Memphis: Gary Densham preview

Auto Club Ford Aims for Second Win of 2004 Season MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Aug. 20-22) -- School's out for Gary Densham, but the former high school auto shop teacher doesn't get a vacation. Instead, he hopes to administer a few more driving...

Auto Club Ford Aims for Second Win of 2004 Season

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Aug. 20-22) -- School's out for Gary Densham, but the former high school auto shop teacher doesn't get a vacation.

Instead, he hopes to administer a few more driving lessons from the cockpit of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang he campaigns for John Force Racing, Inc.

A championship contender a month ago, Densham finds himself staring at a 311-point deficit this week as the NHRA POWERade tour moves to Memphis Motorsports Park, the track on which Densham earned a breakthrough first tour victory in 2001.

That point differential isn't insurmountable, but it is formidable.

"Realistically, it's going to be pretty hard to get back in (the race)," acknowledged the 57-year-old Californian. "John keeps reminding me that Cruz (Pedregon) won five-in-a-row at the end of the 1992 season and beat him for the championship.

"So I guess it's not impossible, but it'd be tough, especially as good as John is running right now (in the Castrol GTX Start Up Ford Mustang). What we'd like to do is win a couple of races down the stretch starting with this week's (O'Reilly) Mid-South Nationals, because when we get the winner's points, it means that (Gary) Scelzi, (Whit) Bazemore, (Del) Worsham and the other guys who are chasing John, don't."

It's a situation in which Densham takes great pride and Force great comfort.

After all, even though he's won just once this year, Densham's Jimmy Prock- tuned Ford has been one of the most consistently potent Funny Cars on the circuit.

Consider the last two races.

At the Aug. 1 Fram/Autolite Nationals at Sonoma, Calif., Densham had the quickest race day time of 4.821 seconds. Then, last week at Brainerd, Minn., he qualified second at 4.813 seconds (second quickest quarter mile time since the implementation of a new rule limiting nitromethane to 85 per cent of the fuel mix) and set a track speed record at 320.43 mph.

As the only driver to break the 4.90 second barrier on all four of his qualifying attempts in at Brainerd, Densham looked particularly formidable in the Lucas Oil Nationals, a race in which he was the defending champion.

That all went by the board in the first round when an overly aggressive tune-up and a timer malfunction produced a loss of traction and early exit.

As a result, starting this week, Densham's responsibilities change. Whereas he once was a legitimate championship threat, his job now is to take out the Bazemores and the Scelzis -- early and often -- and thereby help his Auto Club teammates, Force and rookie Eric Medlen (winner last week at Brainerd), secure the championship.

A seven-time tour winner, all at the wheel of the Auto Club Mustang, Densham went 244 races before he finally reached the winners' circle by earning a .045 of a second victory over Force in the 2001 Memphis finals.

"Maybe we can do that again," he said. "That would help John -- and it definitely would make me feel better."

- www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Densham , Eric Medlen