"On The Road" with Luke Bogacki, December 2010
Here it is nearly Christmas time and the memory of the 2010 racing season is becoming more distant everyday. In retrospect, the season went really well for me. Sure, there were times (well documented times in most cases) where things didn’t go my way and I was mad at the world, but overall it was a solid season. 2010 wasn’t my best season on the race track, but it was far from my worst.
In the midst of the holiday season, I think each of us tend to take a little time to reflect and hopefully to appreciate the loving people around us. I get the impression that a lot of people think of me as a one man show, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This time of year, when I can take a breath from the day-to-day, it makes me realize how thankful I am to be surrounded by such wonderful people. Obviously at the head of the list is my fiancée Jessica (yep, that’s big news… Details later in this column). I can say with confidence that stumbling into her life is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I moved to Illinois this spring and had no idea what I was getting into. Her family has adopted me as one of their own, and I can’t count those blessing often enough. Her Mom and Dad, Tracie and Jack, her sisters Jennifer and Christina, her Grandpa Jack Sr., and her extended family has been unbelievably good to me, and for that I’ll be forever indebted. Since the move I’ve made a lot of new friends, and I’m thankful to so many fellow racers and friends who have made the new location feel like home. Of course, I’m always grateful for my mother Ellen and all that she continues to do to support her baby boy. She’s my biggest fan. And this time of year inherently makes me think about my father Gary. He’s been gone for over nine years now, but his vision continues to light my path through the world.
Outside of our family, there are so many individuals that go out of their way to make my life and my racing program what it is. I know I’ll never be able to name them all individually, but I’ll try to mention quite a few of these very special people throughout this conclusion to “On the Road” 2010.
I left off last column on a little bit of a roll. At my last writing I had enjoyed five final round appearances in as many weeks highlighted by a Super Comp victory at the Bowling Green LODRS and a double victory at the Southern Survival Shootout in Nashville, TN. I’m happy to report that the good fortune continued for the better part of the next month. I kicked off this column at the Mega Bucks event at Gateway International Raceway, which went fairly well.
In Friday’s opening event I had both cars in competition with 12 cars remaining when the fuel pump pulley slung off the Vega in the burnout. I managed to get it staged with the gas primer system, but that was all I could manage and my night was done when my opponent didn’t oblige with a red-light. I managed to advance to the final round in my ThisIsBracketRacing.com American Race Cars dragster, but bumped it red opposite Chris Brown.
That night Jess made it in after work with her Vega (just when you thought GIR wasn’t ready to hold the two baddest Vega’s on the planet). I had to include this picture of her car, courtesy of Bret Kepner, just to prove to her father that her Vega did indeed do a wheelie at Gateway.
Saturday was pretty dismal in my camp, as I don’t think I made it out of second round with four entries in the event’s marquee 10-grander. Sunday I advanced to the quarterfinals in the Vega before getting spanked by Jeremy McKague, who I could point to as my arch nemesis for the year (what am I, 0-for-21 against those guys?).
The following Friday Jeff Kile and I hosted a ThisIsBracketRacing.com “Live” Jr. Dragster school at I-57 Dragway, my new home track. We had a ball with the kids, and I got my first taste of big time Jr. Dragster competition as the track hosted their annual Jr. blowout Saturday and Sunday. I took off after class Friday night, but the place was packed full of kids, parents, and vendors, and the testing alone Friday evening was pretty impressive. They’ve really come a long way from the lawnmower powered machines I drove nearly 20 years ago!
I joke with my buddies all the time that I don’t really like racing as much as I used to. I think I’m fooling myself. Here’s how my weekend went… Friday when I left home for I-57 Dragway I had my “bracket rig” in tow: my 28’ foot trailer stacked full with an American Dragster and my venerable Vega. Once we got done with a full day of school, Jess and I had dinner at Cracker Barrel before I kissed her goodbye and set out on the 4 hour voyage to Bowling Green, KY for the final two days of the Tenn-Tuck event. I rolled in the gate somewhere between 1 and 2:00 A.M. I had already made arrangements with the Oliver family, who graciously left me an open couch in their motorhome. I snuck in the door, curled up in a ball, and slept for a few hours. When I awoke around 7, I walked up to the shower house and rinsed myself off. I dressed and realized I’d remembered to pack everything but toothpaste. As it happened, some poor fella was brushing his teeth in the bathroom sink as I went to walk out. With no trepidation at all, I pointed to the toothpaste and asked the man,
“Hey buddy, mind if I get a shot of that?”
He looked at me kind of dumbfounded, and I can’t blame him. I don’t know if I’d be willing to share toothpaste with a complete stranger. But that dude did. And to him, well I’m thankful to him as well!
The whole weekend made me feel like I was 16 again, which was pretty cool. I still love this sport enough to do the same crazy stuff I did in high school: Race all day, drive all night to the next track just to do it all over again. What a life!
The day ended well too, as I managed to pick up the $10,000 winners check behind the wheel of the faithful little Vega. My favorite car has been sidelined so much in 2010 that it felt really good to get back in the groove with it. Plus, I’d be lying if I said that winning a race of that caliber in the Vega didn’t mean a little more to me than winning in the dragster. C’mon, I’m in a Vega! Truth be known, the Vega was better than any dragster at the track that day, and it made me look a lot better than I am. It put together a string of 6.09 ET’s for the ages, and I’d have to say that the car and I put together the most impressive group of packages I’ve ever put forth for an entire race. In the quarterfinal round, I was .014 and dead-on with a 7 for the win. With the exception of that run, my worst package in eliminations was .015. I managed a .004 induced 6.096 in the final (take a wild guess what I was dialed) to oust my buddy Troy Williams, Jr. TW and I have a penchant for running in the finals, and I avenged my loss to him earlier in the year at the Gainesville points meet. I think I’m way behind in our head-to-head battles, so I’m really glad we usually save it for the finals!
The rest of my weekend was less than spectacular, but it didn’t really matter after that showing. One funny note from Sunday: I was in round three with the Vega still on its 6.09 kick. After the burnout, it got kinda loud and the starter was looking at me real funny. It didn’t take long for me to realize the muffler had fallen off (first the fuel pump pulley, now the muffler… Who maintains this bucket?). Well, the issue here is that the Evac hose runs into the muffler, so it’s held to the car by a rubber hose. When the starter realizes this, he looks at me as if to say “What do you want me to do?”
I was weighing my options, and I was actually prepared to stage and likely run over the muffler, at best flattening it and at worst puncturing a tire, when Michael Barclay came to my rescue. He produced a pocket knife, cut the hose, and pried the muffler from beneath the car. I stage hurriedly, and gave it a shot. The car ran 6.09 (yea, it doesn’t care). It sounded a little rough, but she was trying to get the job done. Of course, my .020 reaction time relegated all of that meaningless, but huge thanks to Michael for the effort!
In the aftermath, I’m cruising home on the Western Kentucky Parkway, listening to a football game on the radio and feeling pretty good about life when I see a trailer wheel (presumably mine) careening across the highway in my mirror. This wasn’t a good year for wheels and tires on my end. You may recall my disaster in Washington D.C., where I pitched both rear tires off the left side of my dually. You won’t recall (because I didn’t share it) a late night trip down this same highway, with this same trailer, returning from Jason Lynch’s house where I sheered the lug nuts off a wheel on the trailer. Of course, that night I didn’t notice the tire leave the building and I drove until the other (tandem axle) blew out. That night I also didn’t have so much as a jack in the trailer. That’s another story for another day, but I did manage to make it home, without help, before dawn.
With those experiences under my belt, that Sunday’s mishap was no big issue. I limped into a parking lot, produced the spare wheel studs and lug nuts that I now carry in the trailer (who does that?), and after a couple hours of work and two trips to the truck stop across the street (for tools) I was back in business. I made it home at a decent hour although I did miss dinner with the family. The moral of this story? Check your lug nuts. After over a decade of travels without ever losing a wheel, that was episode number 3 for 2010. Now I give my torque wrench a workout, checking & double checking everything before (and during) each trip.
After that mess, I loaded up the big rig and my soon to be father-in-law Jack and we set out for the NHRA points meet in Reynolds, GA. I went into the event looking to carry over some of the momentum from the recent bracket events, as this race had big implications for me in the divisional and national points chase. In Super Comp, I came into Reynolds with a pretty good stranglehold on the Division 2 title and an outside shot to take over the lead in national points. In Stock, I was leading Division 2 but the title was very much up for grabs. Plus, I had a legitimate shot at the national title with two strong finishes (after Reynolds I had the points meet in Noble, OK yet to claim).
My weekend in Stock followed suit to our last several events in the category, which basically all fell under the category of “Whatever can go wrong will.” I hooked some guy named David Rampy first round (nice job of qualifying Bogack), and actually had the starting line advantage when the car just blew the tires off (.2 slow to 60’). After some adjustments early in the summer, that had been a non-issue for months. Great timing on that one.
To make matters worse, NHRA sealed the motor in the Nova prior to eliminations, which meant that we were invited to teardown before leaving the facility. I love Stock eliminator! Rather than waste away most of the evening, we went ahead and got the teardown over with, pulling a head off the car while the other categories were running first round. Jack handled the bulk of the work while I kept up with the dragster and focused on getting something rolling in Super Comp.
In that car, I enjoyed what I’ll probably consider the most significant victory of my career. When Ray Miller III lost in round one of competition, I knew that I had a mathematical shot. If I could win the event, we’d be tied for the national points lead and I would own the tiebreaker. You hear people say all the time that they “had no idea how close the points were or what round I needed to win.” BS.
I knew exactly what the deal was, and the pressure (self induced) mounted with each round win. I’ve never been so happy to see a win light in my life as I was in the final. I yelled and screamed and about jumped out of my seat belts. You’d think I just won my first Junior Dragster race all over again. After winning $20,000 bracket races, national events, and point’s championships I wouldn’t have guessed that winning a divisional event would be my crowning achievement, but guess what? That was a big deal.
As gratifying as that win was, I was far from the World Champion. I was the leader in the clubhouse, which I figured was a great place to be, but there were four racers who still had a chance to pass me. With Reynolds in the rearview, I had one divisional event remaining, the next weekend in Noble, OK. The bad news was that I’d have to win the fifth round in Super Comp to earn a point. In Stock, I was improving a first round loss, but would have to essentially repeat my Super Comp performance from a week earlier to be a threat for the title.
Jack and I made it home from Reynolds at about 5:00 AM, just in time for him to get to work. I got the Stocker reassembled that week and set out for Noble Thursday morning. Once I got there things really started to unravel. I arrived early Friday morning after the twelve hour hike, and pulled onto the road of the track around 2:00 AM. That’s where I slept, in the road, because they weren’t letting anyone into the facility. That was a nice touch.
Then, we pulled in under overcast skies Friday morning. I didn’t unload a car before the rains started falling. Of course, I was parked in the field and within hours my pit area was a muddy mess. The rains persisted through Friday and Saturday, without a car going down the race track. Boredom got the best of me, and when I heard that sunny skies and a $5,000 No Box event were just 3 hours away at Mid-America Dragway I headed north. There was absolutely no hope of getting my trailer out of the mud (as it turned out, I barely got my truck out), so I went with the “Have helmet, will travel” approach and drove North in hopes of finding a ride. Once I got there, “Red” Doug Baumgardner offered me his Mustang, and I was in business.
In that race, I managed to advance to the quarterfinal round before completely forgetting to turn loose the transbrake button as the tree came down. I don’t even want to share my losing reaction time. Let’s just say that it wasn’t good. In fact, it was about .07 from being good. Way to shine Bogack.
I drove back to Thunder Valley Raceway Park in Noble for another fun-filled day of sitting around. Actually, the officials made a really good decision to run off all of the classes who were parked on pavement on Sunday (Alcohol, Comp, Top Dragster, and Top Sportsman). Then, they made those guys beat feet so that the rest of us could get pulled out of the mud and onto solid ground to race on Monday.
As if my weekend weren’t going well enough, I got a call from Chad Isley, with whom I’d sent my Vega to Montgomery, AL for a big Footbrake race. The trusty Vega had blown a head gasket and was seeping water onto the ground. Nice!
Monday morning we got one time shot and went racing. I once again did a marvelous job of qualifying in Stock, as I hooked another guy competing for the championship, Ryan McClanahan, first round. This time, I didn’t have the starting line advantage (although I did improve my Saturday night lamp by a few hundredths), and the Nova broke a rocker arm, giving Ryan an easy victory and ending the small hope that I had of winning the national title in Stock.
While I was disappointed in the Stock effort (especially considering I’m 800 miles from home and had been stuck in the mud for the better part of a week), Super Comp was my main concern coming in and I tried to turn my focus toward 8.90. Unfortunately, I decided that .002 behind at the finish line would be a good place to be alongside first round opponent Steve Swenson. That didn’t work out for me, and he went on to runner-up. So, as a recap… I drove 12 hours to Oklahoma to sleep in road and get stuck in the mud. I sat around for three days without even unloading a race car. I drove to Kansas for a race where I performed really poorly. Once we finally got to race in Noble I failed to win a round and hurt the Stocker. Along the way my Vega got wounded some 15 hours away in Alabama. Could this get any better?
The answer came quickly. Following my Super Comp loss my only goal in the world was to get the heck out of Oklahoma. I loaded up in a rush, and when I went to pull the truck under the ball of the trailer… A power steering line blew off. Phenomenal.
So, three hours and a couple trips to the parts store later, I had the truck remedied and was finally ready to embark on the long journey home. The good news? I was stranded at the track long enough to watch my buddy Jeff Lopez double-up, winning Super Comp and Super Gas. So that was cool.
Believe it or not, the trip home was fairly uneventful and I made it to Carterville around lunch time on Tuesday (nearly a full week after I left). That weekend I drove to Alabama to put on another ThisIsBracketRacing.com “Live” school with Jeff Rucks at Sand Mountain Dragway. This was our second annual class on the Mountain, and I think it was our best school to date. We had a really good group of racers that were full of questions and enthusiasm. We had a lot of fun and I think everyone walked away having benefitted from the program. Who could ask for more?
I took the following week off and spent the majority of Sunday sitting in front of the computer flipping back and forth between DragRaceCentral and 1320go.com watching the divisional event in Las Vegas that would determine my fate in both Super Comp and Stock. Coming into the event, I was leading the national points in Super Comp despite my dismal performance in Noble, but Gary Stinnett, Edmond Richardson, Kevin Wright, and Robert Naber all had a shot to pass me. In Stock, I was still leading the Division 2 standings, but Robbie Shaw could pass me in Vegas. After round two, I felt a little better about it. Robbie had lost which wrapped up the Division 2 crown in both categories, and Gary Stinnett was the only racer remaining in Super Comp with a shot to leapfrog me.
At this point, most of you know how that ended, as Gary did manage to win round five, the round he needed to pass me, and I finished up the season #2 in NHRA Super Comp standings. I’ll admit that watching it unfold on the computer was a complete kick in the (gut), but what are you gonna do? I’ll tip my hat to Gary for an awesome season and for coming thru in the clutch at Vegas. And, in reality, I had a great divisional score but the best finish I could muster at national events was a pair of third round losses. That’s not world championship material, and I’ll take my second place finish and move on. As it shook out, we wound up in 6th nationally in Stock as well, not a bad finish for our first foray in NHRA competition.
The following Monday I set my sights Southbound and headed for Bradenton, FL and the annual winter series. 18 short hours later, I was in the sunshine state and ready for action. The Bradenton 5-Day once again went well for me, as I advanced to a final round for the fourth consecutive season, and won for a second year in a row on day 3. I’d like to say I drove like a hero, but in reality I was really fortunate to sneak past the first four rounds or so. Late in the race I did get my head on straight and make nice runs to finish the job. The rest of my Bradenton trip, however, was fairly forgettable.
From there I made the trek across the state to Palm Beach International Raceway for their 5-day bracket championship event. At PBIR, Donny Urban and I put together a 32-car shootout for a rolling American Dragster, which Steve Sisko won over Matt Schapiro. In the regular program I didn’t get much rolling behind the wheel, and by the events third day I got to feeling so crummy that I didn’t even race (and for me to sit out, I gotta be pretty sick!). On the fourth day of the event I managed a quarterfinal finish, where my .007 take .008 was not good enough beside Cory Hedgecock (.001 under) for the bye to the final round. Cory ended up winning what he said that was his first “big check,” so congrats to him!
When my win light didn’t come on in round 3 on Saturday at PBIR it marked the end to my 2010 campaign. When it was all said and done, I wound up in 21 finals and earned 12 event wins. Considering the level of competition within the majority of the events I attended I don’t consider that to be a bad season at all.
A few weeks after returning home, I gave Ed and Stephanie Beyer (racers from Ohio and owners of Beyer Jewelers) a call and they helped me select the perfect engagement ring for Jess. On Friday December 10, we made it official. We don’t have a date set in stone just yet, but we’ll be getting hitched sometime next winter, probably in January of 2012.
I said I wanted to take some time to thank some of the people who make my life easier and who make my racing possible. Obviously that starts with a great core group of marketing partners. I want to extend a huge personal thank you to Mark Horton & Travis Colangelo at American Race Cars; Todd Ewing, Andy Anderson and the staff at Huntsville Engine and Performance; The Coughlin Brothers and the entire crew at JEGS; Carl Robinson, Aaron Smith and Ken Warner at Mickey Thompson Tires; Bill Taylor, Paul and Brandon Barrentine, Bryan Robinson and the staff at BTE; and to Bob Harris and all the guys at K&N Filters.
I want to thank Bryan and Cassie Robinson (and new baby Dylan) for having the faith and trust in me to race their Nova in Stock eliminator for the past three seasons. They’ve endured some good times and bad with me, and although we didn’t achieve the ultimate goal we did come away from our run with a #2 finish in IHRA, a #6 finish in NHRA, a division title, and a pair of national event victories. They’re the best friends and owners anyone could ask for and I’m extremely appreciative of all that they do. In addition to the Robinson’s I want to give a huge thank you to Scott Skinner, Jason Lynch, “Red” Doug Baumgardner, and Jeremy Jensen for letting me drive their cars at various points this season. Thanks as well to all of the people who called offering me cars for Vegas and Pomona at the end of the NHRA season.
With winter and the offseason upon us I’m looking forward to spending a few months here at home. I’ve got some projects for the offseason; my Vega needs some TLC and I’m going to attempt (attempt being the operative word) to pull the motor out of my newer diesel truck and overhaul it. The dragsters, the Stocker, and my living quarters trailer are all for sale, so my priorities will vary depending on what sells and when. We’ve got season tickets for SIU basketball, which is a blast even though we don’t look too great so far this season. Jessica’s sister Jennifer is pregnant with baby boy Kyler, who’s expected right around the first of the year. Jeff Lopez and Elizabeth Brady are getting married in Texas in February, so I’ve got to put on tux. Aside from that, it’s just time to bear down and get some work done on TIBR and some other ventures we’re working on here. I hope to have some exciting announcements lined up within the coming months, so stay tuned!
The plan for 2011 is to get back to bracket racing. I’ll make a handful of NHRA national events (I’m already entered in Pomona where I’ll drive a couple of Justin Lamb’s cars), but for the most part I’m going to focus on big money bracket races. When there’s not a marquee event going on somewhere in the country, I plan to race within a few hours of home at the best event available. This will give me some extra days here to spend with my bride to be and concentrate on ThisIsBracketRacing.com and a handful of other business interests.
Speaking of TIBR, I also want to thank each of our members for their patronage to the site, and their feedback as we try to make ThisIsBracketRacing.com a little bit better everyday.
I also need to thank Don O’Neal for picking me up on the side of the road on my way to Bristol, along with Tom Pistole and all of my Yankee buddies for helping me through my debacle in Washington D.C. Last but not least, I want to give credit to the rest of my marketing partners. Without their support my on track success would not be possible. Thank you to BRODIX Cylinder Heads, Auto Meter, J&J Engine Diapers, APD, Moser Engineering, ISC Racer’s Tape, K&R Performance Engineering, Rockett Brand Race Fuels, Milodon, Dixie Racing Products, Ohlins Shocks, Goza Racing Products, B&M, Figspeed.com, PimpMyCrew.com, Todd’s Extreme Paint, Sunset Racecraft, Sparco, Nitroplate Coatings, Hedman Hedders, Nitrous Express, and of course DragRaceResults.com.