Gary Densham admits there’s only so much nagging a man can take.
“He’s only been bugging me to drive my car since he was 12 years old,” Densham said with a smile. “It’s only took about 20 years for me to get around to letting him do it.”
Densham confirmed that on the Monday following the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas, his son and past NHRA Heritage Series AA/FC champion Steven earned his NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series fuel Funny Car license. He ran a 4.08 second elapsed time, at 309 miles per hour in just his second pass ever in the car.
Impressively the career-best came on a run where the blower belt broke.
“I was hoping it might have happened about ten years ago,” Densham admitted. “Then he could have taken over. The [sponsorship] money I’ve gotten over the years has always been predicated on me driving the car. It kind of doesn’t make sense because you have a young kid who can cut good lights, and there’s an old, fat, bald-headed guy in the car.”
It didn’t take the second-generation Densham long to see the difference between the 5.6-second 1969 Camaro he recently qualified No. 1 with at the California Hot Rod Reunion and the Ford Mustang-cloaked beast his dad normally drives.
“It’s big-time different. It’s one of those things, where when you are driving a 250-mile per hour Nostalgia Funny Car, you are racing at a pretty high intensity,” Steven explained. “But when it comes to a big show Funny Car, it takes it to a whole new level.”
Steven said a whole new level comes with a measure of intimidation.
“I wasn’t nervous until I got in the car,” Steven explained. “And, it’s not necessarily the speed [309 miles per hour], it was the fact that car has so much more power than what I am used to driving. It’s insane, and you can feel it in the pedal. It’s the sheer power of the car that makes the difference.
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“When I drive the nostalgia car, I feel like I am driving it. The big show car, I was just hanging on.”
Steven might have to hang on in a different way for the official seat in competition.
“He can drive it if he comes up with a bucket of money,” Densham said with a laugh.
So why would Densham license his son if there was no seat available?
“It was a bucket list item,” Densham admitted. “People have always asked me if I regret in the 1970s not turning into a professional drag racer instead of continuing to teach school. They believe I could have been a John Force, and made a lot of money, and had 16 titles. I’ve always said I wouldn’t switch his 16 championships for all the fun I have had, and the people I’ve met, places I’ve gotten to go.
“The one thing I’ve envied of John Force is having the resources for his kids to [drag race] as they have.”
Steven is content waiting his turn.
“Ah, driving is Dad’s thing, and he enjoys that, and I’m fine with that,” Steven surmised.