Las Vegas: Gary Densham preview

Densham's high speed heroic make him a favorite at Las Vegas. LAS VEGAS, Nev. The baddest hot rod on the planet right now is not John Force's Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, the NHRA national record holder at 4.731 seconds. Nor is it the Skoal Camaro...

Densham's high speed heroic make him a favorite at Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS, Nev. The baddest hot rod on the planet right now is not John Force's Castrol GTX Ford Mustang, the NHRA national record holder at 4.731 seconds. Nor is it the Skoal Camaro that carried Tommy Johnson Jr. to victory last year in the Summitracing.com Nationals, the $1 million dollar drag race renewed this week (April 5-7) for the third time at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Whit Bazemore's Matco Pontiac, the Vegas track record holder at 4.748 seconds, is one bad hombre but it's not the 7,000 horsepower hybrid that will be most closely scrutinized by Funny Car rivals when qualifying begins Friday in the fourth race on the 2002 NHRA POWERade tour.

That distinction belongs instead to the Team Castrol Ford driven by veteran Gary Densham and sponsored by the Auto Club of Southern California. Bet on it.

The blue-and-white Mustang not only has been the season's most consistent qualifier (No. 3, No. 2 and, most recently, No. 1), it also has posted top speed at each of the first three events and, in the season-opening race at Pomona, Calif., set a new NHRA national Funny Car speed record of 326.87 miles per hour.

Unfortunately, while Densham has flexed his mechanical muscle this year, he has not yet reached the semifinals in competition, a shortcoming he and Crew Chief Jimmy Prock hope to address this week.

Densham's performance, underscored at last month's Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., a race in which he qualified No. 1, posted quick time of eliminations and top speed of the meet, is the more impressive in that the Auto Club Ford is the eaviest of the three Mustangs in the Force Racing stable.

Densham is in line to get one of the new lightweight carbon fiber Ford bodies being produced for the team by California-based Metal Crafters. Force, who is bidding this week for his 100th career victory, got the first two bodies out of the new mold.

Tony Pedregon, driver of the Castrol SYNTEC Mustang, is in line for the third and fourth new Mustang shells; Densham for five and six.

The difference between the old shell and the new is roughly 30 pounds. In drag racing, that's an enormous weight savings.

Nevertheless, Densham has mixed feelings about making the switch.

"John's been trying to get us to take weight out of our car since last summer," Densham said, "but it seems like every time we lightened it up, it slowed down.

"It doesn't run bad just like it is."

In fact, Densham won twice last year with his car at close to its present weight, beating Force in the final round at both Memphis, Tenn., and Dallas, Texas. Those were the former schoolteacher's first victories in a 30-year career, most of which was spent campaigning an independent Funny Car which used current and former auto shop students as crew members.

Now that he's proven that he can win, the sky's the limit for the 55- year-old native of Bellflower, Calif.

"Im having the time of my life," he said. "John's given me a great race car, Jimmy Prock is a pleasure to work with. How could it get any better?"

Well, a win at Vegas might be nice.

DENSHAM at Summitracing.com Nationals....

*Has failed to qualify in two of his three appearances at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

*Lost to Tommy Johnson Jr. in the second round of last year's Summitracing.com Nationals..

DENSHAM Highlights....

*NHRA national FC speed record holder at 326.87 mph.

*First career victories last season at Memphis, Tenn., and Dallas, Texas.

*Has posted top speed of the meet in his last four appearances on the NHRA POWERade tour.

DID YOU KNOW:

Gary is in position to compete in the Budweiser Shootout for the first time in his drag racing career. The special race-within-a-race, which pays a $100,000 top prize, is contested at the Labor Day U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Ind., and is restricted to the top eight drivers based on qualifying performance in 23 races leading up to the U.S. Nationals ....Densham went 245 races before winning for the first time....Gary has missed the starting lineup in two of his three appearances at Las Vegas including last fall's AC/Delco Las Vegas Nationals. Although he appeared in six finals as a privateer, Densham never was considered a legitimate threat until he accepted Force's offer to drive the third of the Team Castrol Fords.

In only his sixth race, he qualified No. 1 at the Mac Tools Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn.

HISTORIC NOTE:

For 29 years, Gary was the auto shop teacher at Gahr High School in Cerritos, Calif., during which time he ran as a Funny Car independent using current and former students as crew members. He took a leave of absence in 1999 to pursue his "other" career in drag racing.

- www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , Whit Bazemore , John Force , Gary Densham , Tommy Johnson Jr.