Columbus: Gary Densham preview

Densham's narrow points lead in jeopardy at Pontiac Nationals. COLUMBUS, Ohio If he hopes to secure his drag racing future, then Gary Densham must shed his drag racing past. That's the challenge confronting the NHRA POWERade points leader ...

Densham's narrow points lead in jeopardy at Pontiac Nationals.

COLUMBUS, Ohio If he hopes to secure his drag racing future, then Gary Densham must shed his drag racing past.

That's the challenge confronting the NHRA POWERade points leader this week (June 14-16) when he returns to a racetrack on which he hasn't won a round of racing in 14 appearances.

The 55-year-old former high school auto shop teacher knows that retaining his narrow advantage over boss and teammate John Force will require a complete reversal of seasons past at National Trail Raceway, site of the 38th annual Pontiac Excitement Nationals presented by Summit Racing.

After all, he is 0-for-his career at the track where he has failed to qualify almost as often (six times) as he has been eliminated in the first round (eight times). Those aren't exactly the statistics of which championships are made.

Nevertheless, since he signed on last year with Team Castrol and John Force Racing to drive the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, Densham has been transformed.

Winless in the first 245 NHRA national events in which he appeared, he's won four times in the last 10 months while earning three Budweiser No. 1 qualifier bonuses and raising the NHRA national speed record to its current 326.87 miles per hour.

Since last September, when he earned his breakthrough first victory at Memphis, Tenn., Densham has won more races than any other Funny Car driver in the series more than Force, more than Whit Bazemore, more than Tony Pedregon, more than Del Worsham.

"The difference between now and when I was running my own car, obviously, is being with this team," Densham said. "Don't get me wrong. When I ran my own car, I thought I was going to win every time I went to the starting line, but it just didn't happen.

"The best way I can explain it is that when you're driving one of John's cars, there's a kind of intimidation effect where, even when you're not running really good, the competition knows that there's always the chance that you're going to jump up and throw low ET (elapsed time) at them and they have to prepare accordingly.

"The best example was when I won last fall at Memphis. I didn't have a dominant car. It probably wasn't better than my own car in similar situations. But I won rounds mainly because I was in a John Force race car and the other guys made mistakes trying to rotate the earth to beat us," Densham said.

Of course, while he expected to finally win on a circuit on which he has raced for more than 20 seasons, Densham has admitted that he never thought he'd be leading the NHRA pont standings.

"Winning the championship is different from winning a given race," Densham said. "To win the championship, you have to be competitive every week.

"That's how John has won 11 times," he said. "A lot of drivers run well at a few racetracks. John generally runs well at all of them. He wins his rounds even when his car isn't just perfect and that's something we've been able to do so far this year, too."

While Force attributes much of that success to Densham's driving ability, the schoolteacher points to Crew Chief Jimmy Prock as the key.

"He doesn't dwell on the negatives," Densham said.  "He'll try something
and, if it doesn't work, he'll just move on.  I hope my experience in
driving these things helps us on down the road.  Right now, Jimmy's got
us on track.  This car's a rocket ship."

DENSHAM at the Pontiac Nationals....

*Hasn't won a single round of racing in eight starts and 14 career appearances at National Trail Raceway.

*Has not broken the 5.00 second or 300 mile per hour barriers at Columbus.

*Qualified 11th last year and lost to Del Worsham in round one.

DENSHAM Highlights....

*Four-time NHRA tour winner, all in the last nine months.

*NHRA national FC speed record holder at 326.87 mph.

*Is only the sixth Funny Car driver in the last 13 seasons to lead the NHRA points for through three consecutive events.

*If he reaches the final round this weekend, he will set a personal record for rounds won in a single season. Through the first 10 races this year, he won 19 rounds.

Until last season, the most rounds he had won in one year was 12 in 1995. He won 21 rounds last year, his first with Team Castrol and John Force Racing.

Gary Densham went 245 races before winning for the first time....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 fifth or better at seven of 10 races contested thus far and was the No. 1 qualifier at Gainesville, Fla., in March, and at Atlanta, Ga., in April....Gary is just the 14th different driver to have led the Funny Car point standings over the last 13 years....when he's not driving the Team Castrol/Auto Club Ford, Gary spends his weekdays talking to student groups on behalf of AAA and his weekends racing a Alcohol Funny Car with his son Steven, 20.

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Del Worsham , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Densham