Phoenix: Gary Densham preview

Densham tries to 'slow down' in bid for C.S.K. Nationals title. CHANDLER, Ariz. (Feb. 21-23) In most competitive endeavors, speed can be a great asset. That is especially true in drag racing, a sport in which the most sophisticated vehicles...

Densham tries to 'slow down' in bid for C.S.K. Nationals title.

CHANDLER, Ariz. (Feb. 21-23) In most competitive endeavors, speed can be a great asset. That is especially true in drag racing, a sport in which the most sophisticated vehicles can accelerate from zero to 250 miles per hour in little more than 600 feet of concrete-and-asphalt.

No one appreciates the power of speed more than Gary Densham, the former high school auto shop teacher who last year coaxed the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang to a speed of 326.87 miles per hour, establishing what today remains the official NHRA national Funny Car record.

In fact, since signing on two years ago to drive the third of the Team/Castrol John Force Racing Mustangs, Densham has laid claim to the "King of Speed" title that once was the sole domain of retired Top Fuel driver Kenny Bernstein.

Unfortunately, two weeks ago, in the season-opening K&N Winternationals at Pomona, Calif., Densham proved that, even in drag racing, there's such a thing as "too fast."

As a result, he is determined this week to slow things down in his bid for a championship in the 19th annual Checker/Schuck's/Kragen Nationals at Firebird Raceway.

What the 56-year-old veteran wants to control, though, is not the velocity at which his hybrid Mustang hits the finish line, but rather the speed of his own response to the electronic signal which initiates each two-car race.

At Pomona, Densham qualified fourth but, in the first round, was "too fast" at the start by .003 of a second. That resulted in a disqualification that brings him to Firebird only ninth in the NHRA POWERade point standings he led last year for the first time in his career.

"It was a combination of the new lights (in the Christmas Tree starting system) and too much adrenaline," acknowledged the four-time tour winner from Bellflower, Calif.

The "new lights" referenced by Firebird Raceway record holder (321.19 mph) are LED bulbs this year have replaced the conventional incandescent bulbs used the last 40 years.

The swap was inaugurated because of the greater reliability of the LED bulbs, which aren't as susceptible to failure, especially when subjected to the 7,000 horsepower onslaught of Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars.

However, because the LED bulbs do not have a filament, they also have forced a change in driving technique.

With the incandescent bulbs, the light was not at its brightest for .03 of a second. With the new system, the light is at its brightest the moment the start switch is activated. As a result, drivers are realizing an average .03 of a second improvement in reaction times.

"As a driver, you knew your limits with the old system," Densham said. "Now we're having to retrain ourselves. Especially guys like me and John (Force), who've been down the track a time or two, we're seeing the light better. It should help us more than the young guys."

However, there is a learning curve as was evidenced by Densham's foul at Pomona.

"I won't make the same mistake again," he said.  "It's like anything else   practice
makes perfect.  We'll be better this week and better still the next time."

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers Kenny Bernstein , John Force , Gary Densham