Promising weekend has familiar ending DENVER (July 19) -- When the professional qualifying sessions of the 21st Annual Mile-High Nationals commenced, it appeared that NEC/Auto Club Funny Car driver Gary Densham had returned his drag racing ...
Promising weekend has familiar ending
DENVER (July 19) -- When the professional qualifying sessions of the 21st Annual Mile-High Nationals commenced, it appeared that NEC/Auto Club Funny Car driver Gary Densham had returned his drag racing program to the championship-caliber unit it was for the first eight races of the season.
The 52-year-old Densham had blazed down Bandimere Speedway's historic strip in 5.146 seconds at 286.13 mph and was securely in the top half of the field in the No. 6 position, which meant he would start Sunday's action with the advantage of lane choice over 1999 nemesis Tony Pedregon. All the pieces appeared to be in place for a concerted run at the event's championship and a serious charge back up the Winston points standings.
"The car was running so well," Densham said. "We'd blistered the track in qualifying and everyone was so excited about Sunday. It really felt like we had finally put the NEC/Auto Club hot rod back into the groove we need to be in to challenge the big guns."
Heading into Sunday, things certainly looked good for Team Densham. The front-running Pedregon had struggled to find a strong set-up for Thunder Mountain's altitude and he had limped out of the qualifying sessions in 11th place with an underachieving mark of 5.226 seconds at 289.01 mph. It was Pedregon's worst qualifying effort of the year. His perfect 5-0 head-to-head record against Densham appeared to be in jeopardy.
The much-anticipated race started with both drivers reacting to the green light with nearly identical launch times. The two then rumbled side-by-side until the 330-foot mark when Densham's machine suddenly lost traction and smoked the tires. The chance for victory was gone and a disbelieving Densham was forced to click his machine off and coast through the lights in 7.409 seconds at 116.68 mph. Adding to Densham's misery was the fact that Pedregon ran into severe engine trouble just past half-track and limped by the scoreboard himself in a very beatable 5.516 seconds at 239.61 mph. Remarkably, three rounds later Pedregon was crowned the event's champion.
"The set-up we had was safer than safe," Densham said. "I knew Tony had been struggling and I didn't want to give him any chance of taking a cheap win. I thought we had him for sure. But somehow we smoked the tires any ways. That totally blew me away. I would have bet the house that I wouldn't smoke 'em. He must love seeing us. Every time he does, he wins.
"The car's improved performance is a real positive and I think we're ready for a big second-half charge. I guess we just need to avoid Tony at all costs. I'm starting to hate that guy."