03-05 "On The Road" with Luke Bogacki
Wow. Here we are in 2005 already. In April, no less. If it seems like it’s been awhile since you heard from me, well... it has. There’s no where else to lay blame for not posting a regular story on DRR--it seems like I’ve been behind on just about everything lately! Last season we ran a series we called Drag Racing 101--kind of a lesson in the basics of bracket racing: the math involved, basic psychology, and some tuning information. I really enjoyed writing the columns, and I’d like to thank some of you readers for the excellent response I received via e-mail and at the track. Unfortunately, after just three installments of Drag Racing 101, I’ve realized that those columns pretty much covered the extent of my knowledge of sportsman bracket racing! Seriously, I covered the basics, and any additional columns would become repetitive and monotonous. Occasionally, I’ll still pipe in with some comments and editorials when I come up with an idea, or want to expand upon a theory, but for the most part 2005’s column will be getting back to the trials and tribulations of an aspiring semi-professional bracket racer (or whatever you want to call the breed).
The short off-season between the Thanksgiving event at Hub City Dragway and the $10,000 Footbrake race at Bradenton Motorsports Park (February 8-9) was a nice break from the drive of weekly competition. I went through the Vega I acquired last summer from bumper to bumper and made everything the way I want it. The car isn’t a show piece by any means, but it’s a real solid race car, and after a winter’s work I feel very comfortable with the way everything is set up. I left the low compression HEPC 350 alone, as the car is already on the fast side of the footbrake class, and the combination was pretty good last season.
As for the dragsters, I debuted my new ‘04 Miller 4-link car at last years Million Dollar Race. It’s got a new HEPC 588 with conventional style Brodix -4XTRA heads. Last season, I got the combination ironed out and had fair success. Going 4.70’s is still a little new to me, but with the speeds everyone seems to be running today, I felt like that was the next step for me to remain competitive. Since the car only had about 120 runs on it at the end of last season, there was little maintenance involved on it over the winter. I cleaned up some things that were rushed as we put it together, slid a fresh set of lifters and valve springs on for peace of mind, and picked up a great looking body from Joe Graska in Florida. With slick paint, lots of chrome, and all the best pieces, this is by far the nicest car I’ve ever owned. Yea, I’m pretty proud of it.
The old reliable ‘02 Miller 4-link car is still in the stables. I stripped it all down to nothing over the winter, had Mike Butler put a new body on it, had it re-powdercoated, and am currently in the process of re-assembling everything to hopefully hit the track again in early May. The tried and true HEPC “Money Winner” 555 is going back between the fraim rails, along with a BTE Top Dragster Trans and 9” converter--same setup as always. Add those changes to two newly acquired trailers, and it’s been a pretty hectic “off” season!
As I mentioned earlier, the season kicked off for me at Bradenton Motorsports Park for the first annual $10,000 Footbrake weekend. I carried an untested Vega (yea, I finished it at 2 a.m. Thursday morning), an engine to meet one of our customers with, and my new roomate Matty. Matty is a 3 month old Blue Healer puppy, and she’s a blast. She hasn’t met a stranger at the track yet, so don’t be afraid to stop by the trailer and say hello. Just beware--she’s a lover, not a fighter--but she’s on the high side chip all the time. She brings a whole new definition to “wide open!”
Matty and I rolled into Sunshine Dragway in St. Petersburg Friday night, where I entered the Vega in Footbrake in an effort to make some laps on it. I was pleased to see it run well and fairly consistently, although I wasn’t so pleased to fail to turn on a win light in two attempts. That pain was eased however, when the event was called due to curfew after the third round. The purse was split, and I wound up losing about $40--so that’s something I can swallow.
Saturday at Bradenton made me realize just how badly a guy could miss a 4-link setup. Why I even messed with a car that won everything I went to last season is beyond me, but I definately had it screwed up for day one. A photographer brought a picture by, and I had to buy it just to show everyone what not to do! The Vega is leaving the starting line--the left front is probably a foot off the ground, and the right front doesn’t have daylight! In the words of my buddy Danny Watters--”That’s not what you want.” Needless to say, the Vega wasn’t real impressive in terms of consistency on Saturday. But, believe it or not I was very impressive behind the wheel. I actually strung together three consecutive .00 reaction times and .00 finish margins.
With 16 cars remaining in eliminations, I ran a local racer in a Ford Fairmont (not Manny Sousa, either). I don’t want to take anything away from the guy--obviously he knows what he’s doing, but I watched him slip through each gear change and run .3 over his dial two rounds before for the win. Apparently he found some trans fluid for our run, because my .518 take .011 looked absolutely foolish beside his .000 induced dead-on with a 4. Nice shot there Fairmont! B.J. Bianki doubled the Vega with me, and also got to sixteen cars before falling to eventual runner-up Rod Johnson.
After some serious suspension tuning Sunday morning, I was convinced I had a pretty decent ride for the final day of my Florida vacation--and I was right. The Vega made great runs all day. I drove pretty decent, and wheeled into the semi-finals. Manny and I were on opposite sides of the ladder, so a buddy-buddy split in the final was not out of the question at all. When he defeated Jim Young in front of me in the semi’s I actually had grand visions of such a compromise. And I’d take my semi-final run any day of the week: .020 on the tree, not enough room in front....drop to .001 under. That sounds decent doesn’t it? Heck it even looks pretty good...until you put it in the lane opposite another .000 light, and dead-on with a 9. Ok Danny...”That’s not what you want either.”
The following week kicked off the B&M/Hedman Hedders Series for 2005. I got the dragster back out for the first time since Thanksgiving, and (as advertised) had managed to screw it all up over the winter. It was Sunday before I felt like it was competitive, and at that point my nice, conservative .050 reaction would basically relegate the best car in the country to ash. The Vega did come through for me, though. After decent finishes Friday & Saturday, I wheeled the little unit to a Footbrake win on Sunday. This time around, I drove great until the semi’s. Then I was horrible on the tree twice, and the win light came on. I guess that’s my reward for getting beat like a drum in Bradenton (only the race paid $1500, versus the $10,000 on the line in Florida!).
Next up was the annual Fistful of Dollars at Montgomery Motorsports Park, an event that brought one of my biggest windfalls of 2004. The 2005 edition, however, I’d just as soon forget. The highlight of my weekend was advancing to the 5th round of the big show (Saturday’s $100,000 to-win event) before Jeff O’Neil beat me like a red-headed step-child. For those of you who keep count, that was the round before the money. And I did have a tab for $1500 on the weekend (ouch!).
The second weekend of March took me to the track where I’ve probably enjoyed more success than any other throughout my career: Hub City Dragway in Hattiesburg, MS. We don’t get to race there more than a couple times a year anymore, but for whatever reason, my wins per appearance total at that place is pretty impressive. The B&M/Hedman Hedders Series event March 11-13 was another chapter in the Hub City book for me, and my Friday victory in Pro Electronics couldn’t have come at a better time.
The remainder of the weekend was a struggle--I fought problems in the Vega from kickoff thru the end, and didn’t advance past third round in the dragster on Saturday or Sunday.
Following the Hattiesburg triumph, I made my way to Bowling Green, KY for the Tenn-Tuck Series. Bowling Green is another facility that has been really good to me, particularly last season, where I couldn’t do anything wrong at Beech Bend. As for 2005... Matty had a great time, walking around the park-like setting, checking out the river, and playing with her brother; Todd Ewing’s dog Clutch (he and Matty came from the same litter). That’s about the extent of the good news. I drove my car and a dragster of Mike Bloomfield’s, but didn’t have any success. From the bleachers, the third round looked pretty exciting--looked like a lot of fun. I wouldn’t know. I never got to try it for myself.
I got the opportunity to debut my new footbrake rig last weekend. That’s right, the days of a ragged old wagon on the mule-skinner trailer and the ‘89 Suburban are behind me folks. I rolled the Vega to US 43 Dragway on a recently acquired open trailer (with a box on it!), behind my ‘99 Ford F350 Duallie. This is how the other half lives! US 43 had their monthly “Double-Dippin” Saturday event, featuring two seperate races in one day. I entered Pro and Footbrake in both races, and wore the poor Vega completely out--to the tune of 29 runs over 8 hours. I lost with about 9 cars remaining in each class in the first race, but got on a good roll and actually won both Pro and Footbrake in nightcap. It was a lot of fun, because I ran my buddies Johnny Labbous, Jr. and Lucas Bendall in the finals of Pro and Footbrake respectively. Lucas and I even swapped cars for our final!
I hate to stand up and brag, but the Vega may well be the best doorcar in the country. In my Pro runs Saturday evening, it moved .004 at 330 over it’s last eight runs. That’s as good as the best dragster I’ve ever driven on it’s best day! The car has always been good, but it’s never done anything like that. I’ve got to give kudos to my longtime friend (and mentor of sorts) Jerry Dooley of APD (formerly of Barry Grant Inc.). He and John Kyle sold me a 750 cfm alcohol carburetor, and helped with some fine tuning on my fuel system--and I certainly cannot argue with the results!
That pretty much brings us up to date. The BTE/Citgo Series kicks off for me in April, as I’m planning a trip to Bradenton, FL for the Division 2 event. A B&M/Hedman Series event in Bristol will be a warm up for the $50,000 race at Farmington, and then it’s May.
I know this gets to sound like a broken record, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the people who make it possible for me to make a living within the sport I love: my friends and co-workers at Huntsville Engine & Performance, as well as Bryan, Paul, Brandon and everyone at Bill Taylor Engineering. Additionally, I want to give some credit to the marketing partners who have stood by me through good and bad over the last several years: Brodix Cylinder Heads, M2 Race Systems, Goza Racing Products, Rockett Brand Racing Fuel, Mickey Thompson Tires, K&R Performance Engineering, Afco Drag Racing, Valvoline, Pyroil, Weld Racing Wheels, Milodon, Dixie Race Products, Hedman Hedders, TD Performance Products, Autometer, Q-Stitch and Dragraceresults.com.