PHOENIX (Mar 1) -- Schoolteacher-turned-drag-racer Gary Densham will be the first to tell you that he runs on a sliver of the budget many of his Funny Car peers enjoy. So when his name has pulled out of the hat as the only man at the 15th Annual...
PHOENIX (Mar 1) -- Schoolteacher-turned-drag-racer Gary Densham will be the first to tell you that he runs on a sliver of the budget many of his Funny Car peers enjoy. So when his name has pulled out of the hat as the only man at the 15th Annual Checker Schucks Kragen Nationals who could claim the $100,000 bonus the Winston No Bull folks were offering, he had a hard time containing his excitement.
All he needed was a win and, considering his runner-up finish in Pomona, Calif., at the start of the month which included wins over John Force and Ron Capps, a win in Phoenix didn't seem out of the question.
Unfortunately, the Bellflower, Calif., native opened his huge payday quest against the same driver who denied him his first National Hot Rod Association win at the season-opener -- Tony Pedregon.
Racing out of the 13th qualifying position, Densham buried Pedregon at the start of their Round 1 race with an enormous 0.470-second to 0.529-second advantage. The 52-year-old held on to the lead until about mid-track when one of the cylinders on his motor froze. The resulting loss of power for Densham allowed Pedregon to drive away to a 4.924-second win at 311.92 mph to Densham's 5.112-second pass at 286.98 mph.
"We fought this cylinder problem all weekend," Densham said. "And it caught up to us at the wrong time. You can't beat a guy like Tony with only seven cylinders. The chance to win $100,000 motivated the heck out of us. The NEC/Auto Club of Southern Calif. crew worked so hard to get everything right. We were going all out. I knew I blasted him at the line and I could feel that I was ahead, but then the engine faded away.
"We've got a fast car here. We just have to get it figured out. Hopefully, by (the NHRA's next event in) Gainesville, (Fla,) we'll be ready to go some rounds again. I'm still buzzing over Pomona. I like that feeling and we all want to feel it several times this year. If we can stay up near the top of the standings with that lead group of guys, anything can happen. Keep an eye on the NEC/Auto Club of Southern Calif. car. We will be making some noise this year."