Densham mugs boss for first $100,000 Skoal Showdown win
By Rob Geiger, NHRA.com
Drag racing veteran Gary Densham picked $100,000 from his boss John Force's pocket when he earned the win in Sunday's 23rd annual Skoal Showdown. This was Densham's first victory in the big-money special event, which invites the top eight Funny Car qualifiers from the previous year to race for one of the largest single payouts in the POWERade Drag Racing Series.
The heavily-favored Force, a five-time winner in this event, got the early jump on Densham in the final, leaving the Christmas Tree with a two-hundredths-of-a-second advantage. But Densham's Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang quickly caught and passed Force's Castrol GTX Start Up hot rod, leading from the 60-foot timer forward and winning with a 4.893 at 316.08 mph to Force's 5.083 at 270.05 mph.
"I never saw him; I don't have a rear-view mirror in my car," Densham joked. "That was a great time. It was just a couple of old friends having a great drag race. Seriously, John's such a great guy to work for, even though he just fired me at the top end. Hey, we knew all the money was going to John Force Racing so we just lined 'em up and raced. John got the money but I got the trophy and that's okay with me."
Densham is now in line for an extra $50,000 "double-up" bonus from the NHRA if he manages to follow Sunday's Skoal Showdown win with a victory in Monday's 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Densham has never won drag racing's marquee event but he did finish qualifying in the No. 2 position.
"Anything to do with Indy is special," Densham said. "Just like today, if you give [crew chief] Jimmy Prock enough chances he'll figure things out. Hopefully we can carry this over to tomorrow and really have a big weekend.
"This Skoal Showdown win is big to me. This is the best eight cars from the last year and to end up as the winner is really something. I can't describe the feeling, but it's very cool."
Force's front-running Castrol GTX Start Up Ford Mustang was the quickest car of the first two rounds, carrying the POWERade points leader to a 4.90-second win over Phil Burkart Jr. in Round 1 and a 4.87-second win over former teammate Tony Pedregon in the semifinals.
Densham's Automobile Club of Southern California Ford Mustang wasn't as efficient in transporting the former schoolteacher to his first Skoal Showdown final round. He opened with a 5.13-second win over Del Worsham and beat Tim Wilkerson with a 5.17. Both Worsham and Wilkerson overpowered the racetrack and smoked their tires.
Sunday's race day purse totaled $147,000. Aside from Densham's $100,000 winner's check, Force pocketed $15,000 for his runner-up showing. Pedregon and Wilkerson scored $6,000 each for their semifinal appearances, while the four first-round finishers, Gary Scelzi, Whit Bazemore, Worsham, and Burkart Jr. earned $5,000 apiece.
Drivers accumulated points for the 14th annual Skoal Showdown at the 24 NHRA national events held between last year's Mac Tools U.S. Nationals and the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Mid-South Nationals, which was contested two weeks ago in Memphis, Tenn. A $4,000 bonus was awarded to the No. 1 qualifier at each of those races, pushing U.S. Tobacco's contribution to the Skoal Showdown program to $243,000