12-09 "On the Road" with Luke Bogacki

That’s a wrap folks… The 2009 calendar year and racing season is in the books. On the race track, I’m happy to look back on another solid season. While 2009 wasn’t the best year I’ve had on the race track in terms of profit, I think it’s safe to say it was my best season in terms of national recognition. I accomplished two long term goals this season: I won my first NHRA National Event, in Super Comp at Atlanta (and backed it up with a second in Memphis), and I scored my first Winter Series victory last month at Bradenton. Those were two big ones to cross off my list, and I’ve only got a couple “to-do’s” remaining before I could walk away being completely satisfied with my racing career (not that I have any plans to do so).

Away from the race track, this has been one of my most fulfilling years, from both a personal and business standpoint. I’ve watched as a vision I’ve had for a few years became a reality, and the success of ThisIsBracketRacing.com has been breathtaking. We’ve now reached the number of subscribers that I had pinpointed as the “ceiling” in my initial business plan, and the feedback we’ve received has been amazing. It’s created a lot more work than I had originally envisioned, but I can honestly say that I wake up every morning excited to get to work. I think that’s all anyone can ask for. I’ve also been able to take part in over half a dozen “live” racing schools, which has provided some of the most fun, most rewarding experiences of my life. And of course, I mentioned my girlfriend Jessica last column. I’m so lucky to be able to share all of this with her; I’ve finally found someone who gets me, and I get her. And I’m incredibly happy. What a great year!

When I left off last month, I had just returned home from the debacle known as the IHRA Tournament of Champions in Rockingham. The next weekend, Jeff Rucks and the staff at Sand Mountain Dragway played host to our ThisIsBracketRacing.com “Live” driving school. We had a great class of nine students, all of whom I’ve known from racing locally. Jeff, a two-time finalist in the Million Dollar Race for those of you living under a rock for the last decade, was my guest instructor and we had a ball. Jessica was in town for the weekend, and she sat in on the class and helped us out throughout the event. I’ve done enough of these schools now that my nerves aren’t quite as bad as they used to be. But you try talking in front of a group of people with your girlfriend (who happens to be a 6th grade teacher) taking notes, and let’s see how you do!

All kidding aside, we had a great time at Sand Mountain, and each of our students really seemed to benefit from the experience. We saw visual improvement throughout the weekend, which is all we can ask for. Thank you again to Jeff and Suzy Rucks, Wade Lackey, the staff at Sand Mountain Dragway, Jessica, and each of our attending students. I think I speak for everyone when I say it was an enjoyable and memorable weekend.

We wrapped up the Sand Mountain school Sunday evening, and I immediately set out on the seven hour tow south to South Georgia Motorsports Park, where we had another school on Monday morning (who schedules this stuff?). There, Troy Williams, Jr. and I had another excellent group of racers from all corners of the country (South Florida, New Jersey, and California were represented). The on track portion of the school didn’t go nearly as well as we’d hoped, as half the class had motor problems on the opening two runs. But, the racers who were able to win the battle with attrition seemed to benefit a great deal. Again, thanks to Troy Williams, Jr. for assisting in the school, Tim Fleming, Wade Rich, the Wood Family and the staff at SGMP for having us, and each of the students who had enough faith in Troy and myself to spend their time and money with us at SGMP. I can’t wait to do it again!

We wrapped up the school Tuesday evening, and kicked off the SGMP New World 5-Day Championships on Wednesday morning. There, I drove my new dragster, and my buddy Eathon Lanfri (who’d flown in from California for the school) took the wheel of my black dragster for the quarter mile events all week (I drove it in the 1/8th mile races). I made a few mistakes, but overall felt like I drove pretty well. I got to the ladder rounds a couple of times, but never made a deep run. I did turn in a personal best ET (in my own junk at least) of 7.02 @ 190 mph. I had intentions of doing a little tuning and getting a six second time slip, but the car was so good I was afraid to make too many changes, and I never did get around to it. Eathon didn’t have any luck either, and I struggled in the 1/8th mile races as well. We had a lot of fun, but on the race track the event was very forgettable.

Despite my crummy performance that week, things still managed to go my way. My buddy Adam Davis, who’d taken my Vega to Montgomery and won everything they had two weeks prior, struck again in the ThisIsBracketRacing.com Vega. He took it to Natural Bridge, VA for a big Footbrake race. He had two entries in the semi-final round, and narrowly missed running himself in the final with a -.001 red light. He then came back and won the final, earning his second $20,000 payday in as many appearances. The line of the weekend came from Adam:

“Man, you must suck!”

So I said, “Why is that?”

“Because, I’ve seen you lose in this thing. And I CAN’T!”

Following my last defeat at SGMP, I made wholesale changes on both cars, got everything cleaned up, and loaded up, and did some laundry (actually I let the woman at the laundry mat, the one with the beard, do the laundry), I packed up and headed south to sunny Florida for Bradenton Motorsports Park’s version of the 5-Day. There, my spirits brightened considerably when I picked Jessica up at the airport Tuesday night for a week of fun in the sun.

My buddy Todd Thompson, who’s had a great year along the IHRA tour, came up to drive the black car all weekend as I focused my efforts on the Rocket Ship. After a day one rain out, and neither of us really getting anything going on day 2, it all came together on Friday the 13th. In that event, we both advanced to the quarterfinal round, where we had to run according to the ladder. Win or lose, it was pretty cool to have both ThisIsBracketRacing.com dragsters lined up side-by-side that late in a Winter Series event. Todd and I had a great run, and I was fortunate enough to come out on top. I got a lucky break in the semi-finals against Mike Bloomfield, Jr., and advanced to a Bradenton final for the third time in as many years, opposite my buddy John (Jon Jon) Ciccarone. For the first time in my career, I coaxed that last win light into coming on, and won my first “Winter Series” event.

I know I made a big deal about winning the World Footbrake Challenge earlier this summer, and the win at Bradenton was a great achievement in my mind for the same reasons. That day, the best racers in the country (almost to a man) converged on one place, and I was able to win that race, that day. I’ve been going to Florida for six years, and had never won a day of the “Winter Series.” I can’t say that anymore, and that’s a wonderful feeling.

How tough is it to win a “Winter Series” race? In round one the day that I won I was -.002 red, and had to buy back (which, it should be noted, was an availability for the first time since I’ve been going to Florida due to a below average car count). I had been getting my brains beat in for over a week, and told myself “You can’t hit it any better.” I promptly rolled .002 into the box and forgot about it.

Over the next five rounds I was between .000 and .006. In the quarters against Todd, I was .011. After a solid .007 in the semi’s, I had my only sub-par reaction of the day against Jon Jon in the final, where I was .017 (luckily for me, he was .018). I never varied from my 1.153 delay setting (even after turning it .000 in round three). There aren’t many events where I’d dare set up that tight, but there (and for the whole trip) I just didn’t feel like you could leave anything on the table.

Jon Siegel let me double his infamous “Wheelie Wagon” in the 1/8th mile races. Those of you who were at the Million Dollar Race know the wagon well, as Jon advanced to the semi-final round of the big go with a barrage of 6.533 ET’s (not just 6.53 ET’s, 6.533. Four in a row if I remember correctly). What a fun car! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if it weren’t for burnouts and wheelies my interest in racing would wane. Jon’s car does good wheelies! In Saturday’s event, I managed to advance to the semi-finals of the 1/8th mile race before getting smacked around by J.R. Lobner, who went on to win.

Sunday at Bradenton I managed to get to the ladder in both my dragster and Jason Lynch’s car, but dropped them both in the opening ladder round before packing up to head across the state to the new Palm Beach International Raceway.

I don’t think I can say enough about PBIR. We all came in with skepticism about the facility, the management, and this event in general (after all, what could live up to the old Moroso 5-Day?). I can say, without a doubt, that the PBIR facility is one of the nicest race tracks I’ve ever had the pleasure of racing at. The show was well run and the people were friendly. I had a great time at SGMP, and obviously I had success at Bradenton, but I’d have to say that the PBIR 5-day was the best event of the 2009 tour.

On the race track, I really drove better at PBIR than I had the entire trip, but I just couldn’t get anything rolling in my American Race Cars rocket ship. My round two opponents for the first four days laid down the following runs: .011 package, .013 package, .009 and .001 under, and .002 package. And I managed to beat two of those! The competition was brutal, and while I managed to go a few rounds each day, I never made a serious run at victory.

Jon sent the wagon over for me to shoe once again, and once again it carried me deep into eliminations in the Wednesday night 1/8th mile race. I put together a great string of reaction times (.000 to .007 for six straight runs--yep, I’m bragging on myself!), and got past my buddy Jason Lynch in the semi-finals. That set up a match-up with another close friend, Brian Folk in the final round. We towed the wagon to the staging lanes (Pro Stock style) for the final, and Brian and I worked out a fair split. As I turned around to get into the wagon, I hear Brian:

“Hey, why don’t we just split it even, I wanna do a wheelie!”

And it was settled. Brian and I swapped cars for the final. Once he figured out the burnout (which took three attempts… Come on BF!), he did get his wheelie. Apparently, I’m about .020 quicker than he is on the switch, as he was .028 in the wheelie wagon, and I followed with a -.013 red light in his dragster. So, in reality, Brian won even though it shows me as a winner on the internet. You should’ve seen the look on the tech man’s face as we piled out of the cars after the turn off!

The rest of my PBIR experience came and went without much success, and as much as I love racing I was anxious to get on my way home when I took my last whipping of the trip Saturday afternoon. I partnered up with Todd Ewing for the tow home, and we made it well into Georgia before calling it a night. I was laying on my couch watching football by Sunday afternoon.

After a couple of days at home, I capped the 2009 season with a trip to Holly Springs Motorsports for George Howard’s annual “Turkey Trots” event on Thanksgiving weekend. My mom came along to make it a “family outing” and we swindled our way into not one, but two Thanksgiving dinners. We made a stop in Iuka, MS Thursday afternoon for dinner with my favorite Stock Eliminator car owner Bryan Robinson, and his family. Then we made our way to Holly Springs, dropped the trailer off, and went out to Cracker Barrel with the Camden Family, who made the trip down for the event as well.

On the race track, Friday didn’t bring any great luck for me. But I did get to watch Bryan win his fourth $10,000 event of the season at the wheel of Butch Daugherty’s Camaro. Saturday, things were looking up as Jessica and I both made it into round five. Visions of a side-by-side final round were dashed, however, as we both got whacked that round. Rains came on Sunday and put an abrupt end to my 2009 campaign.

After a weekend to regroup, it was off to the PRI show in Orlando to touch base with sponsors, do some legwork for ThisIsBracketRacing.com, and get caught up on the business end of the racing industry. In the weeks since, I’ve been hard at work getting everything geared up to do it again in 2010, making some long overdue updates to the website, and spending some time in Illinois with Jessica and her family.

And with that, I can put a nice little bow on 2009, a very memorable year on and off the race track. I’ve got the best equipment I’ve ever had, and I’m proud to say I feel like I did my job in it, despite having a lot of other things on my plate for the first time in awhile. When it’s all said and done, I managed to pull down 16 wins in 20 final round appearances throughout the 2009 campaign. I won four national events (2 NHRA, 2 IHRA), my first All-Stars event, and a handful of $10,000 bracket races (highlighted by the World Footbrake Challenge and the Bradenton 5-Day). I feel good about winning in a variety of classes and cars, and managed to pull down a big win in every car and basically every category in which I compete, with the exception of Stock Eliminator.

We had a very trying season in Stock, but we’ve learned a lot, and I think we’re better for it. We’ll come out in 2010 with guns blazing, as I plan on making the first legitimate run at the NHRA points series in my career. It’s a new challenge, and I’m really excited about it. Of course, I’ll still make most of the big dollar bracket events, and we’re already scheduling ThisIsBracketRacing.com “Live” schools for 2010. Stay tuned to TIBR for more information, but we’re branching out, and we’ll have schools in all corners of the country next season. Hopefully we’ll have one near your area; we’d love to have you!

Once again, I want to close by thanking the people who make my racing and any success I’ve enjoyed possible. Thanks to all the instructors, advertisers, and members on ThisIsBracketRacing.com for making the site what it has become. We’ve got a lot of new ideas we’re working on for TIBR, so stay tuned as we make it bigger and better! Thank you to my Mom for her support and understanding (baby boy is rarely in town when she needs anything!), and thank you to my girlfriend Jessica Camden for making my world stand on its ear since early May.

Thank you also to my marketing partners. Please take the opportunity to support these great companies whenever you have a need for their products--each manufacture and distribute high quality racing components that I depend on week in and week out. Those partners include Huntsville Engine & Performance, American Race Cars, Bill Taylor Enterprises, Mickey Thompson Tires and Wheels, JEGS, Ohlins Shocks, Dixie Performance, K&R Performance Engineering, Goza Racing Products, Moser Engineering, Brodix Cylinder Heads, DragRaceResults.com, B&M, Auto Meter, Figspeed.com, Frankenstein Racing Heads, Todd’s Extreme Paint, Rockett Brand Race Fuel, Nitrous Express, K&N Filters, Advanced Product Design, Hedman Hedders, Nitroplate, CSR Performance Products, Milodon, Sunset Racecraft, J&J Engine Diapers, and ISC Racers Tape.

Thanks again for reading, see you down the road in 2010!

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