12-08 pt2 "On The Road" with Luke Bogacki
Following a successful outing at the Million Dollar Race, I was faced with a decision as to where to compete the following weekend. Rather than ride my bracket racing luck and go to the final Tenn-Tuck event at Bowling Green, I elected to beat my head into the wall at an NHRA national event, that, as we’ve established, I cannot win. I made another all night journey to Richmond, VA for the national event to run Super Comp and Stock. Up to that point, I had made one trip to VMP in my life, in 2003, and left with my first IHRA national event triumph as well as a runner-up finish in the Moser Axle Mania Shootout. So I figured, this was the site of my first IHRA win, might as well be the site of my first NHRA win. Or not.
On my first time trial in Super Comp, my car made a funny noise when it came off the throttle stop, and I shut it off. I towed it back to the pits and found the number one lifter exploded. Both rollers were completely gone, and the bottom of the lifter was mushroomed so badly that even with the help of several purpose-built tools I was unable to remove neither the intake nor exhaust lifter from the block. After about three hours of fighting with it, I gave up. To the rescue came Anthony Bertozzi…
“Anthony, you don’t have a motor at the shop you’d work out a 2-week rental on, do you?” I asked, as Anthony lives nearby and I was planning on spending the week in the area and attending the IHRA Finals in Rockingham the following weekend.
“Nope, nothing in the shop Coolhand.”
Oh well. I’ll figure out something for Rockingham.
“But I got a couple motors here in the trailer. You want a small block or a big block?”
And an hour later I was dropping his all-aluminum 632 between the frame rails. I got the installation done that evening, and drove around the pits to make sure everything was kosher.
The next morning, we started eliminations. In Stock, I drew Kate Sepanek first round. She’s had a pretty impressive season, highlighted by a win at the Sports National event in Columbus. On our run, I was .030, she was .020. I didn’t like the look of the race, so I set in behind her and stopped late. She was dead-on and I was on the trailer.
Next up was first round of Super Comp, which presented an interesting dilemma. Obviously, I’ve never made a run with Anthony’s motor combination. It was his spare Top Dragster motor for Malinda’s car, so he had little to no information on throttle stop racing with it either. Add that to the fact that I didn’t have a hit on the track and no clue about a delay setting (not that it would’ve mattered--I’ve now got a motor with more stroke, more torque, and a tighter converter). My approach ends up being this: I stack the box, because red can’t win. I set up where I’m pretty confident I’m going WAY faster than 8.90. I obviously have no idea how fast, but I’m thinking somewhere between 8.55 and 8.80. I watch a number of cars in front of me, and it looks like the round trend is closer to slow than fast: a lot of 8.92’s and 8.93’s. That’s actually a pretty good outlook given my situation.
I hook a late model Mustang that normally runs Super Gas, but is running Super Comp in Virginia because they don’t have Super Gas, so I should have a significant MPH advantage--another plus in the situation. Well, we’re equally late on the tree (I guess stacking it was a bad call); I’m .038 and he’s .037. All I can tell is that we left together. We left together, everyone’s slow: take the stripe. I catch him before the 1000’ mark (like I said I’m set up a little hot), and roll him thru to take the stripe by .004. Great execution! Bad game plan! Of course, I hook the one guy who misses it bad fast: we’re both 8.87 and he wins the double-breakout by .005.
After the all night trip to VMP, followed by an all day thrash to change motors, I obviously haven’t had enough. No sir! I load up the Stocker on Adams trailer (he was still in, so I left him my trailer and generator, and took off with his open trailer), and make a beeline to Cecil County Dragway for the Last Chance Footbrake Race. I had that rig in the wind, trying like crazy to make it in time for Saturday’s $10,000-to-win main event. Of course, my weekend just got better: I missed the buyback round by about 20 minutes, and played spectator. I did hop into a gamblers race that night, only to blow the tires off in round one. At this point, I’ve driven over 1,000 miles, attended two race tracks, changed one motor, and still not seen a single win light. Awesome!
The trip did give me an opportunity to catch up with some of my Northeast buddies that I don’t get to see very often. Huge thanks to Jim Young, Chuck Morris, Shaun Fricke, Bob & Brian Mullaney, Denny McClosky, and everyone else for their help and hospitality. They made a pretty miserable trip a lot more fun!
My buddy Jim Young took some great pictures of the Nova at Cecil County. Here, it looks like I’m sitting down from in-front of a faster opponent. I don’t really remember the round, but that’s sure what it looks like!
Sunday things finally started to look up. I double-entered the Nova, and actually made a few rounds. I think I still had both entries in with 14 cars remaining. I kicked it red with one entry that round, but advanced to the semi-finals with the other. There, Bob Mullaney crushed me with a great .003 reaction time. He proved that was no fluke, backing it up with another .003 in the final to get the $5,000 victory.
The highlight of my weekend was once again getting the phone call from Adam, as he drove Todd Ewing’s Camaro to his second consecutive national event Stock Eliminator victory. I drove back to VMP and arrived in time to help him and a rag tag crew of hoodlums celebrate that triumph. Names and stories will once again be withheld to protect the innocent, but that celebration lasted the better part of the week. Thursday morning we sobered up enough to navigate a course to Rockingham Dragway for the IHRA World Finals.
We sat thru an excruciating weekend at the Rock, as a combination of bad weather and a very poorly managed event pushed sportsman eliminations back to Monday morning. Coming into the event, I was 2nd in Stock Eliminator points, with no chance of catching Nick Folk for the championship. There were, however, a handful of guys who could knock me out of the number 2 position should I falter. In Quick Rod, I came into the event in the 6th spot, and would basically move up a position with just about every win light. I could advance as high as 2nd.
Once eliminations finally got underway, I started off very well. I was able to beat Scott Macy in the first round of Stock on a real good race. Scott was one of the guys who could pass me in points, so that was a key victory. In fact, when round one was in the books, I locked up the 2nd position; not bad for our rookie campaign in the category! I advanced to round three in Quick Rod, only to light the red lamp beside Dave Elrod. In Stock, I made solid runs to make an appearance in round 4. There, I came up on the short end of a race with Terry Taylor. Taylor rolled thru a pretty impressive list of Stock competitors, beating Dan Fletcher and Craig Marshall in the following rounds, before up-routing Adam’s bid for a “triple” in the final.
My IHRA season ended with three top ten finishes, but no championship. In addition to finishing 2nd in Stock, I wound up 4th in Top Dragster and 4th in Quick Rod. I also managed to hang on by the skin of me teeth to claim the Division 3 Top Dragster title--”Little” Mike Bloomfield came within one round of passing me at the Osceola Pro-Am, but lady luck was in my corner as he had mechanical difficulties. To add some very sweet icing to the cake that was my IHRA season, a month later at the IHRA banquet I was voted “Sportsman Driver of the Year.” That’s an award that’s voted on by IHRA members, and honestly, it’s probably the most humbling and rewarding honor I’ve ever received in racing.
My miserable Virginia/Rockingham trip wasn’t over yet, however. About 100 miles after I split from traveling companions Adam and Robbie Shaw in Atlanta, my venerable truck decided it was time to quit. I pulled over on the shoulder of I-75, and managed to get it running long enough to make the exit and limp into a Cracker Barrel parking lot (at about 4 am). This is the part where I realize how many friends I have, and how good of friends they really are.
The next morning, I call my buddy Stephen McCrory. He lives about an hour South of where I’m stranded. He calls Joseph Newberry. Joseph loans me his truck, and Stephen brings it to me. We hook it to my trailer, and I carry Stephen back to Joseph’s shop. Then, I drag my trailer home with Joseph’s truck. Immediately upon my return home, I unload the cars and get my 582 to Huntsville Engine--it needs to be fixed on the double so I can head to Florida for the winter series in 10 days.
I then head to Fort Payne, AL and meet up with Jeff Rucks. Jeff has borrowed a huge 2-car open trailer, and follows me back to Joseph’s shop, where I drop off his truck and hop in with Jeff to ride back to Cracker Barrel. We load my injured Dually onto the big trailer, and I take Jeff back home to Fort Payne before finally calling it a night in Woodville. I haul that rig to Rocking P diesel the next morning, before taking everything back to Jeff that night. To Jeff, Stephen, and Joseph… THANK YOU! The boys at Rocking P diagnosed the problem, and got me up and running in time to head to Florida.
The weekend in between Rockingham and the opening event of the Florida Winter Series, I used Jeff’s dually once again to take the Vega to Middle Tennessee Dragway for a $5,000-to-win race in Super Pro and No Box. Although the day started off badly (running the Vega in both classes and Jason Lynch’s dragster in Super Pro, I started the day 0 for 5 before winning 2nd round in No Box), I managed to put together a few good runs and get the victory in No Box. This was the second straight season I won that event. It was also the second straight season I beat Adam in the final--so that was pretty cool!
Here’s me and Adam and friends in the winner circle at Buffalo Valley for the second year in a row!
Here’s my timeline for the following Wednesday… Pick up my truck at Rocking P at 9:00 AM. Drive to Huntsville Engine. Leave HEPC with my motor at 10:58 AM. Drive to Woodville, and install motor in CSR Dragster. Load up, and pull out the driveway at 1:06 PM. Arrive at Bruce Thrift’s house in Waycross, GA at 10:20 PM (now eastern time). Load up his Race Tech dragster and some spare parts, and get back on the road. Arrive at Wal-Mart parking lot in Bradenton, FL at 5:15 AM. Sleep until 8:30 AM, when John Labbous, Jr. calls to see if I want to join him at Cracker Barrel (he fails to mention that he thought to call me about the time they brought his food). I decline, get back on I-75 at 8:45AM, and arrive at Immokalee Regional Raceway at about 11:00 in time for the first time trial session at the Winter Series Warm-up, the opening event of my 3-week Winter Series tour. You really gotta love this sport!
Bruce Thrift and I worked out an arrangement for me to take both his dragster and mine to Florida for the entire Winter Series. I had driven his car at Tulsa earlier in the season, and to be honest, the thought of running 7.0’s in Florida was pretty appealing!
Day 1 at Immokalee wasn’t real impressive. I think I went 4 or 5 rounds in each car, failing to make the money. Day 2 was a $20,000-to-win event, and I lost early in Bruce’s car. In my car, I advanced to the semi-final round. There, my buddy Jason Lynch turned on the win light in front of me. Sweet! If I can win this round, JJ and I are splitting up about $24,000 and we’re gonna P-A-R-T-Y! Yea, not so much. Brian Booze cracked me in the semi’s. Jason ended up winning the final, but I essentially cut myself out of the loop. Still a good showing, and not a bad start to the trip.
My man Jason Lynch got the Florida trip started off right with a $20,000 triumph in Immokalee.
On Day 3 I advanced to the 6th round in my car, only to lose a good race to eventual winner Ricky Jones. GTFO Ricky and I made a little deal, so I got another decent chunk of money, and I came into the final day tied with Scotty Richardson for the weekend points lead. While being tied for the points lead is a great place to be, Scotty isn’t a great guy to be tangled up with. If you haven’t noticed, he’s probably the single greatest racer in sportsman racing history--and he doesn’t exactly have a tendency to choke under pressure. On Sunday, he made another final round, coming up short to little Caboose, who had a very impressive winter series. I was done by 4th round in both cars.
We moved on to Bradenton for the second leg of the winter series, and my week started off pretty rough. On Day one, I’m .003 take .004 in round two for the loss in my car. Bruce’s car slowed up on me in round three, so I started looking for problems. The top end of the motor looked fine, so I removed the diaper and took off the oil filter. In the process of cutting it open, I cut myself open. A trip to the hospital and 6 stitches later, my right thumb was back in action. I really hate being an idiot. Thank you to Britney Schapiro for driving me to the ER and wasting the better portion of the evening waiting for me to get stitched up.
On Day two, I’m .006 take .008 for the loss in Bruce’s car. Gotta love Florida! I’m pretty sure I entered the second chance races, but I’m equally certain I didn’t do anything worth commenting on. My only moment of glory in Bradenton came on day 3, as I drove Bruce’s car to a final round confrontation with John Labbous, Jr. There, Little Caboose once again made me call him ‘Daddy,’ posting a run that I couldn’t beat. It was a good day to be certain, but I still haven’t won a day of the Winter Series, which, like failing to win an NHRA national event, is a big void on my resume--at least in my mind.
Days four and five passed without an appearance on the ladder. I made decent runs in my car only to get constantly pushed around. And in Bruce’s car I spent the last two days changing transmissions… Repeatedly.
On to South Georgia Motorsports Park for the inaugural New World 5-Day Championship. This event was certainly the best structured race of the entire series from a racers standpoint, with great purses, awesome payback, and a deep points fund for both the ¼ mile and 1/8th mile events. Plus, Rowland and Kim Wood, along with Tim Fleming and the entire staff at SGMP did a great job of making all of the racers feel welcome and really putting on an enjoyable event despite miserable weather conditions.
On day one at SGMP, I made it to the ladder with both cars, but fell in round 4 in each. Day 2 I was once again deep in eliminations with both cars, losing to eventual winner Brian Jones in round 5 with my car, and bumping it red to Jesse Lahaise in round 6 with Bruce’s. Unfortunately that was all the racing action that mother nature allowed, as the highlight of the remaining three days was action at the poker tables in the SGMP suite, and a stunning drinking performance by some of my buddies at Hooters.
Here are the Bradenton day 1,2, and 4 winners respectively… My good buddies Jon Jon Ciccarone, Brad Gebhardt, and Troy Williams, Jr. Not pictured were day 3 and 5 winners, also my good friends, John Labbous, Jr. and Dave Connolly.
And, my column could not possibly be complete without fulfilling a request from Brad “Who Killed Kenny?” Gebhardt. Gebby, who annihilated me (and just about everyone else he faced) in Bradenton en route to a Day 2 victory and a 2nd place points finish said that I absolutely had to give a shout out to him, along with my pals, Bradenton points champion “Jon Jon” Ciccarone, and Wesley “WW.” Washington. So guys, I know this will be the undisputed highlight of your racing careers: you have officially been included in “On The Road.”
Once the rain officially ended everything at SGMP, I loaded my dragster into the Mullis Race Cars trailer, which would follow Michael “Whopper” Rastall’s motor home to Las Vegas. “Whop,” Troy Williams, Jr., Jason Lynch, and myself devised a plan to put four dragsters in one trailer and send it West to the annual Thanksgiving Bracket Nationals at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. So, with those cars loaded up, I put Troy’s other dragster in my trailer, along with Bruce’s machine, and headed back to Waycross to drop it off before heading back to Woodville.
My stay at home was short-lived, as always. On the “off” week between SGMP and Vegas, I took the Vega to a big 6.0/7.0 heads-up race at Chilton County Dragway. Chilton County and promoter Ben Willis put on a great show that went off without a hitch despite a frigid forecast. I ran the Vega in both classes, and although I was defeated by Cole Cousins early in 7.0, I did manage to win the 6.0 class. Chalk up another big win for the Mickey Thompson Vega--that car can do very little wrong this season (excluding Hot Rod competition of course).
Then it was time for Vegas, baby! I flew out bright and early Tuesday morning, and was the first member of the east coast crew to hit Sin City. I made a visit to the track, and parked myself at the card table for the remainder of the day. By Wednesday, most of the crew was in town, and we took Caesars Palace by storm. While we didn’t make a windfall, let’s just say they knew we were there! We had a great time, and the trip to Vegas was well worthwhile before we ever hit the track.
Thursday’s opening event rained out, which was a blessing as most of our bunch was working on limited sleep and nursing a wicked hangover. Friday the action got started, and I got my weekend off to a great start by winning the $5,000 Super Pro class. Saturday morning I bumped it red in the opening round of the Race Tech/Madcap race, and sat in the stands to watch Tracy Holt defeat Pete Biondo in the final round. Later that day, Lynch added to our trailer’s take by winning a special Quick 32 event in his Bullet Motorsports Dragster. That night, I had both my car and Jason’s car deep in competition in the $7500-to-win Super Pro event. In fact, with 8 cars remaining, Stefan Kondolay and myself accounted for half of the remaining entries!
Hoisting the trophy at LVMS for the second straight night!
That round, we both won with our first entries, and had to run each other with our second. There, Stefan laid down a .005 package to knock me out in Jason’s car. In the semi’s, I snuck by him in my car, and he won on his other entry, setting up a final round “rubber” match. Bottom line: the last three times I staged Saturday night were opposite Kondolay. In the final, he lit the red-light giving me my second Super Pro title in as many days.
I would love to finish this story by talking about my dominating performance in the $42,000-winner-take-all Ultimate Gambler event; the race that we went to Vegas for. Unfortunately, I lit the cherry by 1 little guy (-.001) in round two opposite 2-time defending Super Comp World Champion Shawn Langdon. Shawn went on to runner-up to some guy named Biondo. Again, never heard of him--but they say he doesn’t suck either!
To cap the weekend, my buddy Jim Calloway won the last $7500 Super Pro event, which Jason and I watched from the rental car after pretty poor performances on each of our behalves. I flew home the following day, and decided to call it a season.
Looking back, it’s been another great year. I enjoyed a great deal of success in IHRA competition, and made some good money bracket racing. I felt really competitive in all three of my regular rides all season, which is a testament to a lot of hard work from myself and my friends, and a lot of support from some great marketing partners. In addition to those partners, I’ve got a ton of people I’d like to thank for their role in my success. First off, thank you to Bryan and Cassie Robinson, who own the Nova I’ve run in Stock Eliminator all season. They had the faith and confidence in me to invest a lot of time and money into a competitive Stock entry, and they stuck with me thru the early season learning curve when it didn’t look like such a great investment! Also, thank you to Jason Lynch, Bruce Thrift, Blake Allen, Brian Horton, Todd Ewing, and Lucas Bendall for trusting me to drive their cars this season. Thank you to Todd Ewing, Anthony Bertozzi, and Jeff Adkinson for loaning me engines at various points throughout the season to keep the wheels rolling. Also, thank you to Heidi and Duane Robison, Jackie Rogers, Stafford Rastall, Mark Horton, Travis Colangelo, and Jeff Rucks for their support throughout the season. And of course, I want to thank all of my marketing partners, especially my key partners. I could not compete at the level I do without the assistance of CSR Performance Products, Mickey Thompson Tires, Bill Taylor Engineering, American Race Cars, JEGS, and Huntsville Engine & Performance. I also want to thank everyone who has had a hand in helping me develop and launch www.ThisIsBracketRacing.com. The site should be up and running right around January 1, so be sure to check it out!