Pomona: Gary Densham preview

Densham hopes to raise speed limit in K&N Winternationals. After 326.87 MPH National Record, veteran eyes 330 in Auto Club Ford. POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 6-9) Gary Densham is looking to get off to another fast start this season, but if the former...

Densham hopes to raise speed limit in K&N Winternationals.
After 326.87 MPH National Record, veteran eyes 330 in Auto Club Ford.

POMONA, Calif. (Feb. 6-9) Gary Densham is looking to get off to another fast start this season, but if the former high school auto shop teacher expects to seriously contend for the NHRA POWERade Championship, he knows he'll have to sustain that speed for the entire season, something he was unable to do last year.

Densham began the 2002 campaign by driving the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford to top speed of the meet and an NHRA national record of 326.87 miles per hour at the K&N Filters Winternationals, the season-opening event which this week will be contested for the 43rd time at the Los Angeles County Fairplex.

In fact, the 56-year-old journeyman had the fastest car at six of the season's first eight races.

He rode that horsepower to victories at Las Vegas, Nev., and Englishtown, N.J., which catapulted him into uncharted territory.

For four races last year, Densham led the Funny Car point standings, something he had never done in a career that now has spanned more than 30 years.

Ultimately, he wound up fourth in points, a career best, but he still laments the slump that enabled boss and teammate John Force to pass him for good last June.

After posting a 19-8 record in the season's first 10 races, Densham was only 12-13 thereafter with five first round losses.

Nevertheless, he was the only Funny Car driver other than Force to lead the 2002 point standings, an accomplishment of mind-boggling proportions for a driver who, until he joined John Force Racing in 2001, had never won a tour event and had never finished higher than ninth in points.

Now, the former Gahr High School (Cerritos, Calif.) auto shop teacher has won four times, started from the No. 1 spot three times, set a national speed record and qualified for a career best 25 consecutive tour events.

The upshot is that after years of independent struggle, Densham has made a prophet of Force.

"There were a lot of guys who questioned Gary Densham as a driver," Force said, "but I never did. I was with him in Australia (in 1974) and I know the man can drive a race car. That's why the Crew Chiefs wanted him (for the third car) because of his experience."

Indeed, Densham has proven worthy of that confidence.

After going without a victory in his first 245 tries, he won in only his 14th race behind the wheel of the Auto Club Ford. He's been raising his personal performance bar in virtually every race since.

"When I was driving my own car, I never went to the starting line when I didn't think I was going to win," Densham said. "The difference (at JFR) is that you have more information because of three cars, you have guys like Jimmy Prock and Austin Coil to analyze that information and you have a car owner like John Force who's going to spend whatever it takes to be successful."

DID YOU KNOW:
Gary went 245 races before winning for the first time....for 29 years, Gary was the auto shop teacher at Gahr High School in Cerritos, Calif., and for most of that time he campaigned a Funny Car with a crew comprised of current and former students....last year, Gary became just the 14th different driver to lead the Funny Car point standings over the last 13 years....when he's not driving the Team Castrol/Auto Club Ford, Gary spends his weekdays talking to student groups on behalf of the Automobile Club of Southern California and his weekends racing a Alcohol Funny Car with his son Steven, 20.

-www.johnforceracing.com

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Series NHRA
Drivers John Force , Gary Densham