Densham 'Forced' out of Dallas NEC/Auto Club gang to exercise new strategy in Richmond DALLAS (April 26) - Aside from the drag racing taking place at each National Hot Rod Association event, a different sort of race is taking place between...
Densham 'Forced' out of Dallas NEC/Auto Club gang to exercise new strategy in Richmond
DALLAS (April 26) - Aside from the drag racing taking place at each National Hot Rod Association event, a different sort of race is taking place between events for the men and women who compete in the sport's Funny Car bracket - catching up to eight-time champion John Force and his teammate Tony Pedregon.
The two men have swept the five titles up for grabs this season and appear to be on an uncontested run for another world championship in 1999. But the rest of the Funny Car field, including NEC/Auto Club of Southern California driver Gary Densham, is rapidly devising plans to derail Team Force.
"I don't know whether anyone will be able to make their car as fast as John and Tony's sleds are," Densham said. "But I've come to the realization that these new five-disc clutch systems can get a few select teams that have the horsepower a lot closer than we are now. At least close enough where we can have a legitimate chance at beating them."
That was precisely the battle plan Densham was working on going into last weekend's Third Annual Castrol Nationals presented by O'Reilly Auto Parts at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas. "We switched to that five-disc system after Gainesville and quickly realized how efficiently they work," Densham said. "At the next race in Houston, we saw that we can run 5.0-second laps all day long. But obviously with John and Tony running 4.8-second laps, a 5.0-second lap isn't going to get you anywhere. Even if you drill them at the lights they'll be able to make up the difference.
"We figured that if we could run 5.0-second laps with this clutch right out of the box, then we could change some other things around and get down in the 4.9-second range. Then at least we'd be close enough to those guys to beat them.
"We were trying all sorts of things in Dallas and we almost screwed up and missed the show. (Densham qualified in the 16th and final qualifying spot with a pass of 5.097 seconds at 300.20 mph.) But we were taking risks that we know we have to take to win. I don't want to run 5.0-second laps all year, win a bunch of rounds and come in fifth place. I want to challenge the best drivers in the world and beat them. I want to win."
Densham, the only man to have beaten Force this year heading into Dallas, met his friendly rival in Round 1 of eliminations and had the current disparity between their two machines displayed on the scoreboard for all the world to see. Force posted a 4.844-second lap at 321.88 mph to Densham's 5.098-second, 301.50-mph effort.
"We took the loss, but we learned a lot this weekend," Densham said. "We know where we need to focus our attention. The car is bad to the bone in the middle of the track, from 300 feet to about 1,000 feet. We just need to figure out how to get her off the line a little quicker. The five-disc clutch has sure helped us post tremendous numbers, they just seem much more insensitive to change than the old clutch systems we used. We'll get there, it will just take a lot of work. We're definitely ready for the challenge."
On to Richmond
The NEC/Auto Club of Southern California team won't have to wait long to resume their pursuit of Force. The Fifth Annual Pennzoil Nationals begin Thursday and run through Sunday at Virginia Motorsports Park in Dinwiddie, Va., just outside of Richmond.
"I wish we had time to test before we got there so that we'd be totally ready to go," Densham said. "But time dictates that we'll have to do it on the fly.
"Virginia will be a blast. I love the fans there because they really enjoy the sport and they always make us feel so welcome. It's always a plus to have people cheering you on and making you feel like what you do is important. I sure hope we can give them a good show. We'll be doing everything we can to make this NEC/ Auto Club of Southern California Pontiac Firebird as competitive as possible."