Densham bids for first victory in O'Reilly Summer Nationals
Topeka, pre-race: After a sensational start, Gary Densham's season is in need of the kind of roadside assistance offered by his primary sponsor, the Automobile Club of Southern California.
After leading the points early in the year, Densham rolls into Heartland Park- Topeka for this week's 15th annual O'Reilly Summer Nationals clinging to fourth place.
He's won just one round in the last three races after going to the semifinals or beyond in four of the first five events in the 2003 series and earning his fifth career victory in the Mac Tools Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla.
"We've had a couple of races where things haven't gone like we planned," said the 56-year-old veteran from Bellflower, Calif., "but (Crew Chief) Jimmy (Prock) will figure it out.
"Last week (at the K&N Filters SuperNationals at Englishtown, N.J.), we just got two qualifying runs because of the weather and our first one was a disaster," Densham said. "Same setup as John (boss and teammate John Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High Mileage Ford Mustang) and Tony (teammate Tony Pedregon, driver of the Castrol Syntec Ford Mustang), but their cars went down through there and ours spun the tires and blew up.
"The second run we were really just trying to make sure we got in the show. Then we got whupped by (Tim) Wilkerson in the first round. Lucky we've got a chance to make up for everything this week."
Despite the fact that he has slowly drifted backward since leading the points after the season's third race, Densham denies that his 2003 title bid has gone flat.
"During any season, there are going to be peaks and valleys," he said. "The secret is to make sure that the peaks outnumber the valleys. Our car has been good, but it hasn't been as good as it was at the start of the season. But the deal is, you're never out of the hunt when you've got Jimmy Prock tuning it up."
Nevertheless, from Densham's perspective, "a bad day racing is better than a good day doing almost anything else."
That's because his 29 years as an auto shop teacher provided him with a built-in cheering section at almost every race in the POWERade Series.
"I can't go to a single race, it seems, without having an ex-student come up to me and say, 'hey, Mr. Densham, do you remember me? I was in your class in '84 and here are my wife and kids and my new pickup and I work for John Jones Ford over here and thank you very much,'" Densham said.
"A lot of teachers influence their students, but how many ever get a chance to reconnect with them like that? I've never had a 'back to school night' or an open house that I didn't have a parent come up and say 'if it hadn't been for your class, Johnny would have dropped out of school.' That's the reward for me. Whatever happens on the track is a bonus."
Before hooking up with Force, with whom he first became acquainted when the two were on tour in Australia in 1974, Densham raced his own Funny Cars with limited financial backing and a largely volunteer crew composed of current and past students. He went to the finals six times as an independent but was denied on each occasion.
That drought ended Sept. 23, 2001 at Memphis, Tenn., and the "world's fastest schoolteacher" has been a threat to win at every race since.
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