08-07 "On The Road" with Luke Bogacki

Hey, I’m getting better! It’s only been two months since my last check-in with this “monthly” tale of woe! I know I’ve talked about it before, but this sport can give the biggest swings of momentum... Those swings effect confidence, ego, and more than anything, checkbooks! In the last two months I’ve been on a roller coaster ride--the highs have been awesome, the lows... Well, I guess the lows make me appreciate the highs that much more! So, if you make the height limit, hop in and pull the bar down to your waste. There’s no loopty-doos on this ride, but you might want to hold on (or if you‘re convinced the ride won‘t buck you, get both hands up high and scream when we take the plunge)!

At the end of my last column, I was getting everything ready to head back home--or at least what I consider home: Texas Raceway in Kennedale, TX. I grew up about five miles from the track, and I seemingly spent most of my life from 1988 to 2003 at that facility. I got into town a couple days before the event to spend some time with friends. In fact, one of my best friends in the world, Wendell Dunaway, really went out of his way to help me out. The week prior, I had tore up the Vega at the Southern Survival Shootout at Music City. The rear end case broke in half, leaving the remnants of the pinion and the drive shaft laying on the racing surface. The Olds/Pontiac rear end in my whip is a little outdated, so just finding parts can be a little bit of a hassle. My man Wendell (Mr. Wendell’s Torque Delivery Systems-817-881-3242) not only found me a source, he assembled my new rear end and setup the ring and pinion for me. I hauled the Vega to Texas minus a third member, and we put it all together at his house Friday morning. Thanks again big daddy!

Once the Vega was back in working order, Wendell, his son Ian, and myself could get to more important issues: like golf! We managed to get eighteen holes in between rain drops, and I think we all had a great time.

Rain drops... If you’ll recall, the end of June was the time of some of the worst flooding in North Texas history. And of course, that was all the news talked about the week prior to the DragRaceResults.com/Goodyear Bracket Series event that brought me to town. You would think terms like “severe flooding” would keep a man from driving 12 hours to an event that cannot be completed without dry conditions. Of course, such an assumption would greatly overestimate that particular mans intelligence. No one ever got a run in at Kennedale. We actually had nice weather most of the day on Saturday, but there had been so much rain that they had major seepage issues on the racing surface. Finally a late afternoon shower stuck a fork in the weekend festivities and relegated my journey (for racing purposes) useless.

Of course, with every disappointment comes opportunity. The rain let me enjoy an awesome barbeque dinner that the Mayse family cooked up on a smoker at the track. I won’t say that the meal was worth the 700 mile journey, but it certainly made the rain more bearable! The washout of the race also made it possible for me to make it the wedding reception of my friends “Spud” Horton and her husband J.C. I’ve known Spud all my life and she and her entire family have always been great to me, so it was nice to be able to witness some of her big day.

The reception gave me a chance to catch up with more old friends, and to witness the most hilarious portion of the entire trip. The wedding (which I didn’t arrive in time to see) and reception were at the couple’s home, which is a very cool loft apartment overlooking J.C.’s race shop (he’s big into circle track racing and runs a race services business in which he prepares cars for various levels and classes of competition). Well, with all the flooding, they didn’t have a lot of parking. So, they were parking patrons across the way and using a couple of golf carts one of J.C.’s customers had provided to shuttle people back and forth.

Now, imagine the scene... You’ve got a mixed bag of circle track racers and drag racers (Spud’s father Rodney is a former Division 4 Super Comp Champion and the family has always been involved in racing) at this reception... There’s lots of alcohol available... And we’ve got a parking lot (aka front yard) full of mud... And we’ve got golf carts... Yea, it got ugly. Funniest moment of the night: I meet a young man who can’t be six years old. Undoubtedly he showed up to this gig in his Sunday best--it’s a wedding for crying out loud! This kid is covered head to toe in mud--all I can see is the whites of his eyes and an ear-to-ear grin, as he says “MAN! That was AWESOME! I’ve never had that much fun on a golf cart!” Classic.

After all that excitement, I spent the next day and a half making the rounds, visiting with old friends and seeing the sights. Monday I left out and headed for I-57 Dragway in Benton, IL. I was going to Bowling Green for the Tenn-Tuck the following weekend, and I-57 had a $5,000-to-win event Tuesday night (July 3). I concluded that Illinois was on my way to Beech Bend (Hey, the only person I’ve got to convince is myself), and wheeled into the track Tuesday around lunch.

As it turns out, the jaunt was an excellent decision. I won the Quick 16 race, which paid $1,000, and advanced me into round 4 of the main event, which I went on to win as well. In fact, I nearly ran the table: I made it down to five cars in Footbrake with the Vega before I took too much stripe and got whacked. Winning all three classes would’ve been a pretty amazing feat, but winning two and earning some much needed traveling money was a huge confidence boost. For the first time in a long time (maybe the first time of my racing career), we actually finished a night race with the sun shining. In fact, the last three rounds of the five-grander were run after dawn! In all fairness to the folks at I-57, they had a huge crowd--more cars and entrants than I think anyone expected. And of course, I was rolling real good, so adrenaline had me feeling like it wasn’t that late. But my Jeg’s log book saw something it hadn’t seen before. In the “light conditions” box, it read: “Sunny. Dusk. Dark. Dark. Dark. “. “. “. “. “. Dawn. Sunny. Sunny.

Once the final was over and I had some cash in hand, the adrenaline wore off and I struggled to follow my friend Joe Davis back to his place, where my head finally hit the pillow at 9:15 the following morning, July 4. After several hours of “dead to the world” sleep, I awoke to the pleasant aroma of food on the grill, and immediately popped the top on a belated celebratory beverage to enjoy the fourth of July. I befriended Joe and his wife Sue at one of the Southern Survival races last year, and they are really great folks. They threw a big blowout, and I got to hang out with them, the Camden family, and some other racers and friends from the area. Good food, cold drinks, fireworks, and great people... Who could ask for more?

That Thursday I left the Davis’ home in Murphysboro, IL and headed for Bowling Green. I made a pit stop in Clarksville, TN, where NHRA tech man Wayne Winningham was nice enough to meet me in a Sam’s parking lot to have both cars certified. You will be happy to note that the Vega is now certified to go much faster that it will ever run, and I am now 100% legal to run Super Gas or whatever other category in which I choose to compete!

Following such a great run of luck in Illinois, and coming into a facility that has been very good to me in the past, I had high expectations for my weekend in Bowling Green. The results; not so great. I failed to win a round Friday or Saturday, and a gremlin that I couldn’t cure in the dragster got me so aggravated Saturday that I just left and came home.

Sunday morning, sitting comfortably in Woodville, I yanked the motor out of the dragster to let the professionals at Huntsville Engine solve the problem that plagued me. Once I got that done, I came back here into my “office” (that sounds so much better than “spare bedroom”) and got to looking around on the internet. The faithful DRR message board contained word of a $5,000-to-win event at Alabama International Dragway later that day, Sunday. Seeing as the event was posted by a track official, I figured the message was pretty reputable. A quick glance at the clock and some calculations let me know I could make it in time for first round.

I ran back to the shop, threw the Mayse’s Race Tech car and the Vega in the trailer, and set out for Steele. An hour and a half later, I rolled up to the gate. Notice I said “up to the gate,” not thru it. The gate was locked, and there was no one at the facility. Confused, I turned around and called a friend to get the number to the track. It was at this point I realized that the event was cancelled due to “weather”. I guess that 80 degrees and sunny is weather, but I thought it was pretty conducive to racing. Shows what I know.

That week, the guys at Huntsville Engine got the dragster motor fixed up, and told me how much of an idiot I was for causing the problem. I would go into it, but it’s a long story and this column is already running long, and quite frankly, I don’t take a lot of pride in telling everyone how much of a knitwit I am--I’d just as soon let you all figure that out on your own. The guys at HEPC also got my 350 back together that week (I’d borrowed a 383 from Todd Ewing to race the Vega while my junk was getting freshened up). So, at that point the good news was that I had two fresh pieces to start the summer months. The bad news was that I had to get them both in and be in Memphis for the DRR event Saturday morning.

Want a little more drama? How bout the injector pump going out on my truck. So I don’t own a single vehicle that runs, outside of my John Deere--nice, huh? After a thrash to get the race cars going, I learn the extent of the damage to the pickup. To the rescue comes Ted Waldrop, who graciously allowed me to borrow his new Duramax (man that spoiled me--those things are NICE) to tow to Memphis. Also, huge thanks to Jeff Rucks, who let me borrow some wheels to ride around town while my truck was in the shop.

At any rate, after a week of turmoil I did make it to Memphis for the DragRaceResults.com/Goodyear Bracket Series event, and I had all intentions of earning some serious money and gaining points in the national championship chase. It just didn’t work out that way. Saturday I give the finish line back .001 in the dragster with ten cars left. In Sportsman, I’m .007 and take .001 for the ‘L’ the same round--that should get it done in Super Pro, much less the bottom bulb class, but my opponent had other ideas. Sunday didn’t get any better. I didn’t give it back in Super Pro--I erred to the other side, taking .040 on a slow doorcar to be a couple thousandths under. In Sportsman I (surprise) gave it back .000. In fact, on the weekend, I managed to get .001 or less BEHIND my opponent five times. Impressive, huh? I actually held it on the rug one of those five, so I only gave it back four times. And over the course of my career I have actually had one or two people tell me that I was one of the best finish line racers they’d ever seen... IDIOTS!

The next weekend I had intentions of a return trip to Kennedale for the make up of the DRR event that had been cancelled weeks earlier. Late in the week, I learn that my buddy at the diesel shop (Rocking P Diesel in Winchester, TN--if anyone needs diesel work or power adders these guys are awesome) can’t get the parts we need by the weekend, so that pretty well shot that plan down. I ended up just taking the Vega to Sand Mountain Friday night, where I managed to win the Footbrake class. Saturday I went to Huntsville, where I didn’t manage to win a round.

That brought up the event that footbrake competitors from all around the nation have been looking forward to for over a year: the inaugural World Footbrake Challenge at Bristol Dragway: $10,000, $50,000, and $10,000 to the three weekend winners--Footbrake only!

I actually had plans of racing Friday and Saturday’s events, then leaving Bristol Saturday night to head for Atlanta in an attempt to pick up some points at the DragRaceResults.com/Goodyear Bracket Series event that same weekend. On Friday at Bristol, I think I had the worst car on the premises. I had a cooling system issue that I later traced to a faulty radiator cap. I had one battery completely fried. And I had the carburetor jetted one hundred percent wrong for the mountain air at Bristol. All those factors combined to a Vega that was subject to move nearly a tenth on any given run. I lost on my first entry early when I had to dial what I thought was honest against a slow car. I was .07 above wide open! For the rest of the day, I wore the shoe polish out, moving my dial-in nearly three tenths according to the speed of my opponent.

Luckily, I hit the tree really well all night and didn’t run into the buzz saw of a great package in the opposite lane. You’re not supposed to get away with holding 1-2 tenths at a race of that caliber, but things fell my way Friday night, and I actually made it to the final round. There, Chris Plott made a great run and beat me--but runner-up was a far better finish than I deserved considering just how bad the car was!

Saturday morning, I got my problems squared away, and actually had a very good race car for the 50-grander. Again, I lost one entry early on a good race. But I kept one entry rolling deep into eliminations. I was really good on the tree for most of the weekend, and although I didn’t feel like I drove the finish line well at all, I had my moments when I needed them. And, like anytime things go your way, I had a bunch of luck.

Two rounds really stand out: Friday night I had to run Kelly King, a former NHRA National Champion. I’m holding a minute (Friday now, the car was junk), and I’m late: .037 to his .007. His car shifts at the hit of the throttle and I get away with it. Fast forward to Saturday’s 50-grander. With 30 cars left I’ve got to run Anthony Fetch; one of, if not the best bottom bulb racer on the east coast, and one of the best footbrake racers in the country. If you can “flinch” on the bottom, I did. I double clutched the gas pedal and left the line with a nice, conservative, .050 lamp. Fetch is red. If he’s green--any shade of green by his standards--he wins that round 9 times out of 10. With that goof out of the way, I drove well the rest of the way. At fifteen I was .014 and took .005. At eight I was .003, and took a bunch to be a few over. With four cars left, we hit curfew and had to finish the $50,000 main event the following morning. That delay obviously nixed my plans of skipping town and heading to Atlanta.

Needless to say, I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep Saturday evening, knowing I had a chance to win the biggest race of my life, and that the next time I staged there would be a minimum of $10,000 (the difference between semi and runner-up) on the line. I wouldn’t say I was particularly nervous--just impatient. I wanted to get it over with. We ran the semi’s at about 11:00 the next morning, after the “run-for-the-money” round of the Sunday race. It was a really cool atmosphere: everyone in the event was at the track. And it seemed like everyone at the track was either at the front of the lanes or in the stands. They played the national anthem while we were suiting up. The only feeling I can compare it to in my racing career was pulling out for a national event final, except everyone watching were our peers--fellow racers. It was just electric--a really awesome atmosphere. In the semi’s, I was .006 and held off Brian Brown to set up a final round match-up with Scotty Richardson.

This might not be something I’m supposed to share, but the significance of the moment wasn’t lost on me. I actually did my burnout for the final, stopped and took it all in. What a moment in time: Here I was, about to stage up for a $50,000 final round. Some of the best racers in the country are watching at the fence. I’m about to race the winningest driver in sportsman drag racing history, and the man who I grew up reading about. That’s a story you can tell your grandkids!

Of course, it would be a better story if it ended with a win light, but this one did not. For the only time all weekend, I was late and didn’t know it. I was .020-something on the tree, to Scotty’s .013, and he beat me by .011. It would have been a crowning achievement for me to win a fifty. Especially on the bottom, and especially over the guy I consider to be the best that’s ever done it. But the disappointment quickly wore off when I was handed a check for more money than I’d ever made in a single day of racing in my life!

Granted, I had a great weekend: while runner-up suck, getting two on that stage is an awesome feat in my book. And the event promoters Jared Pennington and Steve Stites are both close friends of mine, so I might be a little biased. But the World Footbrake Challenge was everything I hoped it would be and more. Despite a huge car count (I think they had 320 entries on Friday) and intermittent weather issues throughout the weekend, the crew did a great job of running a timely, fair, and enjoyable event. It was one of the best events I’ve attended all year, and I can’t wait for the 2008 edition!

I only had a couple days to bask in the glory of my Bristol success before packing up with Michael Rastall for a two week road trip to Atco, NJ and Stanton, MI. Michael and I put together a deal that would allow us to take both dragsters North in his truck and trailer. Jeff Strickland, who had sent his car to Atco with Shane Carr, rode up with us to save the expense of a plane ticket and help with the driving. Let me go ahead and tell you: Atco, New Jersey is a long friggin’ way from Woodville, Alabama. Longer than those liars at Mapquest.com said for sure!

We got to the track Thursday afternoon, and immediately unhooked and set out for Atlantic City. There, we all entered a poker tournament that featured over 120 entrants. It paid over $6,000-to-win. After several hours, I got down to the final 22 players before I finally got run over (still can’t believe my suited K-7 didn’t hold up...). Of course, the tournament paid back 18 spots, so I earned my usual rake: zilch. I ran into a bunch of racers there in the Borgata and we had a good time taking a break from the track.

The AA Auto Salvage Mega Bucks Shootout that weekend is undeniably one of the best races in the country: three $25,000-to-win races on the long track (quarter mile), with great payback, a weekend points fund, and one round of buybacks. Track operators and promoters: look at this purse structure! It’s a great race for the racers, and the track makes good money! I wish every event had that structure.

I do not wish, however, that every event brought the kind of results I had for the weekend. With the exception of breakage, I can’t remember having a more miserable weekend at the race track. In three days, I managed one single round win. Obviously, I didn’t drive very well. A couple times I made pretty nice runs, but they were junked by better ones in the other lane. The payback, like I said, was awesome: third round losers got $300! I never got that check. Second round losers got a six-pack of beer from the bar at the track. I got one stinkin’ six pack!

Speaking of the bar at the track... That facility is a problem. Race tracks don’t need bars. I know what you’re probably thinking; here comes some rant about drinking and racing. No, not at all: There aren’t many racers stupid enough to endanger themselves and others by racing under the influence--and the staff at Atco wouldn’t have it anyhow. No, my argument is this: As a racer, I need that time that it takes to assemble a group of friends and DRIVE to the bar after getting whipped on the race track. You take that time out of the equation, and allow me to enter said facility shortly after getting beat, still upset from getting beat, and very early in the evening... Well, it’s just not a good situation... As I displayed Friday night. Again, that’s my stance on bars at race tracks: bad, bad idea!

Away from the bar, my buddy Strick put on a show Saturday night. He showed all the Yankees that not everyone from down South sucks as badly as I do! Stick won the 25-grander over another Southerner (even he has moved to PA, he’s still a red neck), Scotty Richardson. Hmmm... A 50 grand win on the bottom one week and a 25 grand runner-up on the top the next. That guy must be... wait, he’s Scotty Richardson.

After my stellar outing at Atco, Michael and I made our way down the turnpike toward Michigan. There, our trip got a lot better. Michael didn’t have a great weekend, and I couldn’t finish, but I got close to getting silly paid twice. In Friday’s annual high-rollers event (a $1,000-to-enter race that this season featured 16 entrants and $10,000-to-win), I got to the semi-finals and took a .001 to .006 starting line advantage over Steve Witherow, Jr. But my talent ran out as I passed the tree, and I fell out of the car to give the finish line back a bunch and hand ‘Little W’ the win.

Saturday, in the $50,000-to-win main event I once again got close. At nine cars left we went on a ladder and I had to run Nick Folk. There, I’m a swift .020 on the tree and Nick cracks me. At five cars, John Boes has problems and rolls thru the beams, giving Nick a single for the bye to the final. Granted, I was Nick’s biggest fan after he beat me: we’re pretty good buddies and we had a percentage deal... But knowing that if I can find a way to beat him I would’ve staged up for the final of the 50 hurt a little!

Maybe I’ve finally cured my ‘big race’ phobia. In my career I’ve won a bunch of races, but the biggest event I’ve ever won was the 20-granders that surround the Million Dollar Race (which I’ve won twice). And, up until this year I really seemed to struggle when a bunch of cash was on the line. In the four $50,000-to-win races this year, I made it to 20 cars (Farmington), 9 cars (Stanton), the semi’s (Clay City), and the final (Bristol). I still haven’t got it done, but that’s a whole lot better than my past finishes! Plus, I made pretty respectable runs to get beat for the most part: I got shut off on the starting line at the Farm. I really made a good run to lose at Clay City. And while I was later than I wanted to be at Stanton and Bristol, I wasn’t horrible either time, and still had a chance to win both races. Of course, both times I was racing two of the best in the business, which when coupled with my reaction times, didn’t help my chances at all!

At any rate, I took last weekend off to regroup and look ahead. There are six events remaining on the DragRaceResults.com/Bracket Series schedule for the season, and my goal since November has been to win the championship this season. I’m in as good a position right now as anyone, but I feel like I’ll need to make two more finals in CSR Super Pro to win the title. In Sportsman, I’ve got a comfortable lead at this point, but I don’t feel like it will stand up without a couple more good claims. I’ll be in pursuit of both championships over the next three weeks, as the series takes me to Tulsa, Abilene, and Oklahoma City. After that I think I’m going to try my hand at Super Comp at the NHRA National Event in Memphis, before another DRR race at Montgomery, and the Million Dollar Race.

As always, thanks so much for reading! Please support the manufacturers that help make my racing possible when you have a need for their products: I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed! Those companies include CSR Performance Products, Mickey Thompson Tires, Bill Taylor Engineering, Rockett Brand Racing Fuel, American Race Cars, Huntsville Engine & Performance, K&R Performance Engineering, Hedman Hedders, Nitroplate, Auto Meter, Figspeed.com, B&M Performance Products, Jeg’s Mail Order, ISC Racer’s Tape, AFCO Drag Racing, Advanced Product Design, Goza Racing Products, Dixie Performance Products, Milodon, Brodix Cylinder Heads, and DragRaceResults.com.

 

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