Auto Club Ford Driver Hoping to Move Up in FC Points READING, Pa. (Sept. 17-19) -- Still savoring the biggest victory of his 35-year career, newly-crowned Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Champion Gary Densham rolls into Maple Grove Raceway looking...
Auto Club Ford Driver Hoping to Move Up in FC Points
READING, Pa. (Sept. 17-19) -- Still savoring the biggest victory of his 35-year career, newly-crowned Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Champion Gary Densham rolls into Maple Grove Raceway looking like anything but a guy who has won just two rounds of racing in 12 years at the Lucas Oil Nationals, contested this week for the 20th time.
In fact, one could make a strong case for Densham as the Funny Car favorite in an event in which had gone without a single round win until he reached the semifinals a year ago.
"You know, there's only been one race all year (the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla.) where we didn't have a car that could win," Densham said. "We've just made some mistakes and, really, we haven't had any racing luck -- until Indy.
"I'm hoping that now we can start making some withdrawals from the (luck) bank, because we sure paid a lot into it."
Although the Indy victory moved him up to fifth place in POWERade points, the same position in which he finished the 2003 season, the former high school auto shop teacher isn't content to remain there.
"John (boss, teammate and points leader John Force) will be hard to catch," Densham said after doubling-up at Indianapolis as the winner of both the Skoal Showdown bonus race and the 50th anniversary U.S. Nationals, "but I really don't think second place is out of reach."
A second place finish -- or even a third -- would represent a personal best for the driver of the Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, who finished fourth in 2002 and fifth last year.
Shut out in his first 244 races on the NHRA tour, Densham didn't win for the first time until he was 54 years old. He's been making up for lost time ever since.
Winner of two races in each of his first four seasons at the wheel of the Auto Club Ford, Densham's Indy victory made him, at 57, the oldest professional champion in the history of drag racing's oldest, biggest and most prestigious event.
"It seems like everybody is looking for young, good-looking drivers," lamented the man who last year set the Maple Grove Raceway speed record (327.27 miles per hour), "but there's something to be said for experience. John and I have been down a lot of racetracks and I think that gives us an advantage, especially on tracks that are less-than-perfect -- which is most of them.
"Of course, when you've got (crew chief) Jimmy Prock in your corner, it doesn't make any difference what the conditions are, you've always got a chance."
The biggest beneficiary of Densham's late season resurgence, of course, is Force, who is being pressured by Dodge drivers Gary Scelzi and Whit Bazemore in his bid for an unprecedented 13th series championship.
"The way Jimmy and I look at it," Densham joked, "is that if we win all the rest of the races, those are races Scelzi and Bazemore aren't going to win, so that not only helps us, it helps John. I don't know if (Force) looks at it that way, but I think if he goes on to win the championship, everything will be forgiven."