Denver: Gary Densham preview

He's not superhuman, but Densham one-ups Spiderman in speed race Team Castrol driver strikes a balance between racing and teaching DENVER, Colo. (July 18-20) -- Peter Parker has nothing on Gary Densham. Parker, the fictional alter ego of ...

He's not superhuman, but Densham one-ups Spiderman in speed race

Team Castrol driver strikes a balance between racing and teaching

DENVER, Colo. (July 18-20) -- Peter Parker has nothing on Gary Densham. Parker, the fictional alter ego of Spiderman, the Marvel Comics superhero, spent his weekdays teaching science to high school students; his nights and weekends performing superhuman feats in a never-ending battle with the forces of evil.

For 27 years, Densham also led a double life. By day, the barrel-chested Californian taught auto shop classes in Cerritos, Calif. On weekends, he donned a special suit, a space age helmet and gloves and climbed aboard a vehicle capable of whisking him from zero to 100 miles per hour, from a standing start, in less than a second.

If that performance seems like science fiction, then apparently you haven't been exposed to modern day drag racing like that practiced on the NHRA POWERade tour which this week moves to Bandimere Speedway for the 24th renewal of the Mopar Mile-High Nationals.

For more than 30 years, Densham has raced competitively in drag racing's most challenging vehicles Funny Cars powered by V-8 engines that produce as much power in a single cylinder (800) as a NASCAR stock car motor.

For most of that time, he raced a car prepared and maintained by his auto shop students at Gahr High School.

And while he may be no Spiderman, Densham is proud of the fact that he, not Parker, is known as the "World's Fastest Schoolteacher," a distinction he underscored last year when he drove the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang to a Bandimere track record Funny Car speed of 312.78 miles per hour.

At the track's mile-high elevation, that's a remarkable performance. Nevertheless, it's just one of many the 56-year-old veteran has turned in since taking a leave of absence from his teaching duties to pursue his "second career."

Competitive but winless in his first 244 appearances, Densham has won five times in the last three seasons and for an entire year was not just the unqualified "World's Fastest," the result of having coaxed the Jimmy Prock-prepared Ford to a speed of 326.87 mph.

Although he was a tour finalist six times in his own cars, Densham was reborn as a Funny Car driver when he signed on in 2001 to drive a third Mustang for friend and 12-time NHRA Funny Car Champion John Force.

Since coming on board early in 2001, Densham has gone to eight finals rounds, claimed five Budweiser No. 1 qualifier bonuses, led the POWERade point standings and been honored (with Prock) as the sport's Person of the Year by the editors of Car Craft Magazine.

"I don't really know if I would ever have been able to take a leave of absence from teaching if I wasn't given the opportunity to continue to work with kids," Densham said of his position as a spokesperson for the Auto Club's youth and education initiative.

"Whether it's machinists or welders or cabinet makers or carpenters or automotive technicians, we need those people as much as we need doctors and lawyers and schoolteachers. For me, it's great to be able to talk to these kids, encourage them and show them that there are different paths they can follow to be successful."

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the man dispensing all this advice wears a helmet and special suit and drives a custom car at speeds of more than 300 miles an hour.

"It's all good," Densham said. "I've got the best of both worlds. I get to drive a fast hot rod and a I get to help kids give some direction to their lives."

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Densham