01-03 "On the Road" with Luke Bogacki
“Race for a living”
“Hi, my name is Luke, I drive race cars.” Not what many would consider a valid introduction or pick-up line, but it’s the truth in its simplest terms. I don’t know much else, and while going .50 on the tree and taking .00 on the stripe probably doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, its one of the few things I take great pride and passion in being able to do fairly well.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m going to go in a little different direction with this months article. In fact, I’m going to take a little different direction with each article in the 2003 season. Rather than immerse everyone in technical lingo (which I will still try to do from time to time, as a service to my marketing partners and the products that I believe in), I’d like to relax a little bit. I’m going to try to actually update this column monthly, but it will be a little more casual, and will center around topics that pertain to racing, from my perspective. This month, I want to talk about racing at the level that several of us compete at, week in and week out. I’m going to approach this article the same way I do my racing--from a business stance. Some people don’t like that, and argue that racing is a hobby. In fact, some folks feel that approaching racing the way I do is “cherry-picking,” or somehow cheating the more casual competitor out of money and success. That’s fine, I can’t change your view. But here’s your warning: those of you on that side of the fence may not want to read this. I approach racing as a business because, quite frankly, I can’t afford not to.
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat--I don’t consider myself a “professional racer.” I am a college student involved in several small but fairly successful business ventures. That being said, I believe I am as close to a professional racer as nearly any competitor in what the sanctioning bodies dub as the “sportsman” ranks. There are a handful of drivers who I consider professional racers doing what we do. They’re either paid a salary to drive for a team owner, or are compensated by marketing partners who see the benefit of involving their business with a successful motorsports ambassador. These individuals are few and far between. It takes a combination of passion, desire, drive, good fortune, and willpower to do what they do. Being as close to it as I am, I have a great deal of respect for those few who literally depend on driving race cars to feed themselves and their families.
So you’ve got your true professionals, in every sense of the word. And you’ve got your true sportsmen--hobbyist coming out on the weekend to enjoy their time at race tracks all over the country, each with different goals and purposes. The majority of racers that I compete with fall somewhere in-between. There are several like myself who race to earn money. In my case, if I don’t at least break even, I can’t afford to go racing. That being said, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of the business end of racing, and I realize that I cannot expect to make a stable living on racing alone. Let me give you an example:
In 2001, I had the greatest season of my life on the track. I was fortunate enough to seemingly seal the deal, and win each race that I got close to. That season, we brought in four $10,000 win checks, a $20,000 win, a new dragster, and two IHRA points meet wins, plus the B&M division 4 championship. I didn’t have any late round losses at big events, and I could seemingly do no wrong. That season, we won a bunch of money.
In 2002, I feel like I had another great year. We were fortunate enough to grab two IHRA division championships, the Southern Super Tens Championship, and put both cars in the IHRA top ten. In 2002, I won almost $20,000 less than I did in 2001. At that end of the scale, that’s basically $20,000 less profit--and that’s a big hit for anyone. How’d that happen? I was in more late rounds, won a greater percentage of rounds, went to more events, and did better in points. Why didn’t I win big? As some of you know, when you race for the money, it’s all about finishing strong. A semi-final doesn’t pay the bills. Basically, I drove better this season, had better equipment, was more prepared, and didn’t create the breaks for myself at the right times. Where I could do no wrong in 2001, I could do little right in 2002. Basically, a combination of events that occurred in under a minute made the difference in making an excellent living and just scraping by. The following portion of this article is for those of you familiar enough with E.T. bracket racing to decipher the numbers and lingo. For the rest of you, skip on down past the italic print, I think this will still make sense.
$10,000 final--I’m good on the tree and my car falls off to .02 over..my opponent takes too much stripe, and my win light comes on.
$20,000 semi-final--I completely seize on the finish line, hog up .040, and go dead-on for the win.
$20,000 final--Not wanting to make the same mistake, I tighten the stripe right up to .001--on my opponents side. He’s under, and I get the good fortune and big paycheck.
Dragster final--My opponent is .540
Win, win, win, bank, bank, bank.
$10,000 semi-final--I take a starting line advantage, but get cute on the line and give it up <.001. Between a $2500 and $5000 mistake.
Quarter Million Dollar Race Quarterfinal--I let go .507, and bump it to .497...my opponent is 30-something, and the .507 would’ve been good for the bye to the final. Between a $20,000 and $40,000 bump.
National Event Final--I get the tree by nearly .02, and know it. My car speeds up a bit, but I take an obscene amount of stripe to lose a double breakout. That’s a $7,000 goof, after contingency.
$10,000 quarterfinal--I’m .512, take .003, for the L. Between a $1000 and $7000 thrashing.
$10,000 final--and this one’s no split. I completely choke and double-clutch to a .580. Probably didn’t matter, my opponent is .500 and going dead-on (which as you can imagine did little to console me after seizing up in an $8000 round).
$5000 final--two weeks later. I let go soft (.519) and bump twice to .499. My opponent is .530. B-bye $3000.
$5000 semi-final--a couple weeks after that. Driving real well, quarter mile race...I’m .5oh, roll up on opponent and stick the beak out front, he’s looking, looking, looking, I anticipate the dump and try to drop w/ him--he holds it out: .001 his. There went between $2000 and $4500.
National Event 3rd round--Still have a shot at the world championship in Hot Rod (after the way Bolton and Fuller finished, I had no shot--but thought I did at this point), and I’m driving like I want to win. I’m .509, take .006--for the L. B-bye world championship hopes.
National Event Semi-final--Same event, same day, driving as well as I ever had. I’m .414, take .006 on a double-dump. My opponent is .402, 8.902. That cost between $4000 and $12,000, probably the latter seeing as my would-be final round opponent broke something in the valve train and ran .06 off.
$10,000 final--I let go soft again (.515), and bump twice to .495. My opponent is 30-something once again. $3000 hit after the split.
$10,000 final--I’m .503, know my opponent is carrying a bunch, and just want to spray up close and drop in to dead-on or .01 high...I spray up to him, watch him, watch him, drop...just lost track of where I was, and dumped well before the first cone--I’m .08 (yes, .08) over. He catches it just in time and slides into dead-on. $2000 less for Luke.
So in short, races that when combined add up to a margin of victory under 4 hundredths of second cost me anywhere from $52,000 to $90,000 because I didn’t get the job done at the most crucial times.
Believe me, I’m not out for sympathy here. In each of those races, I was beat by someone who earned their victory. In each instance, I can think of something I could have done better to effect the outcome, possibly in my favor. Anyone who’s played this game can relate to fractions of a second making or breaking a season--it’s the nature of the beast. I’m simply trying to demonstrate just how fickle the sport can get. Racing for a living is a feast or famine thing--it’s either good or it’s not, and it can be very hard to turn the tables.
I guess I’m writing this little narrative in response to the handful of racers (young and old) who approach me each season asking advice on what road to take to being a successful racer. To be honest, I don’t know of anyone who runs their own operation, without serious financial backing, that can be fiscally successful without some type of sideline. For me it’s Texas Supercars, selling high performance parts and services to local and regional racers; and Bogacki Marketing Solutions, marketing and creating exposure opportunities for sportsman racing teams, motorsports media outlets, and high performance manufacturers. I use my racing and my team’s success to promote these endeavors. Several successful racers sell products, cars, and various related services on the side. Others work within the industry at companies who also realize the value of having a serious hands-on competitor in the fold, and are willing to work around races and travel schedules.
No matter what the future brings for me, I feel confident that I will be involved in the sport of drag racing. It’s all I know, and I truly love the competition, the mental and physical challenges, and the people within the sport and the industry that surrounds it. And I feel extremely fortunate to be able to race and compete at the level that we do, and I enjoy it immensely. That being said, I wouldn’t tell anyone to try and race for a living doing what we do, without some type of steady income from another source. Yes, I’ve had months in which I’ve won over $25,000. I’ve also had months I didn’t bring home a check. It’s feast or famine, and it can be done--but I don’t want to live that way. I don’t want to discourage anyone. I’m by no means an expert. There may be smarter and better ways to go about doing this. When you find those, let me know!
As always, thanks for reading, I hope that shed some light on a subject that has become one of the greatest myths of sportsman racing. Good luck to all of you as we prepare for the 2003 season. Please help me by supporting Texas Supercars, Bogacki Marketing Solutions, and each of my marketing partners who make my racing efforts possible.