Sonoma: Gary Densham preview

Densham gets fresh start at Fram/Autolite Nationals. SONOMA, Calif. A new track with a new name has given Gary Densham, driver of the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, new hope for this week's (Aug. 2-4) 15th ...

Densham gets fresh start at Fram/Autolite Nationals.

SONOMA, Calif. A new track with a new name has given Gary Densham, driver of the Team Castrol/Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang, new hope for this week's (Aug. 2-4) 15th annual Fram/Autolite Nationals.

The former Sears Point Raceway, which never was one of Densham's favorites, has been re-christened as Infineon Raceway and while it occupies the same piece of real estate, at the intersections of Highways 121 and 37, the difference between Sears Point and Infineon is not just in a name.

Sears Point was an "afterthought dragstrip," a straight-line quarter mile within a road course. It's 100-foot concrete "launch pad" was the shortest on the NHRA POWERade tour, so short that it negated much of the extra horsepower teams could generate at the track's sea level elevation.

Infineon Raceway, on the other hand, boasts a free-standing, purpose-built dragstrip not incorporated into the road course and, even more important to Densham and teammates John Force and Tony Pedregon, a 660-foot concrete pad, the longest on the circuit if you exclude the all-concrete quarter mile at the Texas Motorplex (Ennis, Texas).

As a result, Densham genuinely is looking forward to the Fram/Autolite Nationals, a race in which he has won just three rounds in 11 career appearances, for which he failed to qualify just one year ago and at which he experienced his closest call as a driver when he was hit with flying shrapnel after an engine exploded during a route warmup procedure in the pits.

The former high school auto shop teacher hopes that era now is behind him.

"The improvements that Bruton Smith and his team have made to the track are all good, especially the new concrete pad. That should play right into Jimmy's hands," he said, referring to his wunderkind Crew Chief, Jimmy Prock.

Prock, who earned 21 tour victories as a Top Fuel Crew Chief to Joe Amato and Cory McClenathan, found the perfect partners with whom to team up in the Funny Car division Force, who owns the Team Castrol/Auto Club of Southern California Ford, and Densham, who's been driving for more than 30 years and getting cars down some of the roughest tracks in America.

That combination worked for two victories a year ago, the first two of Densham's career, in fact, and it's delivered a pair of titles already this season along with an NHRA national speed record (326.87 miles per hour) and Densham's second and third Budweiser No. 1 qualifying awards.

As mismatched as they might seem on the surface Densham, the barrel-chested 55-year-old driver, and Prock, the bespectacled 37-year-old tuner they found common ground almost immediately. For one thing, neither is averse to trying new things.

Managing and funding his own team for 29 years and trying to compete with the big-budgeted front-runners, Densham had to try to find a different way. Prock, it seems, just wants to find a different way. Regardless, together they have succeeded beyond the expectations of almost everyone.

"He's so meticulous and so sharp," Densham said of Prock. "If something goes wrong, he doesn't act like we've failed to conquer world hunger or (failed to achieve) world peace. If it doesn't work, well, we just move on. There's always another race."

Densham, who technically is on a leave of absence from Gahr High School (Cerritos, Calif.), has called his relationship with the quiet, unassuming Prock "the most delightful experience I've had in my entire career.

"He doesn't dwell on the negatives," Densham said. "So I'm not concerned about what happened last year or the year before or about what happened last week. Every day's a new day over here and that kinda keeps everybody pumped up."

-www.johnforceracing.com-

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Series NHRA
Drivers Tony Pedregon , John Force , Joe Amato , Gary Densham , Cory McClenathan