07-08 "On The Road" with Luke Bogacki
As usual, I’m way behind with this column. Instead of a monthly recap, I’ve let this drag on for three, so my incessant rambling will go on entirely too long this time around, and I can already tell that we’ll split this up into two articles, so as not to run your printer out of paper before you retreat to the can for some reading. The season is shaping up to be a good one, although there have certainly been times I’ve had my doubts. The last six weeks have been remarkable, far surpassing my hopes, but that’s the way the sport sometimes goes; more often than not, it’s all or nothing.
At the end of my last column, I was just about to head to Baton Rouge, LA for the IHRA Pro-Am event there. I actually talked my Stock Eliminator car owner, former NHRA Super Gas World Champion Bryan Robinson, into coming out of semi-retirement and coming to Baton Rouge (I say he’s semi-retired… He still races quite a bit, but if it doesn’t happen at Memphis or Holly Springs, he’s not going). I had this master plan, so to speak, of running Stock and Hot Rod at Baton Rouge (it’s a long story as to how I justified this, but trust me--it made sense--to me). The only problem with that plan was that I don’t have a way to get two door cars to the track. Enter Bryan and his buddy Butch “Austin Coil“ Daugherty. They brought the Stocker to Baton Rouge, and I took the Vega and the dragster. I entered Stock and Hot Rod, and Bryan put my dragster in Top Dragster.
Well, the weekend didn’t go as well as I’d hoped in Hot Rod and Stock. In the Vega, my string of making strong runs in the 10.90 class for the “L” continued; first round Saturday I’m .010 take .005 and look across the track at a win light. Day 2, I make it to third round, where I’m something like .012 take .008 for the loss on a double-breakout. Hot Rod sucks.
In Stock, I got in a perfect spot on the ladder for Saturday’s race: if I win two rounds I bye to the quarters. If I win there, I bye again to the final. No heads-up races, I’m the only A/SA car on the grounds--awesome! First round goes as planned. Second round I forget to floor it when the light comes on, and my .040 lamp gets me beat. So much for my well thought out plan!
Thankfully, my man Brob salvaged the weekend with a Top Dragster victory on Saturday night. That’s right--the guy can still get it done. He drove great all night, mowed thru everyone, and parked the CSR Performance Parts dragster in the winner circle at about 2:00 AM Sunday morning.
One great tidbit from Saturday’s Top Dragster win… In division 4, they ladder Top Dragster off qualifying. So, by the time Bryan pulls to the lanes for first round pairings at about 9:00 p.m. (there were lengthy weather delays), about half of the 60-car field is p aired and run-off without our opponent making an appearance. Bryan finally asks “Where is this guy?” I said I didn’t know, but he’s parked right behind the lanes--so I go see what’s going on.
When I get to our opponents trailer, his car is sitting out with no one around. A man appears from the motor home, so I say “Hey man, they called Top Dragster.”
“Yea, they’re about halfway done with the round.” I said.
“We’re not gonna make it,” he informs me.
Okay… “You guys break something?”
“I don’t understand,” I say honestly.
“<Drivers name>‘s in the motor home, he’s asleep.”
At this point I can’t help myself. “Why?”
This is where the man looks at me as if I just landed on a space ship, and says “Because he’s tired.”
So Bryan got a competition bye run in round one because his opponent was… well… tired.
Sunday morning, working on all of 4 hours of sleep, I warm up the Stocker and break the rear end (yea--warming it up). Well, testing a couple days before I told Bryan it was making all kind of noise, so he brought a spare ring and pinion. Long story short, we changed ring and pinion (and u-joints--it killed them too) in time to make first round. Keep in mind, this isn’t a 9”--this is a 10-bolt. Impressive, huh? Factor in the fact that we really didn’t have the right u-joints and completely jeri-rigged a set up that could’ve gotten me killed, and it was a real cool deal. Huge thanks to my longtime buddy Wendell Dunaway, the Hamlin’s-Daryl and Daryl, Jr., Austin Coil, Bryan, and everyone else who had a hand in the thrash.
The best part; looking at Wendell and saying, “Just get me through six runs.”
And his suspicious response, “I don’t know about this, brother.” Good stuff!
Anyhow, I make first round without the benefit of a time run. I dial up a minute, miss the tree, and somehow manage a victory when my opponent is later than me and way over the dial. In round 2, I’m still holding several tenths, which comes in real handy when I blow the tires off at the hit. The car has an internal 1-2 shift, so it shifts into second in the midst of this burnout. As the race ended up, I held it on the floor (thinking I could go at least .2-under if it hooked) and got there first .006 to be .06-over. In round 3, I dial up more… It blows the tires off again, but I’m good on the tree and roll my opponent thru for the win.
Keep in mind, up to this point I had not advanced past the second round in Stock Eliminator competition all season. Now, with all hell breaking loose we keep turning on win lights and we’re down to 5 cars. There, I run Jarrod Granier, and the two-step (I’ll get more into this debacle later in the column) doesn’t engage. I catch the car before I knock out the pre-stage, but I have no idea where I’m at and I’m pretty flustered. I go -.080 or some kind of crazy red, giving away a potential bye run to the finals.
Meanwhile, Bryan once again rolled thru the Top Dragster field down to 8 cars where he missed the tree and got beat. After a long night the night before, short sleep, and an all-out thrash all day I was beat. I stayed at the track Sunday night and got some rest before returning to Alabama Monday.
The next weekend I took the Vega to Sand Mountain for their weekly Friday night program and was going into the fourth round in both classes before the rains came and washed out the festivities. We split the purse, which gave me a little diesel money to go to Nashville the next morning. I took the Stocker there, and Brett “PB” Murphree took the Vega for me.
The outing was less than spectacular, as I picked up three losing tickets in round three--but our chassis guru Matt Tinnin came out and helped get the Stocker lined out so we wouldn’t have to continue to hold half a second. The evening culminated in a crowd-pleasing, bumper-dragging wheel stand that brought a grin to this author’s face. And that, my friends, made the trip worthwhile.
I loaded up that wheelie truck, along with the CSR Performance Products dragster, and headed for beautiful Bristol Dragway and the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals the following week. There, I lost a real good race to Mickey Whaley in the first round of Super Comp. “Tricky” Mickey has owned me my whole life, and that round was no different. I did a decent job on both ends, but had to be stellar on one or the other and wasn’t. In Stock, I rolled thru the first two rounds to meet up with Shane Carr (another guy who keeps the title to me in his lock box) in the third round Sunday afternoon. Two-step debacle number two gets me in a little deep and I’m -.005 red. It may not have mattered; Shane made a nice lap, and even if I got past him I’d have had a heads-up with Peter Biondo in the semi-finals. He’s only got us covered about half-a-second, so that would’ve been real fun.
I’m not going to get on my soapbox about the two-step rule, although I’m tempted. For those of you who don’t follow Stock Eliminator, NHRA mandated (and IHRA followed) that two-step activators for the Stock class must be activated by the brake pedal (or a button on the face of it), rather than a separate button activated by hand, for 2008. I think it’s a silly rule, and I’m not the only one who’s struggled with it. But the bottom line is that the rules a re the same for everyone, and we all have to find a way to adapt. Those that do so will win, and those who dwell on it and complain will not. So, for my part, after those two episodes, I removed the two-step activator switch and threw it across the pits. I’ll be foot braking for the remainder of the season.
I made a return trip to Bristol the following weekend for the 2nd annual World Footbrake Challenge. This is the biggest weekend of Footbrake only competition of the whole season--it’s a great race, and it’s a race that was very kind to me in 2007 (I runner-upped in the Friday 10-grander to Chris Plott and again in the Saturday 50-grander to Scotty Richardson, earning the biggest weekend payday of my career). So I came in with high expectations. I left feeling like a dick.
The best explanation that I can give: I forgot how to hit the bottom. I was terrible. On the weekend, I ranged from -.030 to .050... And I didn’t know what I was on the tree until they handed me the timeslip. It was pathetic. And it just got in my head--I lost all confidence and drove very badly. I didn’t even win a round in the 50 grander (granted, I didn’t have the greatest draws: Scotty, Peter Biondo, Micheal Beard, and another opponent I didn’t know--but he cracked me too). The only saving grace from the weekend was that I managed to win three rounds in a hi-roller gamblers race Friday night and runner-up to John Labbous. That paid for an otherwise miserable weekend. Scotty, by the way, won the $50,000 for the second consecutive season--which is remarkable given the competition at that event--even for a guy who is arguably the best that’s ever staged up.
After a brief stint at home to swap cars and get everything road ready, I set out on my first Northern trip of the 2008 season. The trip kicked off with the IHRA Pro-Am event at Milan Dragway, then moved to Mountain Park Dragway in Kentucky for the annual Ultimate 64 Shootout, and finally to O’Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis for the JEGS U.S. Open before heading back to Woodville. In between each event, I would be burning the midnight oil at American Race Cars to get my new pipe finished and hopefully running for the JEGS U.S. Open.
The trip started on a high note in Milan. I jumped in Brian Horton’s American Dragster and promptly won Quick Rod on the opening day. I hit the tree great, drove the finish line terrible, and somehow escaped with my first 8.90 win in years. On Sunday, I got cracked first round in 8.90, but drove my car to the runner-up in Top Dragster. Runner-Up is great, points-wise, until you consider that I lost to the guy I’m chasing in points; that pesky Scotty Richardson character. Scotty did a great job of making the race look really silly, and spraying past me by the slimmest of margins (it’s the first time slip I’ve ever gotten where the finish margin read .0000). He’s pretty good.
I spent the next week getting the new dragster wired and started on assembly before I set out for Clay City and the Ultimate 64 Shootout. There, my run continued… For a minute. I won the first race of the weekend, a 32-car, $5,000-to-win shootout on Friday morning. I beat Edmond Richardson in the final, and made strong runs throughout. That was good. I love the Ultimate 64--it’s a real cool format, and it gives me the opportunity to do a ton of racing. I’ve entered every event they’ve had in each of the three seasons of the race--I don’t miss a beat. The only problem with that is that a guy loses a lot in a given weekend. I think I got beat 16 times while I was in Kentucky--and I had a pretty decent weekend! Outside of the $5,000 win, there were few highlights. In the No Box Shootout, I lost to Earl Lee in a Chevy Van 3rd round. I’d be embarrassed about losing to a Chevy Van normally, but it’s Earl Lee--the guy has won races in a motor home--he’s pretty good too.
The $50,000-to-win main event was to be my last outing in my 2007 American Dragster. The ole maid has been real good to me, and I had every intention of sending her out in style. Unfortunately, she didn’t want to cooperate. First round, it looked really fast out. I dialed up a little extra in hopes of coaxing my opponent onto the nitrous, with every intention of dropping real hard and hoping he’d go under. That entire plan was working great, until I stood on the brake pedal and it bounced off the floorboard. Apparently, after some 500 runs of great service, a wheel screw caught a brake line at some point during the run, rupturing it, and rendering the left pedal useless. Thankfully, the car is equipped with a complete separate hand brake system, so I had no trouble getting stopped and making the turn, but I was unable to stop quickly enough to avoid losing a double-breakout and getting whacked first round of the 50.
From Clay City, it was back to Toledo and the American Race Cars shop to finish up the new whip. The raffle that I had orchestrated was set to happen the following Saturday at Indy, and I intended to have the ‘07 car gone and be racing the ‘08 machine.
Of course, things didn’t go perfectly according to plan, and I showed up at O’Reilly Raceway Park on Thursday afternoon with a race car that wasn’t quite track-worthy. I jumped in Jason Lynch’s car for Thursday and went a few rounds before getting beat fairly late in the race (I’d tell you what I did, but honestly I don’t remember--I lost). I worked on the new car all Thursday evening, which, along with some help from mother nature on Friday, allowed me to make the maiden voyage in the first time session Saturday morning.
I want to take this chance to thank Mark Horton, Travis Colangelo, and the entire gang at American Race Cars. They not only build an awesome race car, but they are an absolute joy to work with. I can call either Mark or Travis anytime, any day of the week, and they have always bent over backwards to help with any questions or problems. That is invaluable.
They’re really a great company to be involved with. I also want to thank CSR Performance, who is the title sponsor on the dragster, as well as Mickey Thompson Tires who does the same on the Vega. My associate partners Bill Taylor Engineering, JEGS, and Huntsville Engine are vital to my success, as are each of my product marketing partners. Those include Hedman Hedders, Nitroplate, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Rockett Brand Race Fuel, Auto Meter, K&R Performance Engineering, ISC Racers Tape, Moser Engineering, Nitrous Express, K&N Filters, Advanced Product Design, Dixie Racing Products, Milodon, Goza Racing Products, B&M, Figspeed.com, AFCO Drag Racing, and TD Performance Products.
The car was great from the word go, and Jason and I double-entered it in the event. Saturday got started with the annual CMTS No Box Tournament, a really cool race that featured 32 top no box drivers who were willing to pay a $1,500 entry. Saturday, we ran off in a winner-take-all format for $32,000, and Sunday the same deal for the other $16,000. In the big show Saturday, I hook Joe Robertson first round. I’m .012, take .003 for the “L”--Smokin’ Joe was .013 package. Pretty nasty on the bottom.
In the regular race, I didn’t fair much better, losing early in both my new whip and Jason’s ride. He tried his best to teach the new dragster how to win, as he had both cars in with just 10 remaining. He lost that round in my car, and fell in the semi’s with his. Pete Biondo (he’s pretty good, too) put on a show at Indy, winning the first day and taking runner-up to Jeg Coughlin on day two. That performance, at the most brutal bracket race I’ve ever attended, was nothing short of phenomenal.
Saturday night, the raffle went off, and I got to call a real nice guy from Arkansas and tell him that his $300 investment won him my American Race Cars dragster. Tony Newberry was on his way home from a bracket race in Memphis when I called, and a happier man you could not find. It was really a cool deal. The four $1,000 cash winners were Todd Ewing, Rodney Frazier, Shaun Neidig, and Britney Schapiro.
In Sunday’s No Box race, I actually went a couple rounds before I was comatose on the tree in round three opposite Scotty Richardson (not the guy you want to miss it against). At ORP, in the left lane there is a real short turnoff, before the 60’ cone. The thought actually went thru my mind to quit mid-wheel stand and make the turn, but I elected to let the embarasment last another 6 seconds before watching Scotty’s beacon shine. Scotty then, gasp, went on to win the $16,000 shootout over Jeremy Mitchell.
The rains brought racing to a halt in round three on Sunday, and I made a beeline for Alabama. The road trips are fun, and while I don’t have a family, or a job, or most of the things people love to come home to--home is home, and after 3 weeks away I was ready for a night in my own bed!
That will wrap up the first half of this column. I know that only brings us up to mid-June, and it’s now mid-August, but I’ll give you faithful readers a couple days to digest this content before I get into the great run that has been the last six weeks (yes, next week I get to gloat, just a little bit).
Before I go, I do want to touch on one topic that I think is extremely important--bigger than drag racing, and much bigger than me or you. That unpleasant topic is cancer. Studies show that one in four Americans will face cancer of some form during their life. And, statistically, every American will be affected by the disease, either directly, or as a caregiver for a loved one. Those are pretty amazing numbers.
Personally, I’ve seen the devastating effects of the disease first hand. My father was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2000, and succumbed to it August 17, 2001. During that time period, I watched the strongest, smartest man I’ve ever known fight a battle that he couldn’t win.
The Coughlin family, one of the most recognizable families in our sport, has been affected first hand by cancer as well. Through their battle, they set out to do something. As such, they developed the JEGS Foundation for cancer research. The JEGS foundation is many things, but it was created to develop awareness. It’s something small that we can do, as racers, to create awareness of the disease, it’s possible causes, and devastating effects--and to create awareness of the many facilities dedicated to cancer research in hopes of someday finding a cure. You may have seen the JEGS Foundation logo on several cars, and fire jackets, including my own.
The JEGS Foundation is a non-profit organization. In fact, the folks at JEGS were weary of my including the following paragraph in this column--the foundation was not designed to raise funds from outside sources. But, like anything else in the world, it takes money to make it happen.
I’m not a wealthy guy. I race cars for a living, and I’ve essentially given up several opportunities at a more lucrative career to chase this dream and do what I love. But even I can help. Alone, maybe I can’t make much of a difference, but together, as a racing community, maybe WE can. Starting in June, I have pledged to donate 1% of my race winnings to the JEGS Foundation for cancer research. It’s not much, but I’ll never miss it, and I feel like I’m making a contribution. I challenge each of you, no matter how ambitious your personal racing operation is, to do the same. Hey, anytime we win it’s a good day, and for most of us the prize money is a bonus. What’s ten bucks each time we win a thousand? For the researchers, it all adds up.
Cancer is a big thing. I can’t stop it. You can’t stop it. But there are people working everyday for a cure. And, if in some small way I can help to ensure that some day someone and their family won’t suffer from the pain it causes, well there’s something that I can do to leave a mark. And I urge you to do the same.
Thanks again for reading. Next week we’ll breeze thru the months of July and August to bring things up to date!