New Chassis a Problem for Teacher Turned Drag Race Champion SEATTLE, Wash. (July 25-27) -- As if driving the 7,000 horsepower, 325 mile-an-hour, short-wheelbase Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang wasn't problem...
New Chassis a Problem for Teacher Turned Drag Race Champion
SEATTLE, Wash. (July 25-27) -- As if driving the 7,000 horsepower, 325 mile-an-hour, short-wheelbase Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang wasn't problem enough, Gary Densham this week is having to confront the "Steve Plueger Curse" in his bid for the Funny Car championship at the 16th annual CARQUEST Auto Parts Nationals at Pacific Raceways.
For the last three decades, Densham exclusively drove cars built by Plueger, his former racing partner. The first was a AA/Gas Supercharged Anglia; the latest a Ford Mustang Funny Car in which he held the NHRA national speed record for more than a year.
However, this week, the former high school auto shop teacher will slide into the cockpit of a non-Plueger car for just the second time in hopes of duplicating the success of teammates John Force and Tony Pedregon.
Between them, Force and Pedregon have won 11 of the last 23 NHRA POWERade events in Team Castrol Fords built at the McKinney Corporation shops in Otterbein, Ind.
Densham is not yet convinced that the change is all good, though.
Friendship, the fact that each of his five career victories was secured at the wheel of a Plueger-built car and the memory of a less than stellar debut in the new car last week at Denver, Colo., have left the 56-year-old veteran somewhere in performance limbo.
"Steve Plueger builds a great race car," Densham said. "There's no question about that. This was just a business decision. We needed all three cars to be as close as possible and I thinnk we needed more cars than Plueger wanted to build. But you do get used to the way you fit in a car and I have to admit that I'm not as comfortable in this car as I was in the other one.
"On the other hand, I know that McKinney builds cars that can win, too" he continued. "Just look at what Tony's done since he made the change. After we make some more laps in (the McKinney car), I'm sure everything will be fine. "
Of course, his first round elimination last week in his very first time out in the new chassis didn't endow Densham with a wealth of confidence.
At least he did better than Force. The first time Force drove a car NOT built in Plueger's shop, he flipped it on its roof in the sand at the end of the track at Pomona, Calif. The next week he was back with Plueger with whom he went on to win 106 events and 12 championships.
This year, after again opting for a McKinney chassis, the spectre of the "Plueger Curse" resurfaced when Force endured one of the longest victory droughts of his career (12 races). It ended last week when he won the Mopar Mile-High Nationals in Denver.
An event winner and No. 1 qualifier this year, Densham enters the CARQUEST Nationals fifth in POWERade points, one position removed from last year's finish, the best of his career.
After leading the points after his March victory in the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla., Densham has slid slowly backward.
Curse or not, the resident of Bellflower, Calif., hopes to reverse that trend in this week's race, the 14th of 23 in the series.
"Any time you have Jimmy Prock turning the wrenches and John Force as a car owner, you're going to have a chance to win," Densham said. "I haven't had a lot of success at Seattle, but there's no reason why we shouldn't be in the hunt on Sunday."