One might consider Gary Densham of Menefee, California as the typical “grew up in Southern California” racer. Bellflower Boulevard was the place to go to show who had the fastest car. Lyons, Irwindale, and Orange County drag strips were close by. High school time was spent playing football Friday night and racing at the track on Saturday.
Densham’s career has been defined as a competitive, low-budget funny car driver. But he had a five year career in A/Gas Supercharged cars before beginning to race funny cars in 1971. Tight budgets forced him to wear many hats during the early part of his career serving as crew chief, owner, and driver. With the “little guy low-budget” profile Gary exemplifies many of the fuel class racers of the time. He made the most of his resources winning races in NHRA Pacific Division (division seven) and winning the 1982 Division 7 Funny Car Championship.
A high school auto technology teacher at Gahr High School (Cerritos California) his cars have always been called “Teacher’s Pet”. He has used his teaching expertise to mentor many students serving as crew members; a number who have gone on to work for other teams.
One of Gary’s proudest achievements has been his career in Australia. His first trip in 1974 with John Force was spent helping to keep John’s car running and teaching him some of the finer points of driving. Other tours “down under” in 1978, 1979, 1982, and 1986 saw Densham undefeated against him American and Australian racers. In 1995 he won the Australian National Championship.
His biggest success came in 2001 to 2004 while driving for John Force Racing. Finally, Gary had the funding and data needed to win an proved he could. He delivered eight wins, six number one qualifiers, set a national speed record (326.87 MPH), capped off by a US Nationals victory and the Skoal Showdown double up. Twice he finished fourth in the final point standing. Also, Gary and crew chief Jimmy Prock won Car Craft Magazine’s Person of the Year award.
Through his career Densham had three IHRA wins. Was the AHRA Funny Car National Champion in 1989, 1990, 1996, 1997, and 1998. As an independent racer Gary was the 13th member of the Castrol 4-Second the teenage phenom Club in 1998. He had to low qualify positions and finished in the top 10 of NHRA points on four occasions: 1995, 1996, 1997, in 2008.
As a crew chief he tuned his son Stephen, a former winning Junior Dragster driver, to the NHRA Heritage Series Championship in funny car in 2015.
As for the future Gary plans to keep racing as many races a year as funding allows and keep tuning Stevens nostalgia funny car. In fact, realizing he was going to be in Gainesville for the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame banquet and ceremony Gary told friends, “Hell let’s do the Gatornationals”.
If you see him at a race know he probably drove the rig there and set up the pit area. He will consult on the turning decisions, work on the car, and drive. Gary will have the most fun doing all of this because he just loves drag racing.