Densham working to get new team up to speed BELLFLOWER, Calif. -- When Gary Densham pulled up to the starting line in a Funny Car at the 244th race of his NHRA career, he didn't know what to expect. He didn't know it would be different from any...
Densham working to get new team up to speed
BELLFLOWER, Calif. -- When Gary Densham pulled up to the starting line in a Funny Car at the 244th race of his NHRA career, he didn't know what to expect. He didn't know it would be different from any of the other 243 races he'd competed in during his lengthy career.
As it turns out, No. 244 was very different. After all those years, this one ended with a win.
That was Memphis in 2001 and Densham had recently joined John Force Racing and after decades of running as an under-funded independent team, For the first time, the former schoolteacher had the parts, the crew and the budget to run with the best in the sport. Even so, success didn't come overnight, a realization he's re-living now with his new Racebricks team.
"When I went to work for John Force Racing and we had Jimmy Prock as the crew chief, it still took us about eight months to get that car running consistently quick," Densham said. "There are so many ways to mess up a run and there are very few ways to make the car go down the track.
"Even though you have individuals that can do their jobs very well, until they do it well together, it doesn't matter. You see it every time they have an all-star game whether it's football, baseball or basketball. The quarterback may be the best in the league and the receiver may be the best in the league, but they don't shine like the players on the same team who play day in and day out together."
Densham logged eight victories with Prock including the 2004 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals (his first Indianapolis win) before he set out on his own again. This year the driver of the Racebricks Chevy Monte Carlo has a lot more work to do than usual but has a history of success on his side.
"During my last season with Force Racing the team had been together for three years and we had virtually all the same people, all working well together," Densham said. "We had all the money, all the parts and we made 20 test runs before we even went to the first race of the season. We were just much more prepared than I am this year.
"There are advantages to having my own team again. I don't have a boss and I get to surround myself with the people I really like and that's what makes this sport enjoyable. I'm not saying we didn't have the best crew last year because I loved all of those guys. This is great too."
The disadvantages are simple. He's 58 and a veteran. He's earned the right to just stand at the ropes, sign autographs all day and not get too dirty between rounds. That's not what's really happening. Densham could be working harder than ever this year. Densham is a long-time fan favorite (especially with his former students) who spent more than 30 years in a high school classroom. He is still teaching, but this time, he's teaching Funny Car 101.
"This whole deal is so much more responsibility because we are short-handed anyway so I am driving the car and working on the car and helping (crew chief) Greg Amaral make the tuning decisions," Densham said. "Plus, there is that whole responsibility with paying all the bills."
Little can shake the Southern California native, especially when it comes to racing. He always has a smile on his face and he's always happy to be at the track. What made him such a good teacher is helping him with his new situation. He's positive and patient in just about everything.
"Basically all we need is time working together and few more parts to get us to a few more runs. That will make us a better team," Densham said. "We've made just two or three full runs and we're running against teams that made 20 before Pomona and have made three or four in each of the races so far this season.
"Everyone knows the success story of John Force and (crew chief) Austin Coil. It didn't happen overnight, but they have a lot of experience together now and it's difficult to compete with the parts and the history they have. But they didn't win the first year together. It takes time."
One thing Densham can rely on immediately is his crew chief. Amaral and Densham have a long history, one that started in the classroom. Amaral is a former student of Densham's.
"I think Greg is one of the absolute best natural mechanics. He is electronically minded like few others," Densham said. "I have never worked with anyone who can pick up a manual and understand something quickly and completely like Greg can. I could see that in him way back when.
"Greg needs more time to get his instinct down the way someone like Jimmy Prock operates. But I have not met too many people like Greg. He's very talented."
In 1979 Gary Densham started his NHRA Funny Car career. In more than 25 years of racing, Densham has picked up some knowledge about the racing business along the way. But even now, being behind the wheel of the nitromethane-burning beast isn't his favorite thing about his job.
"I just love the people, they make all the difference," Densham said. "I love driving the car and it's a thrill you can't imagine. But the amount of work it takes to make a five-second run is amazing and most of the time, it's not worth the effort. The fans and the people in the racing business make all the effort worthwhile. The camaraderie from the other races and the crew guys makes me want to be out here because we always have a good time together. This is a great atmosphere to be around."
Densham will tell you that funding is a necessary requirement to race. He's still searching for a little more so he can catch up to the multi-car teams. He will tell you also that he knows the team is still playing catch-up when it comes to car preparation.
He might throw in the fact that he's looking forward to being in winner's circle again too.
"I think the team is going to work better together every day," Densham said. "I would be foolish to say that we are going to challenge for a championship this year, but I know this team is going to be capable of going into a race with the potential of winning. Even now, only three races into the season, a top 10 finish is going to be a challenge. But before too long when this Racebricks team shows up to a race, there will be a chance that we could win that race."
The next NHRA POWERade event is the O'Reilly Spring Nationals at Houston Raceway Park in Houston, April 8-10. All the action can be seen on ESPN 2 throughout the weekend. Qualifying will be seen at 7 p.m. (ET) on April 9 and eliminations will start at 7 p.m. (ET) April 10.