Old-timer Densham offering a lesson in resiliency
How many 61-year-old men get their kicks manhandling an 8,000-horsepower Funny Car at 330 mph? At least one, and Gary Densham shows no signs of slowing down, writes Bill Stephens.
Updated: March 8, 2008, 10:09 PM ETBy Bill Stephens | ESPN.com
On Oct. 20, Gary Densham will be celebrating his 62nd birthday. And if he has any say in the matter, he'll be spending it preparing for his next 330 mph ride in his 8,000-horsepower Funny Car at the AC Delco Nationals in Las Vegas Oct. 30 through Nov. 2.
How many men his age can say that?For Densham, the road upon which he has pursued his drag racing career has offered an infinite number of abrupt changes in direction. A high school shop teacher in his hometown of Bellflower, Calif., by trade, Densham embarked into the then-primitive roots of NHRA Funny Car racing in the 1970s. His first professional start was at the now-defunct Ontario Motor Speedway in Ontario, Calif., in 1979, but the gregarious, avuncular teacher-turned-racer supported his drag racing appetite primarily through match racing wherever promoters were willing to pay barnstorming teams a decent buck to travel to their tracks and put on an entertaining show.
Timothe L Hale/Icon SMIGary Densham, 61, hopes to run the entire 2008 schedule in his Racebricks Chevy Impala SS.
"The sport has changed so much since I began," said Densham, who is hoping to compete at all 24 NHRA national events this year in his Racebricks Chevy Impala SS. "Back then, if you were ambitious and had the chance to travel on weekends, you could make enough money to race and put a few bucks in your pocket. Today, unless you have several million dollars in the bank, you can't stay out there very long."Densham has always been a master of accomplishing a lot with a little. In his match racing days, he befriended another Southern Californian who he encountered while both were match racing in Australia. The younger driver had little money, roughshod equipment, and a tag-along crew consisting mostly of family members and devoted friends. Densham generously extended his knowledge and know-how to his new acquaintance with advice and counsel on how to run a profitable privateer drag racing team.That young newcomer was John Force.
A lot of what ol' Densham taught me back then is just as valuable today. There are times when I think the only way I know what I'm doin' now is because of what he told me 30 years ago.
-- John Force