Auto Club Ford Driver Could Still Influence Championship INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Sept. 3-6) -- Four years ago, Gary Densham watched the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals from outside the cockpit of his Funny Car after failing to make the 16-car starting...
Auto Club Ford Driver Could Still Influence Championship
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Sept. 3-6) -- Four years ago, Gary Densham watched the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals from outside the cockpit of his Funny Car after failing to make the 16-car starting lineup at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Although he didn't enjoy the view, it was one with which he was all too familiar.
Competing against teams with budgets 10 times that of his own, Densham had been a non-qualifier in drag racing's biggest single event more often than not (eight times in 13 trips from his home in Bellflower, Calif.).
However, that all changed in 2001.
At a time when he was considering reducing his racing schedule because of increasing expenses and decreasing sponsorship, Densham got a phone call.
On the other end was friend and rival John Force with an offer that a consummate drag racer like Densham just couldn't refuse the chance to drive for the dominant team in the NHRA series.
Densham's view of the U.S. Nationals, contested this year for the 50th time, has been much different ever since.
Not only has he qualified the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang for each of the last three races at IRP, he's won rounds each year, something he never did as an independent, and last year he advanced to the semifinals.
This year, the former high school auto shop teacher would like to take that progression one step further. He's hoping for a cockpit view of Monday's final round.
Although he has been realistically eliminated from the race for the 2004 POWERade championship, Densham likely will play a role in determining who ultimately wears that crown Force or one of the drivers closest to him in points: Gary Scelzi, Whit Bazemore or Del Worsham.
"My job now is to line up and beat those guys whenever and wherever I can (and) help John win the championship," Densham said. "You race different when you're counting points. The way it is now, we can just line up and go fast. John has kinda given Jimmy (crew chief Jimmy Prock) the green light."
In short, Densham will function like a hired gun, which doesn't mean he has given up on the winners' circle.
"The way we look at it," he joked, "is that if we win all the rest of the races, those are races that Scelzi and Bazemore aren't going to win, so that helps the cause. I don't know if John looks at it that way, but I think if he goes on to win the championship, everything'll turn out all right."
The relationship between Densham and Force dates back to 1974 when fate threw the two together as part of a barnstorming tour of Australia. Force admittedly knew nothing about running a Funny Car except that it's something he wanted to do.
"If Densham hadn't taken me under his wing," Force said, "I probably would still be down there."
Densham walked Force through the tour, got him back to the states and then watched in amazement as the former truck driver became the most prolific winner in the history of the sport. The two remained friends, which is why Force made that fateful phone call back in 2001, one that may pay another dividend this weekend