05-05 "On The Road" with Luke Bogacki
Last month, I readily admitted that 2005 wasn’t shaking up to be a banner year, but that I had all intentions of turning things around with a strong showing in April. Let’s just say that April didn’t quite live up to expectations. Okay, let’s say that it’s been the most frustrating month of racing in recent memory. But it’s been fun, right? Right???
The month of April began with a trip to sunny Florida and Bradenton Motorsports Park for the BTE/Citgo Series Gator Cash Nationals. Terry Reavis built a hoist in my trailer the week before, which allows me to carry two cars anywhere I want to go. I promptly loaded up my new Miller Dragster and the ‘ole Vega Footbraker, and set out for Florida. The trip, however, was halted before I made it out of my driveway in Woodville. The motorhome made a funny movement as I drove out, so I stopped to take a look... Glad I did--one of the bolts that hold my equalizer hitch together had broken completely, leaving one 3/4” bolt as the only thing attaching my motorhome to a trailer filled with very nearly everything I own. While a couple hour delay to find the appropriate bolt setup was not nearly as catastrophic as the outcome could have been, it was an inconvenience none the less, and screwed up a trip that was on a pretty tight schedule to begin with.
Once I got on the road, I made my way to the thriving metropolis that is McAlpin, Florida--the home of CSR racing products. We (my co-workers and I at Huntsville Engine) had just completed a new 632 for Jason Wood’s Top Sportsman car, and since Jason convinced me that CSR was on my way to Bradenton, I delivered it for him. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of visiting McAlpin, it’s pretty remote--but seeing the inside of CSR was a pretty neat experience.
Now, if you remember, I came into Bradenton on a pretty decent role in the Vega. Over the past few weeks, I had brought in a double win locally, and gone a bunch of rounds in the Vega. That trend continued Saturday night, as I claimed the Sportsman victory at my first BTE/Citgo Series event of the season. Although I went down with 10 cars remaining in the Sunday event, I did get 1 good “claim” for points with the win. In my dragster, however, it was more of the same story: a couple round wins, no breaks, and absolutely no success. To that point in the season, my dragster had advanced beyond the fourth round once (granted, that one did produce a $10,000 victory, but it’s the only time I’ve even been involved late in an event). I failed to win a round on Saturday, and gave the finish line back fourth frame on Sunday. No points, no money, no success. More of the same...
The second week of the month took me to the amazing Bristol Motor Speedway for the third B&M/Hedman Hedders Series event of the season. On Friday at Bristol, it finally looked like things were beginning to turn around. Although I geeked in the Vega third round and lit up a stellar .040 reaction time beside Kevin Pruett, I actually looked like I belonged at the race track with my dragster. Following my footbrake screw up, I drove like a man on a mission in pro, lighting up five consecutive .00 reactions (and I followed most of them up with .00 margins of victory). At ten cars left, I was .001 and took .008 finish line for the win. I shut the car off at the turn, and coasted back down the hill to the ET shack. I heard the announcer say that I had the bye at five cars with my .001 reaction, so I was down to three...beautiful. I get my time slip: .001 take .008...nice. I hit the starter to crank the car up and all hell breaks loose. I broke a timing chain on the motor, mashed nearly every valve in it, and bent a couple pushrods...could life get any better?
Just to let this sink in... This was the second time all season that I had advanced past the fifth round. I was driving really well, I had a bye run into the semi-finals...and I couldn’t make the call. What looked like a pretty good shot at a payday of $4,000 to $8,000 turned into a $4500 freshen-up in short order. Frustration isn’t the word.
Saturday I drove real well in the Vega--after the disaster the night before I was really in a careless mood. I lit the tree up .00-something 2nd round and promised myself I wasn’t going down with an .040 again...let’s leave it alone. The next three rounds lit up .00 on the tree. With fourteen cars left, my opponent is red, and I’m -.002 behind him. Okay, now I’ve actually got an opportunity to win the race, so let’s calm this down a bit, be teen, and do the job. On my bye at seven I drop the launch rpm a little and go .013. Perfect. In the semi’s, I square off with former series champion Rick Robertson for a chance to run Scotty Richardson in the final. There, I really felt like I hit the tree the same as I had all day, but obviously I didn’t. A nice, conservative .034 reaction left me no chance, as Rick was .014 and one above. If I just hit the friggin tree like I have all day I’m in the final--but instead it’s another semi-final loss to add to the resume.
Sunday, Jimmy Stahl let me wheel his beautiful Mullis/Forrester dragster in Pro. I’m almost ashamed to say that I didn’t get the job done in it, because the car was awesome, and it drove great. I bumped it red third round in the machine, and met the bulb on in the Vega the same frame for back-to-back cherries that earned me a nice trip back to Woodville.
I thrashed through the following week to get my trusty 555 installed in the dragster, and pulled the 588 apart to survey the damage. By Saturday evening, I had everything together and rolled into Huntsville Dragway for their weekly bracket program. There, I was pleased to unload with a 4.89 in the dragster--pretty quick for old reliable.
Things rolled along pretty well right up until first round of Pro. I got to the staging lanes, opened up the nitrous bottle (just in case), got in and went to fire the car up...BOOM! A leaky nitrous solenoid filled the engine up with nitrous and nearly blew the carburetor off. The explosion folded the butterfly’s up around the shaft, blew out every gasket between the intake plenum and the carburetor, and knocked about 10 teeth off the flywheel...nice. Needless to say, I didn’t make any more runs that evening.
Meanwhile, in the Vega I’m not ashamed to say that I drove it as poorly as I have since I’ve owned it...and they almost let me win. For three consecutive rounds I lit the tree up .050. I have no idea what I was doing, but the win light kept coming on, and I rolled up for the semi-finals with the following mindset: I’ll be darned if I’m gonna be .050 again! And I definately improved--to -.001. Beautiful.
After repairing the carnage from my nitrous experience, I was off to Farmington, NC for their $50,000 to win event, despite a horrible weather forecast. Friday rained out, as advertised. After rain most of the day Saturday, track promoters did a great job of getting a $20,000 event in (combining the two $10,000 races scheduled for Friday and Sunday). I went red fourth round to Allen Witherow.
Sunday brought the main event, the $50,000 feature. I parked the Vega and put both numbers on the dragster, in an effort to get something rolling in it. With two entries in third round, things were looking up. When I started the car for the second tech card of that round, the starter kicked back, and I had a bad feeling I knocked a tooth or two off the flexplate. My fears were revealed, but with no time to change it, I just had to ride with it and hope for the best. By fourth round (still with two entries alive), I’ve got Jason Lynch riding to the lanes with me with a Flywheel tool, just in case the motor stops on the bad spot.
Following a fourth round victory, a track official stops me on the return road to inform me that the car is spraying trans fluid everywhere--great. Not as serious as it sounds--the trans cooler has a hole in it--I bypass it, essentially looping the cooling lines on the tranny. Seeing as I’m still double entered and cooling time is at a minimum, not having a trans cooler doesn’t sound like a great plan, but at this point I just have to work with it.
Following a quick thrash, I roll back up to the front of the lanes for the next round, and pull right up on one of the hottest drivers in the country, Travis Harvey. I’d seen the runs Travis was making all weekend in Russ Farmer’s dragster, and he was impressive to say the least. I had been between .003 and .006 the last four runs, and I felt really confident on the tree. Plus, I felt like I had to be great to beat Travis...I rolled .003 out of the box, trying to be .000. You can guess the next part...-.001. But, Travis was .005 and dead-on with a .001, so at least I was justified in setting up that tight.
By this point, the old digger isn’t starting real well--I’m getting pretty nervous about the flexplate situation, but hey--I only need about six more starts to get the job done. I beat my other 5th round opponent, and I’m starting to sniff a share of this $50,000. As I go to start the car for the sixth frame, disaster strikes one more time. Another nitrous leak. Keep in mind that after last weekend’s debacle I not only changed the nitrous solenoid that was leaking, but added an electronic shutoff valve on the bottle to insure that it wouldn’t happen again. Apparently, BOTH solenoids let nitrous by, and filled up the motor once again, at the most opportune time.
This weeks explosion was a little more severe than the prior, and actually busted up the scoop pretty good. It once again folded the butterflies up on another carb, and wreaked havoc on an already wounded flexplate. With just four rounds remaining for a huge purse, I was determined to make an attempt. We got the car re-fired, beat the butterflies down with a screwdriver to get the idle close, and raced through the pits to make the round, minus a few body panels, plus a torn up scoop, and a little fast idle.
To make a long story a little shorter, my opponent lays down the worst run against me all weekend, and I fail to beat it. The loss earned me all of $400, with the round winners splitting up the purse the next round so that the losers earned $5,000 each. And, for the third consecutive week, I push my dragster into the trailer. Can my year get any better?
Still licking my wounds from Carolina, I was content to spend the following weekend a little closer to home. Friday night I carried the Vega twenty miles down the road to Sand Mountain Dragway. There, my luck continued in Pro, as I bumped to .497 red fourth round beside my opponents’ .573. I got to semifinals of Footbrake before a .050 reaction (I may need to patent that .050) spelled demise beside the always tough Sammy Hicks. I loaded both cars up Saturday and rode to Brainerd Optimist Dragway for a $5,000 to win Pro race, but I got beat in the second round with both entries.
In five years of racing pretty seriously, I don’t know that I’ve ever started off quite this poorly, with the possible exception of 2003 (which ended up being a very good season). Hopefully things will turn around soon--my mood and my checking account are depending on it!
Things have been rough, but it’s certainly no reflection on the marketing partners that make it possible for me to keep fighting. A huge thank you to Huntsville Engine & Performance, Bill Taylor Engineering, and the rest of our marketing partners for supporting me through the ups and downs: 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.