Auto Club Tries to Map a Win for Densham at Motorplex U.S. Nationals Champion Riding Wave of Momentum ENNIS, Texas. (Sept. 24-26) -- Reigning U.S. Nationals Champion Gary Densham, currently the hottest Funny Car driver on the NHRA POWERade...
Auto Club Tries to Map a Win for Densham at Motorplex
U.S. Nationals Champion Riding Wave of Momentum
ENNIS, Texas. (Sept. 24-26) -- Reigning U.S. Nationals Champion Gary Densham, currently the hottest Funny Car driver on the NHRA POWERade tour, can speak to the fine line between love and hate.
Take, for example, the Texas Motorplex, site of this week's 19th annual O'Reilly Auto Parts Fall Nationals presented by Castrol SYNTEC . The former high school auto shop teacher used to hate the track. Now he loves it.
Specifically, he despised the all-concrete surface, the only such configuration on the 23-race circuit. The thing he likes most about the 'Plex today? The all-concrete surface.
That apparent contradiction has everything to do with Densham's decision, four years ago, to park his own race car and accept a position as a "hired driver" at John Force Racing, Inc., the drag racing dynasty that has won the last 11 NHRA Funny Car titles.
As an independent in a division heavily populated with corporately-funded cars, Densham struggled for 20 years on the NHRA tour with only a half dozen runner-up finishes to show for his effort. At few tracks was his frustration more apparent than at the Motorplex where he was 3-12 with a couple of DNQs.
The reality is that Motorplex magnifies the differences between the "haves" and its "have nots" because the concrete quarter mile favors raw horsepower and the teams with the resources to manufacture it.
In 2000, Densham wasn't with one of those teams. In 2001, his first at the wheel of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, he was.
The result? In 2000, the last year the Motorplex hosted two NHRA tour events, Densham failed to qualify for the spring race (the Castrol Nationals) and made a first round exit in the fall. A year later, driving for Force, he and crew chief Jimmy Prock were in the winners' circle with the Auto Club Mustang.
"I'm glad I didn't know then what I know now," Densham quipped. "I always thought I had a car and I had all the best parts in it and I knew how to tune it and I'd had some success driving and we'd just go out and race.
"But being here for four years, let me tell you, there's more to it than that."
For Densham, the main difference is that now he has access to an incredible amount of technology that includes massive machine tools from Fadal and Giddings and Lewis that enable the team to fabricate, in-house, many of the most critical engine and drivetrain components.
Furthermore, whereas Densham campaigned his own car with a largely volunteer crew consisting primarily of students and former students from his high school auto shop classes, he now drives a car prepared by one of the sport's most talented tuners (Prock), maintained by a crew of seven professionals.
The upshot is that the 57-year-old journeyman has won two races in each of his four seasons at JFR, culminating in this year's double-up success at Indianapolis where he won the 23rd annual Skoal Showdown bonus race on Sunday and the 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals on Monday.
"What can you say about Jimmy Prock?," Densham asked. "He's a genius. You give him enough time, he's going to figure out how to go fast. That's what happened at Indy. We got by a couple rounds where the car wasn't running just right and that's all Jimmy needed. This crew is the secret. I'm just the lucky guy who gets to drive."