5-09 "On The Road" with Luke Bogacki

Last time I touched base with the DragRaceResults.com member base it was 2008. We’ve got some catching up to do!

I’ll start this quarterly recap with a little break from the racing action. Over new years, Whitney Wesson and I took a vacation. I know what you’re thinking: “Luke, your whole life is a vacation!”  But, even as passionate as I am about racing and as much as I love everything that surrounds the sport, it can become a job like anything else. And every now and then, you just need a break. The day after Christmas, we set out for Texas, my old “stomping grounds.”  We spent a week catching up with old friends, and taking in some concerts and shows from the great Southwestern artists that the rest of the country misses out on. We saw Randy Rogers Band at Billy Bob’s. We saw Kevin Fowler at Cowboys San Antonio. We saw Reckless Kelly at Gruene Hall, which, for those of you who haven’t been is Texas’ oldest dance hall and one of the coolest places on earth. And we capped it off with the grand finale: Wade Bowen and Cross Canadian Ragweed at the Dallas House of Blues on New Years Eve. Best of all, there was very little talk and even less thought of racing and race cars for an entire week. Talk about a way to recharge the proverbial batteries!

That whole break from racing gimmick was short lived. We got home late New Years Night, which was a Thursday. Friday morning I set out for Montgomery Motorsports Park and the annual Hangover Nationals with the trusty Vega. There, I got bounced early in competition on Friday and Sunday. Saturday, Adam Davis, Jason McClure, and I made what is becoming an annual trip to Mobile Dragway for their $5,000-to-win Footbrake Nationals. We’ve been going for three years, and the event has been really good to me. In 2007, I won the first day and Adam won the second. Last season, I was runner-up to Mark Taylor. This year was no exception, as I was able to sneak out of Mobile with the money after a great race in the final with Terry Paul. Nothing like ringing in the new year with five grand!

I went back to Mobile the following weekend for their Super Pro Nationals, but didn’t experience the same success. What was most racers first race of the season was actually my last: I was trying to string the Vega out one more week before everything got replaced or freshened, and it showed. I made the trek back to Woodville following a 4th round defeat.
 
 
The ThisIsBracketRacing.com Vega kicked off 2009 where she left off 2008, in the winner circle!  I got lucky and won a big Footbrake race in LA (Lower Alabama) on New Years weekend.
 
From that point, the Vega got torn down to nearly nothing, as I did extensive updates (re-wired, re-plumbed, changed around some mounts and brackets, new lexan, freshened everything, etc.) for the next couple of months.

I hit the track again in early February, when I made the trek south to Immokalee Regional Raceway for the IHRA season opener. My buddy Bruce Thrift said it best when he gave me directions to Immokalee last season: “Drive South until you see Castro, then turn around and come back 2 blocks!” It’s way down there.

Well, the new motor for the Stocker wasn’t done, and I had the Vega tore apart, so I took my ThisIsBracketRacing.com dragster and Bryan Robinson’s dragster to Immokalee to run Top Dragster and Quick Rod. A brake problem sidelined my car on day one, and I was fortunate to be able to hop into Anthony Bertozzi’s ride and run Top Dragster anyhow. I got bounced in round 1 in Quick Rod with Bryan’s car, and went a few rounds in TD in Anthony’s, but nothing special. On day 2, I got my car fixed, only to make two runs and break a lifter. Back in Anthony’s whip for the rest of the weekend. That day I made the semi’s in Quick Rod before losing to Steve Muller, and again went a couple rounds in Anthony’s car. On Sunday I got whacked first round in both cars. If my recap of the event sounds kind of brief, it’s because I’ve tried to block it from my memory; it wasn’t one of my better outings.
 

Back home, I turned my focus back to ThisIsBracketRacing.com which launched in early February. I know a lot of you that read this are members on the site, and I want to thank each of you for that. ThisIsBracketRacing.com has taken off quicker than I’d ever anticipated, and we’ve gotten some great feedback and response. Seeing a dream and a vision come to fruition, and then seeing it become accepted by people who really appear to benefit from it is one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had. It’s been a lot of fun. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the site, I’ll try to give a cliff’s notes version without turning this column into a complete advertisement. The site is available to everyone - we’ve got an overview, biographies of our instructors, and some basic resources that are available to anyone who logs on. The meat of the site, however, is for our members. With an annual or 3-month trial subscription, members have access to a number of quality resources. The first is a monthly “tutorial” column by yours truly, in which I try to cover various topics related to racing aimed at improving each of our racing exploits. They range from primitive to cerebral and strategic. Additionally, we’ve got a great line-up of guest instructors (Jared Pennington, Danny Waters, Jr., Jeg Coughlin, Jr., Peter Biondo, Brian Folk, and Troy Williams, Jr.) whose columns are featured every other month. Plus, we’ve got some interaction in the form of the JEGS Q&A--where members submit racing related questions to myself and the other instructors. We try to answer each question individually, and twice a month we select a question (and answer) to post on the site for everyone to view. We’ve also got some other cool resources, including what I believe is the most comprehensive sportsman racing schedule available (we’ve tried to list every NHRA & IHRA event, as well as any bracket race that pays $5,000 or more to win, anywhere on the continent). Plus, we’ve got the BTE Power Rankings feature, in which we systematically rank sportsman competitors (regardless of class or sanction) by their performances in events within that comprehensive schedule. I know the site has opened my eyes and made me think about bracket racing on a lot of different levels, and I think that the majority of our subscribers have benefited from their involvement. Just as important, it’s a lot of fun for everyone. I encourage each of you that haven’t yet had the opportunity to check it out!

I took a week off after returning from Cuba, err, Immokalee, before kicking off my bracket racing campaign at the King of the Coast Series event in Gulfport, MS. I still didn’t have the Vega done, so I brought the dragster and I stole Adam’s Nova to run in Footbrake (he was down in Florida running Stock and Super Stock, so he wouldn’t need it). I felt like the man to beat in the dragster all weekend; I made great runs throughout. But, both days I made a slight mistake that cost me. After a string of .00 reactions, I missed it just a touch with a .013 in the quarterfinals Saturday, and took .005 to be .003 under. Sunday I was -.001 in the quarterfinal round. After thoroughly embarrassing myself in the Footbrake category on Saturday, I managed to pull it together long enough to make the final before I came tumbling out of the Nova. There, I staged up beside fellow ThisIsBracketRacing.com instructor Jared Pennington, and he proceeded to teach me a thing or two: posting a .013 package (that was about a quarter the size of my reaction time) and making me a runner-up.
 
 
My Losers Circle shot from Gulport. At least Jed was kind enough to hop in the picture after cracking me in the final!
 
The following weekend took me to Montgomery Motorsports Park for the first Super 7 Series event of 2009. Since Bryan hadn’t picked up his dragster from the Immokalee journey, I figured I’d go ahead and race it for him. I took the pair of dragsters to Montgomery and had things rolling really well “For a minute” I had both cars in the semi-final round, and was on opposite sides of the ladder. I had zero cars in the final round. I’ve done this before. And, as bad as I hate to say it, I hope to one day have the chance to do it again. But losing in the semi’s sucks. And, when you get both of the semi-final checks, it really sucks. I lost a really good run beside John Labbous, Jr. (Yea, imagine that, I lost to little Caboose—that’s only the 87th consecutive time he’s whipped me late in a race) in Bryan’s car. Then, I just fell out of the car in the other semi-final opposite Ron Lane. My buddy Stephen McCrory called the next day to tell me that he found the ball I’d dropped in the staging lanes the night before. Thanks buddy.

Sunday morning we awoke to snow. I didn’t stutter. In 15 years of racing, I can’t remember ever being snowed out, much less in Montgomery, Alabama. But life is full of surprises. After a somewhat treacherous drive home, I regrouped and got things ready for a trip to the Bayou for the IHRA Mardi Gras Nationals in Baton Rouge.

The Baton Rouge trip was actually a lot of fun. I’ve been a fairly vocal critic of IHRA and some of their decisions in the past, so it’s only fair to praise them here. The Mardi Gras Nationals was the most enjoyable IHRA event I’ve ever attended. Kudos to the IHRA staff and the folks State Capital Raceway for having their stuff together and going out of their way to make this a special event. With the Stocker and the Vega still sidelined, I set out for Baton Rouge with only my dragster and intentions of running just one category at a national event for the first time in memory. That changed on the way to the track, however, as Bruce Thrift called and offered me the keys to his dragster to run the Top Dragster category. About 12 hours later, I went 6.72 at 196 miles per hour to qualify in the top half of the field. And that, my friends, was cool! I’d never been fast (I’d never made a six second run), and I certainly can’t afford to do it very often on my own, but that was a really neat experience. The rush when the nitrous kicked in (I went 4.28 to the 1/8th) was awesome, the feeling like you hit a brick wall when the nitrous shut off is indescribable (I thought it blew up), and then driving into the chute at nearly 200 is pretty neat. I don’t have any desire to run alcohol or nitro cars, so that’s the pinnacle as far as I’m concerned, and I thank Bruce once again for the opportunity.
 
 
Here I am with another ragtag group of roughens after a Quick Rod triumph in Baton Rouge back in March. Photo courtesy of BME Photography

My stay in Top Dragster was short lived, as Nick Folk destroyed me in round 2. I actually did a pretty decent job (and believe me, the whole ripping, dropping, catching a drop thing-it happens in a hurry going 6.80’s!), but Nick made a great run and whipped me. I did manage to make some good runs and get a lot of breaks in my car and I actually won the Quick Rod category. In addition to a much needed influx of cash, and the trophy and exposure that goes along with a national event victory, the win also secured a spot in IHRA’s Tournament of Champions in October. That means I’ll be one of the select few in the runoff for the 2009 World Championship, and that is a pretty cool place to be!

Next up, I journeyed to Bowling Green, KY and my favorite racing facility: Beech Bend Raceway Park for the annual Tenn-Tuck Series event. I love Bowling Green; partially because I’ve had really good luck there, but I think I’d like the place regardless - it’s just an awesome facility run by great people. I took my dragster and finally returned Bryan’s car to him at the event (which he promptly won on day 1). I drove my car and Brian Horton’s dragster in all five $10,000 events (you gotta love Tenn-Tuck!). In the second race I advanced to the quarterfinal round before turning it -.001 to Shawn Langdon (if that sounds familiar that’s exactly what I did the last time we ran, in the Ultimate Gambler in Las Vegas last Thanksgiving). Shawn went on to win. In fact, he put on a little bit of a show, winning that event Friday evening, and then taking runner-up in the first event on Saturday.
 
 
Brian Horton and I (along with a group of Midwestern “picture crashers”) after our win at the Tenn-Tuck event in Bowling Green.

Saturday night, I had both cars in late, but had transmission problems in my car. I did manage to eke out a victory at the wheel of Brian’s American Race Cars machine, knocking off young (does he have a drivers license?) Cory Hedgecock in the final round. I’m 27, and racing kids like that makes me feel old - and probably past my prime!

After a pretty solid weekend, my Sunday performance was less than impressive, as I failed to turn on the electricity in my lane with a pair of first round losses and headed back to Woodville.
 
I took the following weekend off to finish up the Vega and recharge a little bit before heading back to Montgomery for the Super 7 Series event. This was another one of those weekends I’d just assume forget. The Vega debut was a bust to say the least: I was experimenting with torque converters and I missed. The result was one round win on the weekend (and that round I punctured a tube in one of the slicks and all but wrecked--which provided the excitement for the weekend). In my dragster I went rounds but couldn’t seem to make the good run when I needed to, and I ended up way in the red.
 
With the “magic” old faithful converter back in the Vega, I headed to Bristol for George Howards TCI Twins Series and $100,000-to-win event. I entered the dragster in Pro and the Vega in No Box, and Brian Horton brought his dragster down for me to run in Pro as well. Friday the rains came and washed out the festivities. Saturday, we got the $100,000 race in, and nothing else. I bumped it red third round in Brian”s car, and Jon Jon Ciccarone played me like a fiddle 4th round in my car. So, I got a good seat to watch Scotty Richardson win the big go. I know, can you believe it? Scotty won a big race at Bristol? To my knowledge, that facility has hosted three events that paid $50,000 or more to the winner: the first two editions of the World Footbrake Challenge, and this event. Each of the big checks were deposited in the same account. The man is simply phenomenal.

Sunday my weekend took a turn for the better: I advanced thru eight rounds of No Box competition in the crazy little Vega to pick up the $5,000 win over Joe Robertson. I actually was really good on the tree all day, and the Vega was sick as ever--printing time slips like she does. It was great to get back on top in it. I actually had a shot at doubling too, as I drove Brian’s car to the quarterfinals in Pro. There, my old buddy Bones thrashed me for the second time in one day, and went on to knock off another pal, Troy Williams, Jr. in the final.

As a side note, I managed to talk Peter Biondo into doubling with me in the Vega - and I think he actually liked it (how could you not like the Vega?) He was a little wary of it when he first approached it (for those of you who haven’t seen the Vega up close, let’s just say there’s a lot to be wary of). And, when he sat in it, and I showed him how everything works, you should’ve seen the look on his face when I said: “It’s real burnout sensitive. So I just set the line lock, run it up into high gear, and hold the button until smoke starts coming thru that big ass hole in the floorboard. Then let the line lock go and drive out of it.” Pete says that’s pretty redneck. But he’s a Yankee.

It looked like we might both be in late on Sunday, but he turned on the cherry with a -.001 in the fifth round, and had to catch a flight home before the second race got started.

In the second race, I pulled a real boneheaded move in Brian’s car that cost him a lot of money. I came back from round 1 with a broken rocker arm. We replaced it, but I decided to go ahead and fish the lifter out to make sure it wasn’t hurt too. Well, in my haste, I put it back in with the link bar upside down, and when I drove the staging lanes for round 2 I destroyed the lifter and the camshaft. Nice job genius! I’ve only done this, what, 1,000 times? And my brain fart destroys my buddies motor. Not one of my finer moments.

In both my cars (you know, the ones I didn’t tear up), I drove well and caught some breaks. I had them both in when the rains came 5th round and got a pretty healthy split of the prize money, making the weekend fairly lucrative.

The next weekend brought the first ThisIsBracketRacing.com’s “Live” Junior Dragster driving school, hosted by yours truly, along with Jared Pennington and Jeff Kile at Holiday Raceway in Woodstock, GA. We did a classroom session on Friday night and on-track racing all day Saturday, until the track opened for it’s weekly bracket program. I am not exaggerating at all when I say that this was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of! The kids were unbelievable. The parents were great. My cohorts, Jed and Jeff were so great to work with. The staff at Holiday Raceway was incredible. Being with the kids (there were 10 signed up, from age 8 to 16), sharing some of the knowledge I have of the sport (which is really all I’ve ever known), and seeing them take it and visibly improve throughout the course of the two days - it’s the coolest thing in the world. I can only imagine how teachers and professors feel when they send their students off to the next level or into the real world--I mean I felt great about it, and I just tried to teach kids how to drag race. Imagine how gratifying it has to be to teach something that really matters! To each of the students and parents, and to everyone involved: thank you! I had the time of my life, and I can’t wait to do it again!

A couple quick notes from the Jr. School: we had some studs. There is no doubt in my mind that within 4-8 years, I need to find another way to make a living. I was thoroughly impressed by the class as a whole--their focus on the starting line and their basic understanding of finish line theory is phenomenal.

A second note: we had an 8-year-old girl in the class. Once we got thru the classroom portion, she said she understood what we were talking about as far as driving the finish line, but she’d never tried it. As one of the exercises to get her used to looking around down track, I told her I’d be standing at the finish line, just on the other side of the guard rail, and when she came by I’d hold my hand out. I wanted her to come back from the run and tell me how many fingers I held up. As she approached, I held up four fingers, and she waved at me (at 55 mph). I was tickled. I told her she really needed to keep both hands on the wheel, but I couldn’t help but laugh. On her first side-by-side run, she made the turn, got out, and said: “Luke, I got there first, but it was close. Like 2 feet I think.” She got there .020 (at 55 mph). I think she’s a natural!
 
 
Here was our group of students, along with Jared, Jeff and I at Holiday Raceway following the ThisIsBracketRacing.com “Live” Junior Dragster School. This was an incredible experience that I can’t wait to be involved with again.

Once school was out, the instructors got to play a little bit themselves, and I entered the Vega in both classes for Holiday’s regular Saturday night program. I bumped it red 4th round in Super Pro, but I managed to win Footbrake in the Vega. Not to brag (well, not too much anyways), but for those of you keeping track I’m undefeated in the Vega in bottom bulb competition in 2009 (With wins at Mobile, Bristol, and Holiday). And, I’m not going to run it for nearly a month - so I’ll stay perfect for a little while!

The next weekend I made my 2009 NHRA debut at the Summit Southern Nationals in Atlanta. They didn’t have Stock at the event, so Scotty Stillings let me drive his Grand Am in SS/AM. I’d driven the car once before (diehard OTR readers may recall that I won first round at a divisional event in it, then got rained out and didn’t go back - so I claim to be undefeated in Super Stock competition), and it’s a blast. I did a pretty decent job of driving it, but did a horrible job of qualifying it; and I hooked the fastest (and only other) SS/AM car on the premises for a heads up 2nd round tilt. I had the starting line advantage by over a tenth, and as he came by me at the 100ft mark, I was coaching him as best I could:

“Alright - Blow up! Wreck! ”

He did neither: at the 1/8th mile he went 5.36 to my 5.68, and I gave up (we had radials on and very little oil, and I didn’t see the point in winding the poor motor up any farther). So that was the end of Super Stock.

In Super Comp, in my trusty ThisIsBracketRacing.com dragster, however, I finally broke thru for my first NHRA victory, and my first “Wally” since I won one in junior dragster 15 years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t attended a whole lot of NHRA races in my life, but I’d been to enough that I felt like I should’ve won at least one by now. And it feels great to have finally pulled it off. Granted, the stars were aligned; and I had every break imaginable. But that doesn’t matter. I can say I’ve won an NHRA national event, and I’ve got the Wally to prove it!
 
 
My buddy Michael (Whopper, Jr.) Rastall in the final of Super Comp at Atlanta. In about  8 seconds I’ll be a national event winner! It was Whop’s first national event final too, I  wish there was a way both win lights could’ve come on. Photo courtesy of Auto Imagery

The Atlanta race finished on Monday morning after the weather delays, which made for a short week to get ready to go to Rockingham for the IHRA Springs Nationals and the Summit All-Stars events. This would be a big weekend for me, as I’d had the good fortune to qualify for the All-Stars field in three categories. The Rockingham race would mark my 2009 debut in Stock Eliminator in Bryan Robinson’s Nova, plus I’d have my dragster in both the Quick Rod and Top Dragster All-Stars events, as well as Quick Rod in the regular National event. All told, I made 27 runs at a national event! Has anyone ever done that? It was crazy, it was hectic--but you know me: I love racing. So it was a lot of fun!
 
 
Rockingham was the 2009 debut for Bryan Robinson’s Stock Eliminator car. We’ve reinvented the wheel on this thing and we’ve learned a lot over the winter. Special thanks to engine builder Brian Rogers for all his hard work, and Sand Mountain Dragway for being so cooperative with various testing outings. Photo courtesy of BME Photography

I cheesed in the All-Stars race in Stock, and met the bulb coming on for a -.020 in the first round. I made phenomenal runs in the Quick Rod All-Stars, to no avail. Second round my .006, take .002 was no good beside Scooter Choate (Scooter, buddy, That run is supposed to win!). But in Top Dragster I got the breaks once again, and was able to capture the Summit All-Star title when Brett Nesbitt had problems in the final. So here I was, in back-to-back weeks with possibly the two biggest wins of my career: an NHRA national event, and the Summit All-Stars crown. How cool is that?
 
 
As you might imagine, this was a prelude to a long night! Photo courtesy of BME Photography.
 
In the actual national event at Rockingham, I lost a really good run with Dan Fletcher in 3rd round of Stock. I missed the tree in the semi’s against Marc Caruso (mistake number one), then elected to take the finish line regardless (fatal mistake number two), ending my day a round short of another nice payday.

At any rate, it’s been a phenomenal start to the season, and everything I’ve got going on has been so enjoyable! For whatever reason, things are really going my way! Of course, it wouldn’t be possible for things to go my way without the help of some great people and great companies. My marketing partners include ThisIsBracketRacing.com, Huntsville Engine & Performance, Bill Taylor Enterprises, Mickey Thompson Tires, JEGS, American Race Cars, Brodix, Figspeed.com, Advanced Product Design, CSR Performance Products, Milodon, B&M, ISC Racers Tape, K&N Filters, K&R Performance Products, Auto Meter, Moser Engineering, Goza Racing Products, Rockett Brand Racing Fuel, AFCO, Hedman Hedders, Nitrous Express, Nitroplate, and DragRaceResults.com. In the coming weeks I’ll be doing some more “TV” racing, with NHRA national events in St. Louis and Bristol sandwiched around another ThisIsBracketRacing.com Live driving school at Mo-Kan Dragway. From there, I get back to bracket racing for awhile with the Great American Bracket Race in Belle Rose, LA; the Ultimate 64 Shootout in Ohio; and the Ohio Crankshaft No Box Nationals in Bunker Hill, IN. Thanks again for reading, and I’m sure I’ll see you “On the Road.”

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