Veteran nitro Funny Car racer Gary Densham began — and possibly ended — his 2016 racing season with a bang at the Circle K NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California on Saturday when the parachutes on his self-owned Dodge Charger failed at the conclusion of a qualifying run, causing him to slam into the Auto Club Raceway’s safety catch netting.
Densham, the 69-year old former school teacher and longtime privateer nitro racer, had just completed a weekend-best lap of 4.050 seconds at 307.30 mph in the third session of qualifying on Saturday afternoon when both of his parachutes failed to blossom. Densham made a valiant attempt to bring the car to a halt, but the famously short shutdown area at Auto Club Raceway left little margin for error, as the car sailed into the sand trap and slammed into and became entangled in the safety net. The impact severed the chassis into two pieces, snapping it just in front of the engine.
Thankfully, Densham emerged unharmed from the brutal crash and remained his usual upbeat, smiling self for the FOX cameras, but suggested this might have been the final act in his NHRA Funny Car driving career after destroying the only car and body he and his team, operating on a shoestring budget, had in their arsenal. As one of the most well-liked individuals in all of drag racing, this would be a travesty for NHRA drag racing and its fans.