Commerce: Gary Densham preview

Densham Tries To Reverse Fortunes In Summit Southern Nationals Auto Club Ford Tries to Ride New Tire to Winners Circle ATLANTA, Ga. (May 14-16) -- For the most part, Gary Densham is grateful for the opportunity given him four years ago when...

Densham Tries To Reverse Fortunes In Summit Southern Nationals
Auto Club Ford Tries to Ride New Tire to Winners Circle

ATLANTA, Ga. (May 14-16) -- For the most part, Gary Densham is grateful for the opportunity given him four years ago when 12-time NHRA Champion John Force put him behind the wheel of one of the most powerful racing vehicles on the planet, the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang Funny Car.

The former high school auto shop teacher subsequently earned his first tour victory (2001 at Memphis, Tenn.), his first No. 1 qualifier award (2001 at Bristol, Tenn.), set the NHRA national speed record and, on two separate occasions, led the Funny Car driver standings in a serious bid for the NHRA POWERade Championship.

Nevertheless, drag racing is a "what- have-you- done-for-me-lately" kind of sport and, since opting for the ultimate corporate ride, Densham hasn't exactly overwhelmed the competition at Atlanta Dragway, site of this week's 24th annual Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals.

In fact, the veteran hasn't done any better at the wheel of the Auto Club Ford than he did in 10 appearances in the car that for more than 25 years he ran out of his own pocket with a largely volunteer crew, no wind tunnel time, no supercharger dyno and very little testing.

Although he was the No. 1 qualifier in 2002, Densham hasn't survived beyond the second round in three Atlanta appearances in the Auto Club Mustang. By comparison, driving his own car, he had four Top 4 starts and advanced to the semifinals in 1992 before losing to eventual champion Del Worsham.

     Regardless of the vehicle, the reality is that Densham traditionally has qualified
well at Atlanta (eight Top 8 starts)   and then stumbled (8-12 in eliminations).

He hopes to reverse the trend this week.

In fact, there is reason for optimism. Densham and Crew Chief Jimmy Prock got a head start on most of their Funny Car rivals with regard the new Goodyear 2096 rear tire that now is the only one approved for use in the sport's top two categories.

"We've been running the tire most of the season," Densham said, "and I think we've made a lot of progress, but you don't know. It hasn't been real hot yet. That'll be the biggest test."

A six-time tour winner, Densham has done everything this season EXCEPT reach the winners' circle. He's started two races from No. 1 (Phoenix and Houston), was runner-up at the season-opening K&N Filters Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., has been as high as No. 2 in points and has set a couple of track records, pushing 7,000 horsepower hybrid to 327.27 miles per hour at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Nevertheless, if he hopes to chase down Worsham for the championship, the 57-year-old journeyman knows he's going to have to start winning -- and soon.

"You only have so many opportunities," Densham said. "Drag racing's like any other sport. You're not going to be good every time you line up so when you're on a roll like we are right now, you need to start taking advantage."

Although his car has a reputation for speed, it also is one of the quickest on the tour, having covered the standard distance in 4.723 seconds, just .002 off the national record set by the man who gave him his shot, John Force.

- www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Del Worsham , John Force , Gary Densham