Auto Club Ford Aims for Second Win of 2004 Season DENVER, Colo. (July 16-18) -- In 23 seasons on the NHRA drag racing circuit, Gary Densham has been poor and he's been rich at least figuratively. Nevertheless, unlike singer Sophie...
Auto Club Ford Aims for Second Win of 2004 Season
DENVER, Colo. (July 16-18) -- In 23 seasons on the NHRA drag racing circuit, Gary Densham has been poor and he's been rich at least figuratively.
Nevertheless, unlike singer Sophie Tucker, famous for the quote, "I've been poor and I've been rich. Rich is better," Densham is not yet ready to declare one phase of his career better than another.
The 29 years he spent as a Funny Car independent, competing with a volunteer crew and a very small budget, were just as rewarding, in their own way, he believes, as his four most recent seasons, seasons in which he achieved virtually every one of his career goals.
Until he signed on with John Force Racing in 2001 as driver of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, Densham never had won a race, never had qualified No. 1, never had held the national record and never had led the Funny Car point standings.
He now has done all of that -- and more. In fact, he rolls into Bandimere Speedway for this week's 25th Mopar Mile-High Nationals as the track record holder for speed (312.78 miles per hour) and as one of the six drivers legitimately in contention for the $400,000 NHRA POWERade Championship.
While he is quick to credit current car owner and close friend John Force with providing the resources that have transformed his career, he is equally quick to point out that, even if Force hadn't come to his aid, he still would have found a way to compete.
In a world populated by sports personalities who demand more and more money and less and less accountability, Densham is a breath of fresh air. He's a racer because, of all things, he loves to race. Go figure.
"A good day drag racing is better than a bad day doing almost anything else" is his signature summary of a Funny Car career that has spanned 33 years. "I just love drag racing." Densham said. "It's all good."
After racing on a weekends-and-summer vacation-only basis for the 27 years he was an auto shop teacher at Gahr High School in Cerritos, Calif., using students and former students as crew members, Densham took a leave of absence in 1994 to follow his dream.
In his first seven seasons as a full- time pro, he reached the Funny Car finals six times -- and came up empty on each occasion. Nevertheless, he always believed he would win a tour event. The only surprise was that it came in one of Force's Fords instead of in one of his own cars.
Overall, he's won seven times, most recently in the June 20th K&N SuperNationals at Englishtown, N.J.
"Unfortunately, in order to race any more, you have to have 'x' amount of sponsorship," Densham said. "In 2001, when we lost some funding, John stepped in and gave me a chance to do things I probably never could have done on my own.
"I love working with (crew chief) Jimmy Prock. I don't think I've ever had so much fun," Densham said, "but if the time comes that this all goes away well, John and I will still be good friends, I'll have a lot of great memories and I'll be back racing my own car. I'm not going anywhere. This is my home out here."
Entering the critical Western Swing, the three-race set that begins at Bandimere and ends three weeks hence in Sonoma, Calif., Densham is fifth in points, 142 off Force's lead.