TOPEKA, Kan.. (May 28-30) -- Gary Densham may be the best Funny Car driver who never won at Heartland Park-Topeka, site of this week's 16th annual O'Reilly Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTXÂ®. A six-time winner on the NHRA ...
TOPEKA, Kan.. (May 28-30) -- Gary Densham may be the best Funny Car driver who never won at Heartland Park-Topeka, site of this week's 16th annual O'Reilly Summer Nationals presented by Castrol GTX®.
A six-time winner on the NHRA POWERade tour, Densham has done almost everything he ever imagined since opting to park his own, independently- financed race car to become a "hired gun" for John Force Racing, the most successful team in the history of the sport.
Since taking the reins of the 7,000 horsepower Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang as teammate to Force, Densham has led the Funny Car qualifying eight times and has been such a consistently high qualifier that he currently tops the standings that will determine the pairings for the $100,000 Skoal Showdown bonus race to be contested Labor Day weekend at Indianapolis, Ind.
He has held the NHRA national speed record, has recorded one of the quickest quarter miles in history (4.723 seconds last fall at Joliet, Ill.) and twice has led the POWERade points. In fact, he's been the POWERade points leader more often the last 15 months than has Force.
Nevertheless, the former high school auto shop teacher remains winless in 17 appearances at Heartland Park-Topeka, a track on which JFR has been otherwise dominant, winning 10 of the last 16 races including five in succession.
Not only has Densham failed to reach the winners' circle, his Topeka qualifying effort has bordered on the anemic.
His average starting position in the 14 races applying toward the 2004 Skoal Showdown is third. His averaging starting position in 15 trips to Heartland Park is 11th and that doesn't even count a DNQ in 1995.
"It's a great racetrack," Densham said of Heartland Park. "It's a track that really should be perfect for (crew chief) Jimmy Prock horsepower. I don't know about the qualifying but I do know that we had a car good enough to win the last two years and just didn't get it done. I guess if the third time's a charm, this should be our year."
Indeed, Densham has gone to the semifinals in each of his last two Heartland Park appearances. He lost to Tim Wilkerson in 2002 and to current points leader Whit Bazemore a year ago.
Moreover, even though he is winless through the first eight races of the current campaign, Densham is optimistic about the weekend.
"We've got a really good hot rod," he said. "We just need a break or two. The most encouraging thing is that it looks like we've got a car that will run in the heat just as well as it does when it's cool."
In the last three events, the biggest problem Densham faced was his inability to avoid his own teammates, the result of some unusual qualifying performances.
He lost to Force at Bristol, Tenn., then lost to rookie teammate Eric Medlen by a total margin of .033 of a second in consecutive events at Atlanta, Ga., and Joliet. He is hoping this is the week the pendulum finally begins to swing the other way.