12-05 "On the Road" with Luke Bogacki
YES!!! It’s Over!!! While guys like Scotty Richardson, Steve Witherow, Jr., and Troy Williams, Jr. enjoyed banner seasons that I’m sure they didn’t want to see come to an end, and awesome runs from Johnny Labbous, Jr. and Todd Ewing may have been cut short by the season’s conclusion--let me be the first to say: Thank goodness it’s over!
2005 started and ended as my least productive year behind the wheel since I was seventeen years old in terms of winnings, and probably my worst season ever in terms of win percentage and races won. I’d just as soon forget that 2005 ever happened, but that wouldn’t be any fun for you...so we’ll pour a little salt on the recent wounds!
If you recall the close of my last column, I actually had a bit of enthusiasm going for me. I mean, it had been a sub-par season to that point, but I had a good car (Mark Horton’s Worthy 4-link Dragster). I was looking at a schedule full of the biggest events in the country, and I felt like things were bound to turn around at some point. That’s humorous now...but that was really the sentiment at the time.
Following my last column (and an early exit at Brainerd Optimist Dragway), I had my mind set on heading east to my only IHRA Pro-Am appearance of the season: the Division 2 closer at Carolina Dragway. I thought the back-to-back Top Dragster events would be a good warm-up for the BTE Million the following weekend, plus I wanted to be on hand to see my buddies Troy Williams, Jr. and Jason Folk take their shots at the IHRA World Championships in Q/R and T/D. That all looked good on paper... Thursday night while performing routine maintenance on the generator in the RV I decide that I should go ahead and fix the petcock that has been leaking water for the past month or so. Good plan... While fidgeting with the plastic petcock, I break it, sending a water/antifreeze mixture throughout the driveway. What’s better? It broke in a spot where there’s not enough left to remove the remaining piece. A trip to Huntsville, and a $100 bill later, I return with a 1” NPT tap, drill through the existing hole (yes, in the BLOCK of the generator....with a hand drill....) and fix that problem for good. No big deal--by lunch Friday I’m ready to roll, just need to get some groceries and wait on the UPS man for some parts. I swing into the local Piggly Wiggly to pick up supplies, and head back to the bus, only to find that the refrigerator has quit. Great!
Okay, that’s not the end of the world either, I’ll just take the necessities in a cooler, and I’ll fix that next week. I just need those parts on UPS... As you might imagine, they don’t show. So, my leaky generator and hot fridge sat in the driveway and I remedied the situation by consuming several Bud Lights while getting updates hourly from Troy as he won the event and eventually he and Jason both won their championships.
The following Tuesday morning, I set out for Memphis Motorsports Park for my favorite event of the season: the BTE Million Dollar Race. For those of you who have never had the opportunity to compete in or at least attend the million, I highly recommend it. The electricity in that place on Saturday is unlike anything I’ve ever seen at a racetrack, and I think it brings out the best in everyone.
The million dollar weekend has been good to me in the past, but this weekend was not one for the memory books. I got bounced first round Thursday, and fourth round Friday. A couple buddies pooled their money together to enter me in the gamblers race Friday night, which proved to be an absolute waste as I got bounced first round. The million didn’t get much better: 1st round I’m -.001 and my opponent is red behind me. Second round I’m .010 and take .007 to get the boot and watch Jeff Rucks roll through the field from a cozy seat about 18 rows up from the 1/8th mile finish line. The Million Dollar Race recap for your favorite punching bag “Coolhand Luke”: 8 rounds of competition--worst lite: .012 (1 red light)--most stripe taken: .007--rounds won: 3...you gotta love it!
The next weekend brought the “Best Damn Bracket Race...Period” at Montgomery Motorsports Park, in which I was already entered since the original event rained out back in June. But, in between the two events, I had a house full of guests here in Woodville. The neighbors didn’t know what to think of 8 rigs parked in the driveway for the four day layover between Memphis and Montgomery. This is another one of those situations where names will not be disclosed to protect the innocent, but we had a ball and I hope all my buddies enjoyed their stay in the thriving metropolis of Wood-vegas!
At Montgomery, I drove Mark’s car and the Bloomfield Interiors entry of Troy Williams, Jr. since I had two entries in the original. On Friday, I got bounced early in Mark’s car, and had Jeff O'Neill show me a neat little trick fairly late in Troy’s car to end my day.
In the $50,000 main event on Saturday, I’m .005, dead-on 5 in Troy’s car second round, which was no good. And in Mark’s car I managed to make the fifth round, only to turn on the cherry for my opponent. I watched my buddy Gary “Doughboy” Williams claim the $50,000 purse over another close friend, Stephen Hughes. GW is obviously one helluva racer--and he’s got the credentials to back it up. The man simply seems to reach another level when the money is on the line. He’s twenty-seven years old. He’s won the Million Dollar Race, two $50,000 events, and been in the final of three $20,000-to-win races. That’s unheard of!
After those two weeks of beating my head against the wall, I was ready for a change of pace. I spent the next weekend hanging out with my good buddy Lucas Bendall, and we doubled his Camaro at two tracks most folks have probably never heard of: Winston County Dragway and Fulton Dragway. As Mike Franks, the track operator at Fulton told me: “This is just hillbilly drag racing--we have a good time, but it’s not what you’re used to!” On Saturday, I got to three cars in Pro at Winston County, where I took about the entire county of finish line to break out a couple thousandths. Sunday I got whacked early at Fulton, and we actually packed up and headed toward Holly Springs Dragway in an attempt to make their Sunday night program, but the raced was rained out shortly after we left Fulton.
The next weekend, I figured there was no need in driving several hours to take my whipping, so I just got it at Huntsville on Saturday night, in the form of a third round thrashing at the wheel of the Worthy car.
Okay--here’s where it gets good: it’s time to get on the road again!!! The first weekend of October brought the BTE/Citgo Series World Finals at Indianapolis Raceway Park. In addition to being involved in the Dynatech Sportsman points chase on the divisional and national levels, I was pretty excited about the opportunity to make my first trip to the fabled IRP facility. Thanks to the guys at Huntsville Engine, the little 350 in the Vega was repaired and I set it in and got things running in time to leave late Friday afternoon--life is good...for about 3 hours.
Just south of Bowling Green, warning lights and buzzers start going off in the ‘beave, and I realize she has gotten real hot, real quick. I pull over, and get out only to realize that she has slung the serpentine belt. No big deal, it had been on there for a couple years--that’s why I carry a spare. So, I swap it on the side of the interstate, and in my haste I obviously miss the core problem (that the water pump is locked up). So, as you can imagine, two miles later I’m overheating again, with another rubber casualty. I manage to limp the bus up to the nearest exit, pull into a Cracker Barrel, and call it a night.
My good friend Jeremy Jensen comes to rescue the next morning, and takes me into town to look for a water pump. Would you believe that there was not a water pump for a 300hp Cummins in the STATE of Kentucky on that given Saturday? Not to fear: Jeremy and I quickly develop plan B. We load the trusty Vega into his trailer with his dragster, load his Corvette into my trailer beneath Mark’s dragster, and slowly ease my motorhome and trailer to the campground at Beech Bend Park to rest for a couple days (yea, we did all the car swapping in the Cracker Barrel parking lot--gotta love it!).
At any rate, Jeremy and I (and my dog Matty) were on our way to Indy by lunch, which was a bit of an issue considering that eliminations began at 2:00, and we were every bit of four hours from the track. In classic fashion, we rolled into the track as they were finishing first round. “Heck, they’ve got buybacks, who needs a time run?” Jeremy and I each pay our entry and buy back to give second round a whirl.
Of course, I haven’t made a run in the Vega with the current motor--and I’ve got a gas carburetor onboard for the first time since I’ve owned the car. No biggy...just need one good lap, and I’ll know where I’m at. That round, I’m .031 on the lamp, and dead-on my dial-in. Wow! What luck! Of course, my opponent is .020, and .01 above, .003 in front of me for the win...(as they say in the frosty beverage commericals) BRILLIANT!
Jeremy, meanwhile, proceeds to lay down a .010 package in the dark to crush some guy who HAD made time runs. Not wanting my day to be a complete waste, I elect to double-enter Jeremy’s dragster in Super Pro, and pull it back into the back of the line. Of course I get paired with Scotty Richardson, a guy who has won a race or two. I’m in a real good race car--just a real good race car that I’ve never sat in before. I turn the button loose and she hits the tires, only to disintegrate the torque converter and send the engine sky high about two feet off the line. What’s more: it rained/snowed during the third round, and the event was cancelled for the weekend. Quickly, the Indy Recap: Broke down motorhomes: 1. Car swaps in parking lot: 1. High speed tows to Indianapolis with dog in back seat: 1. Time Trials: 0. Competition runs attempted: 2. Competition runs completed: 1. Broken race cars that don’t even belong to me: 1. Round wins: 0. But hey, you can’t put a price on a good time.
Jeremy, Matty, and I head back south Sunday morning. We had located a water pump in Louisville, but couldn’t get to it until Monday morning. So, we spent Sunday at the casino.... It was actually a pretty cool deal, because they had a World Series Of Poker circuit event going that weekend, and I’m hopelessly addicted to the WSOP coverage on ESPN. So getting to see that shake down live was pretty cool. The casino experience didn’t go nearly as badly as the rest of the weekend either. I think after eight hours of entertainment, I was down about ten bucks--and I’m sure I got my money’s worth in buffet food and adult beverages.
The following day we picked up the water pump, and headed back to Beech Bend to fix the ‘Beave. By late afternoon I was back on my way, once again headed north to assemble and pick up my new American Race Cars dragster from Mark Horton and Travis Colangelo in Toledo, OH.
There, Mark, Travis, Brett, Jeff and the guys at American were awesome to work with as always. We pulled my motor out of Mark’s Worthy Car, and finished assembly on the new whip. I’ve included pictures of the car here, and I couldn’t be happier with the way everything turned out. The fit and finish, attention to detail, and the obvious “racer-friendly” thinking that went into the car is unparalleled. By Friday afternoon, I was fired up, loaded up, and heading South.
That evening, I was informed that Edgewater Motorsports Park, near Cincinnati, had a test-n-tune. Perfect, that’s right on my way home. I’ve got some directions onhand, because I’ve never been to Edgewater before, and I like to be prepared... The last turn I’ve got to make is a left on to “such and such” road. Okay, cool. So, I’m driving through town, and there’s the sign: “such and such” road, next left. So, I take the next left. Apparently the road that I turned onto didn’t count. As the “next left” was a windy road that dead-ended into an industrial park...with the gates closed....and locked. At this point, some fella comes up behind me in a little car, and I think “Great, not only am I stuck in here, but now I’m in somebody’s way.”
Turns out, the fella behind me is a Top Sportsman racer who owns the pizza joint on the corner. I got his name, but of course I’ve forgotten it--but he was a helluva nice guy. He helped me get backed out and turned around. He even rode me up to the track to make sure they were open before I took my 75-foot rig down another dead end.
I should have taken all of this as a sign: it’s about 28 degrees... I’ve gotten into and out of a road that my motorhome and trailer was simply not designed to traverse... and this fella has invited me to hang out in the pizzeria, eating pizza and drinking beer... This would have been a good point to call it day. Of course, that wasn’t an option: I came to shake down a new car!
So, I pull into Edgewater and realize that I am one of about 4 cars on the premises with slicks, and the only one capable of breaking the 9-second barrier on the quarter mile. Did I mention it’s below freezing? This should be interesting. The tech man didn’t even want to let me make a run, because with the car being brand new (in every sense of the word), I didn’t have a chassis certification yet. When he decided to let me go for a ride, he went so far as to tell me that there was no way I’d hook up--I was wasting my time. At least he’s honest... And, he made a point of telling me (if he said this once, he said it five times) to “be careful.”
“Have you ever driven anything like this before?”
“I’ve been down the track once or twice.”
After a few more questions and concerned looks, he decided to let me go.
As I round the corner into the water, you’d think I was John Force. The Edgewater faithful (and I mean faithful--it was 20-something degrees), all 12 or so of them in the stands, rushed to the railing. I think the common consensus was “Check out this idiot...he might wreck!” The track crew even stopped me in the water and sprayed VHT down my lane. I’ve never felt like the SHOW in my life! So, I proceed to please the literally dozen(s) of spectators with a 300 foot burnout, a-la Randy Folk in an effort to put some heat in the track. It was a good plan, as I hit the tires and was rolling good until I got to about the point I halted the burnout, and went up in smoke like Whit Bazemore.
Alright, so Edgewater on this evening is not the place for me. So I load back up--only to get my brand new car hung on the trailer door on the way in and completely fold up a freshly painted body panel. Actually, it wasn’t near as bad as it looked--and I don’t think you could even notice it now unless I pointed it out--but boy it did the job of putting me well past the point of mild irritation and into the realm of completely pissed off at the time.
At some point during the evening, I had a bunch of people looking at the car, kind of coming in and out of the trailer, so I put all my valuables (keys, wallet, phone, etc.) into the glove box of the dragster, where they’d be with me. Good, conservative thinking... I remembered this just as clicked the lock on the door of the trailer... Everybody now... BRILLIANT!!!
So, at this point I make my way to the only other enclosed trailer in the pits, and politely ask if he has anything that will cut a lock. The man produces a hacksaw. Now, I’m not going to say that I invested a lot of money in the pad lock set on my trailer, but you can’t touch it with a hacksaw. I give it a futile attempt, but obviously it doesn’t get me anywhere. Upon closer examination, I realize that my trailer is not just the most anti-theft unit ever assembled... If I can get a torx socket and remove 4 bolts, I’m in. So, I go back to hacksaw man (I don’t mean that negatively--if it weren’t for this guys help I never would have gotten into my trailer), and ask if he’s got a torx set. At which point he looks at me like I asked if he’s got a rocket we could hop on and head to Mars. “Okay, how about an allen wrench set?” Here, we strike gold.
I find an allen wrench that fits into the hole pretty close, and as long as the bolts aren’t real tight, I can get them out. The first three come out, no problem. Number four, of course, strips completely. But, with enough pulling, pushing, shaking, and yes...cussing, we (myself, hacksaw man, and his friend) manage to swing the locking handle through the locking mechanism and, lo and behold, open the trailer door. Seriously, I don’t know any names, I’ll probably never see them again, and they’ll probably never know that I thanked them publicly: But thank you Hacksaw man!!!
With that drama out of the way, I headed down the road, found a Cracker Barrel, and called it a night. The next morning, I realize that it’s cold...and I’m about out of propane. No big deal, there was a Flying J a few miles back--I’ll just back track and fill up. Well, I’m wheeling into this Flying J, and thinking “boy, this is pretty tight over here in the “RV” section--ahh, no big deal, they’re all a little small.” Thirty minutes later I was filling out an accident report with the cops because I ran over (yes, I ran over...) a gas pump. No, it wasn’t one of those talented gas pumps that moves and sneaks up on you when you’re not looking. And the hits just keep on coming!
Following that mess, I eventually make it to Mountain Park Dragway, where I get to make my first real hit on the new car. It’s smooth, it’s nice, and it rattles off a 5.10. Humph--it should be about .15 faster than that. That’s odd. Then she goes 5.10. And 5.10. And 5.10--first four laps within .003. Wow!
In the Vega I get whacked second round when (miracle of all miracles) I give the stripe back...boy, there’s a first time for everything. So I’m sitting on the tire of the dragster, waiting on the fourth round call, when I notice that the little set screw that holds the throttle linkage...you know, the little set screw that holds the throttle linkage... Where the hell is the set screw that holds the throttle linkage? Wow, better fix that. And as I’m doing this, I’m thinking “There’s no way I was getting wide open throttle--just no way.” But the little devil on the other shoulder said “Of course it was wide open--the damn thing moved .003 in 4 runs, there’s no way it could do that if this screw hadn’t just fallen out.” And, I convince myself that I should be on a 5.10 lap for the next frame. Sure enough, I’m down about 14 mph and still .02 under, as I was on a nice, conservative, 4.98 lap with “wide open throttle.”
Sunday morning, I got up and headed for Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green--one of my favorite tracks in the country. At least I had a good pit crew: my friend Beth Ann Atkinson decides that she’ll follow me down and hang out despite the fact that I seem to be a disaster waiting to happen. And of course, all of twenty minutes into our trip, I have a blowout on the trailer. Beth is concerned. At this point, nothing surprises me, and I figure if that blowout is the worst thing that happens the rest of the day, life will be good.
For once, the blowout was by far the worst deal of the day... I actually WON a race! I thought I’d forgotten how. Granted, it was a whopping $1,000 event on a regular Sunday show at Bowling Green, but I WON the stinking race. You’d have thought I won Pro Stock at Indy. I WON the race! Seriously, the new car performed flawlessly--I had the best car at the race track, and I drove awesome...I felt like I deserved to win, which is a good feeling when you actually pull it off.
The following weekend, I actually made the trip to South Georgia Motorsports Park in Valdosta without any major incidents (I even made it in...and out of a Flying J unscathed). There, my buddy J.J. Endicott flew in to double the new car with me (J.J. was leading the Division 4 Afco Super Pro Points in the BTE/Citgo Series, and needed an appearance at Valdosta to hold on). Plus, I enlisted Gary Williams to double with me in the Vegamatic (or the Las Vega, depending on your personal preference). On day one, I got bounced early in the Vega, and Scotty got on me with 10 cars remaining in the dragster (we had a nice run--obviously a little nicer for him, as his .008, dead-on 9 whipped my .001 and .001 under taking a minute).
On Friday, I took it on the chin early in the dragster, while J.J. went five rounds, and I made it to ten or so in the Vega before I screwed up somehow (don’t even remember at this point). On Saturday, I got close in the dragster but missed the tree a little, and dropped to a nice, conservative .06 over out of frustration mainly. Of course, my opponent takes .070-plus to be dead-on with a zero. To put an end to my illustrious season along the BTE/Citgo Series, I got to the quarterfinals in Sportsman Sunday night, had a .04 advantage on the tree and a bye to final waiting before I came tumbling out of the Vega at about the 400 foot mark and sat harmlessly just outside the groove as my opponents win light came on yet again. Seriously, no one was injured in the making of that “lose ticket”, but I had a patented “fall out of the car” moment and screwed up the race beyond all recognition.
Fortunately, I did turn on just enough win lights to hold off my buddy Jeff Adkinson and claim the division 2 Sportsman title, which is a small victory on the heels of such a GREAT season. Plus, J.J. wrapped up the Division 4 Afco Super Pro title, so the weekend wasn’t a complete loss for either of us. Scotty Richardson and Phil Combs claimed the BTE/Citgo national titles in Afco Super Pro and Dynatech Sportsman respectively, and they both did a great job throughout the year to earn their championships.
Following the Valdosta episode, I made a few more appearances; at Brainerd Optimist and Huntsville Dragway’s Turkey Trots event, but enjoyed no success whatsoever. And since this has been an awfully long-winded column (and I thank those of you diehards who are still reading at this point), I think I’ll wrap it up with that. I’m not quitting (smart, huh?)...I’ll be back in early February to try this again. Maybe 2006 will be my year!
Thanks for reading, have a great holiday season, and as always: please help support the companies who make my racing (the comedy of errors that it is) possible: Bill Taylor Engineering, Huntsville Engine & Performance, Advanced Product Design, American Race Cars, Hedman Hedders, TD Performance Products, K&R Performance Engineering, Moser Engineering, Brodix Cylinder Heads, Milodon, Valvoline, Goza Racing Products, Afco Drag Racing, Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels, Rockett Brand Race Fuel, Q-Stitch, Autometer, Nitroplate, Dixie Race Products, and Dragraceresults.com.