Englishtown: Gary Densham preview

Drag racing's odd couple makes things interesting at Englishtown. ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. Gary Densham is a barrel-chested, 55-year-old schoolteacher who looks like a drag racer. Jimmy Prock is a bespectacled 37-year-old drag racer who looks like a ...

Drag racing's odd couple makes things interesting at Englishtown.

ENGLISHTOWN, N.J. Gary Densham is a barrel-chested, 55-year-old schoolteacher who looks like a drag racer. Jimmy Prock is a bespectacled 37-year-old drag racer who looks like a schoolteacher. Together, they've become the most successful mismatch since Oscar Madison and Felix Unger.

Madison and Unger were the Odd Couple of playwright Neil Simon's imagination. Densham and Prock are the real thing.

Before collaborating on a third Team Castrol Ford Mustang, a blue-and-white missile sponsored by the Automobile Club of Southern California, neither Densham nor Prock ever had won an NHRA Funny Car race, much less a series championship.

Now, they're a threat to win at every race in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, a 23-event tour that moves this week (May 17-19) to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park for the 33rd renewal of the Matco Tools SuperNationals.

More significant is the fact that drag racing's oddest couple has emerged as the principal challenge to teammate John Force, who has won 11 of the last 12 series championships including an unprecedented nine in succession.

Entering the SuperNationals, Densham is second in points, just 81 behind Force. It's only the second time in 21 years that the former auto shop teacher has been in such a lofty position and the first time he's been a contender this deep into the season.

Rescued from drag racing's rank-and-file last year to drive a third Mustang for Force, the 11-time series champion and 100-time event winner, Densham quickly has become one of the hottest properties in auto racing's fastest sport.

The current NHRA national record holder at 326.87 miles per hour, the veteran from Bellflower, Calif., has won three of his last 12 starts, has started from the No. 1 qualifying position in two of the last five races and has emerged as the sport's newest "King of Speed," having posted top speed for Funny Cars in six of the last eight races.

As mismatched as they might seem on the surface, Densham and Prock found common ground almost immediately. For one thing, neither is averse to trying new things.

It's a philosophy that often flusters Force who has said of Prock, "you could be not in the show on the last qualifying run and you only need to run five-flat to get in and Jimmy would say, 'I think we can run low ET (elapsed time).' And you know what, half the time he'd go out and do it."

The age difference isn't a problem either, Densham having worked with teenage crew members recruited from his auto shop classes for most of his career as an independent.

"He's so meticulous and so sharp," Densham said of Prock. "If something goes wrong, he doesn't act like we've failed to conquer world hunger or (failed to achieve) world peace," Densham said. "He's not afraid to try things and if it doesn't work, well, it just doesn't work and we just move on.

"There's no looking back in this deal. There's always another race."

Densham, who technically is on a leave of absence from Gahr High School (Cerritos, Calif.), has called his relationship with the quiet, unassuming Prock "the most delightful experience I've had in my entire career."

Prock, whose father, Tom, was a Funny Car driver of some renown in the 1970s, was hired to manage a planned Top Fuel team at John Force Racing.

However, plans change. When Force opted instead for a third Funny Car, Prock took his little John Lennon spectacles and jumped right in. He hasn't looked back.

Instead, he and Densham have Force looking back back over his shoulder.

DENSHAM at Matco SuperNationals....

*Runner-up to current boss and teammate John Force in 1996

*Reached the semifinals last year after qualifying No. 4, his best starting spot in 11 tries at the SuperNationals

DENSHAM Highlights....

*Three-time tour winner, all coming in the last 12 months.

*NHRA national FC speed record holder at 326.87 mph.

*Presently second in POWERade points for only the second time in his career and for the first time this late in the season.

DID YOU KNOW: @Gary Densham went 245 races before winning for the first time....for 29 years, Gary was the auto shop teacher at Gahr High School in Cerritos, Calif., and for most of that time he campaigned a Funny Car with a crew comprised of current and former students....if he continues at his current pace, Gary will qualify to compete in the Budweiser Shootout, limited to the tour's top eight teams, for the first time in his career. He has qualified fourth or better in all but one start this year and was the No. 1 qualifier at the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., in March, and at the Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta, Ga., just two weeks ago.

- www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Densham