week's (April 26-28) second annual Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway having pushed his Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang to top speed in six consecutive events dating back to last year's season finale.

More importantly, he has emerged as a very real threat to the continued dominance of his boss and teammate, John Force.

Densham, who was winless in his first 20 years on the NHRA tour, has won three times since signing on last season as driver of the third Team Castrol Ford. His most recent victory came earlier this month when he prevailed in the Nationals to become the first team driver to win at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The triumph powered the Bellflower, Calif., resident into third place in points, the loftiest position he has occupied this far into the season. With 18 races remaining, he trails only Force and Del Worsham, the latter by a scant two points.

"It's all good," Densham said. "I've always said a bad day racing is better than a good day doing almost anything else. A good day racing? Well, it doesn't get any better than that."

Lately, Densham's good racing days definitely outnumber the bad.

Winless for 244 races, he now has won three times in the last 11 events, as often as Force who, after claiming a milestone 100th victory two weeks ago at Houston, Texas, is bidding for an unprecedented 10th consecutive NHRA series title.

Indeed, Densham has emerged as a legitimate contender. It is a status that may have surprised some, but certainly not Force.

"A lot of people questioned the choice," Force said of Densham's hiring, "but I knew he could drive a race car. I was with him in Australia in 1974 and he's probably been down more backwoods drag strips than anybody except maybe me and (Al) Hofmann. In this sport, there's no substitute for experience."

Ironically, Densham beat the boss for two of his titles, edging Force by .051 of a second at Memphis, Tenn., and by only .006 of a second at Dallas, Texas.

The Bristol Dragway track record holder at 4.870 seconds (a time that last year earned him his first No. 1 qualifier award), Densham tries to extend his speed streak in an Auto Club Mustang that will race for the first time at or near the 2,375 pound Funny Car minimum.

The hybrid Ford is fully 30 pounds lighter, the result of a new generation carbon fiber body manufactured for the team by Metal Crafters, Inc., in Fountain Valley, Calif.

Densham just hopes the new body doesn't have a negative effect. After all, with three wins, two No. 1 starts and six top speed awards, the Auto Club Ford has functioned pretty well as a "heavyweight." Densham hopes loss of weight doesn't also mean loss of muscle.

Gary Densham went 245 races before winning for the first time. He now has won three times in the last 11 races in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series....for 29 years, Gary was the auto shop teacher at Gahr High School in Cerritos, Calif., and for most of that time he campaigned a Funny Car with a crew comprised of current and former students....if he continues at his current pace, Gary will qualify to compete in the Budweiser Shootout, limited to the tour's top eight teams, for the first time in his career. He has qualified no worse than fourth in five starts this season and was the No. 1 qualifier at the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., in March.

DENSHAM at Mac Thunder Valley Nationals....

*Claimed first Budweiser No. 1 qualifying bonus of his career at last year's race, his first appearance at Bristol Dragway.

*Is the Bristol Dragway track record holder at 4.870 seconds.

DENSHAM Highlights....

*Three-time tour winner, all coming in the last 12 months.

*NHRA national FC speed record holder at 326.87 mph.

*Has accelerated to top speed of the event at the last six NHRA POWERade events dating back to last November's Auto Club of Southern California Finals at Pomona, Calif.


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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , John Force , Gary Densham