"On the Road" with Luke Bogacki, April 2011

Hello 2011!

 
As I write this column, the new racing season is here for just about everyone South of Alaska (and honestly, you guys might be racing up there already, I really have no idea). My first offseason in Illinois provided my first real “off” season in recent history (for those of you down south, it gets too cold here for us to race). The break was actually welcome and much needed; I’ve been going wide open for the better part of a decade, so it was actually nice to spend three months away from the race track and recharge my batteries.
 
While the offseason didn’t provide any racing action for me, there was no lack of activity surrounding the Bogacki/Camden household. As I shared in the last column, Jessica and I were engaged on December 10, and we’ve (ok, she’s) set our date: January 21, 2012. As far as she lets me know, all systems are go on the big day, and from what I can gather it sounds like we’re gonna throw a helluva party. Jessica’s sister Jennifer and her husband Kye brought baby Kyler into the world on December 23. I’m happy to report that he’s happy and healthy and very loved by his aunt and uncle (and his entire family)! 
 
Baby Kyler!
 
We had a great holiday season, my first as a full-fledged Illinoisan, and we didn’t really have too much bad weather. Plus, when we did get a little snow, the area is actually prepared. As a southern boy, I was accustomed to the world coming to a screeching halt when we saw white stuff: schools closed, businesses shut down, people didn’t leave the house, etc. Basically the town would come to a complete stop. Here, they actually act like they’ve seen snow before. Within a couple hours of the first snowfall, the roads are clear and its business as usual. That was new for me!
 
We spent New Years Eve in downtown Nashville with Jeremy Jensen and Heather White, Brett Murphree, and the Maggart family and that was a good time. More impressively, Jess and I made it home in time to get to the arena for the second half of SIU’s biggest win of the season, New Years Day against Northern Iowa. If you follow college basketball at all, scoring your biggest win of the season in January (over a team that didn’t make the NCAA tournament) probably isn’t a good thing. But hey, we’ve got to hang our hat on something, and that game was a lot of fun to watch! I think I mentioned it last column, but I got Jess season tickets to SIU basketball for her birthday. As a result, I became a huge fan of the Saluki’s and college basketball in general. We went to just about every home game, and even attended “Arch Madness,” the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis in March. Good times!
 
Over the winter I also made a pair of trips back to my old stomping grounds in Dallas/Fort Worth. First, I flew solo for my buddy Jeff Lopez’s bachelor party. Names and stories will be withheld to protect the, umm, innocent. Jeff’s brother Robby capped it in a way only he could: “One night… Fifteen guys… One van… Two states.” Good times, good times!
 
A couple weeks later Jess and I drove back for the Lopez/Brady wedding. When we made the call to drive we didn’t figure on the state of Arkansas being covered in ice. Scroll back a couple paragraphs to what I said about being prepared for bad weather… Then note this: Arkansas is not! The trip was an experience to say the least, but we made it to Texas, and I was only a few minutes late for the wedding rehearsal. In what is getting dangerously close to my 30th year on this earth, I’d never actually participated in a wedding. It was pretty cool to stand there with Jeff on his big day; we basically grew up together and we go way back. I couldn’t be happier for him and Elizabeth. Plus, the trip gave us a chance to catch up with my Mom and a lot of old friends back in the town of the cow (that’s Fort Worth for you Yankees).
 
The two lovebirds: Jeff & Elizabeth Lopez. And of course, the other two lovebirds: me and my sweetie.
 
Outside of the extra-curricular trips and activities, I kept plenty busy at home during the offseason. In what became more than a 6-month job, my shop-mahal was completed before winter set in, and I can honestly say my racing operation has the home it always wanted. I’m sure it’s not extravagant by most standards, but I spent a lot of time thinking things out prior to construction and I’m really proud of the end result. The building is a 48’ x 30’ with three overhead doors. We added a bathroom, a workbench, and a bunch of storage area. I successfully turned about half of our yard into a rock quarry, with a huge driveway circling the shop and leading to each of the doors. We’re well lit, and I’ve got my own personal hall of fame inside, with most of my trophies, pictures, and “Happy Gilmore” checks lining the walls. I don’t think a project like this is ever finished, but I’m very content with what we’ve got here.
 
Like I mentioned in my last column, the newer of my venerable Ford F350’s was on its last leg coming home from Florida last November. The average individual would have enough of a combination of money and good sense to take the truck to a professional to have it repaired. If you’ve read this series for any length of time you realize that your author doesn’t possess much of either. So, with the assistance of my soon to be father-in-law Jack, we elected to jerk the motor out and attempt to rebuild it. Five months later, I’m really impressed with our work! While Jack is undeniably the brains of the operation, I was impressed with how much of it I was able to do myself. When you pop the hood on a late model diesel truck, it’s easy to be intimidated. But the basics are the same as the race cars I’m used to working on. 
 
Jack and I pulled the motor out, and tore it down to reveal the culprit: a severely damaged piston (no rings in that hole, not a one). We found a few other minor problems upon disassembly, and I promptly hauled the carnage to my friends at Huntsville Engine. They bored the block, did some work on the heads, and ordered me a complete rebuild kit. Don O’Neal brought it all back a few weeks later, and Jack and I reassembled the motor. Then the fun part; stuff it all back into the truck! With our respective schedules, we didn’t work on the truck very often, but I’m tickled to say that we did get it running last week. I took her on our first racing trip last weekend and she passed with flying colors: over 300 miles of towing are under our belt with no issues! Thanks again to Jack and to the guys at Huntsville Engine. I could never have done this (nor would I have attempted it) without them in my corner.
 
With the added time at home, I was able to spend a lot of time over the winter on ThisIsBracketRacing.com, and I’m happy to report that we’ve added some great new features to the site for 2011. The new APD Member Spotlight is going to be a great program for our members. Basically, we chose four members to spotlight throughout the season. These four (Eric Bowling, Willie Burnett, Aaron Allison, and Jonathan Robin) will write a monthly blog for TIBR detailing their racing experiences (I’m sure no one can figure out where a crazy idea like that came from). In return, they get a prize package that includes a subscription to the site and some great awards from APD, J&J Engine Diapers, K&N Engineering, and Nitroplate. 
 
 
We’ve also set our guest instructor roster for 2011, which will include Bob Mullaney, Bret Kepner, Kyle Seipel, Sal Biondo, Jeff Hefler, and Justin Lamb. In addition, we’ve got some great technical columns lined up for this season, which will include features from TIBR columnist James Monroe, as well as John “Crutchy” Crutchfield, and Matt Driskell. As always, we’ve got several new ideas that we’ll implement throughout 2011 in an effort to make TIBR better and more useful for our subscribers.
 
How can you tell I’ve had too much time off over the winter? I decided to try my hand at race promotion! I said I wouldn’t do it for years, and I’ve turned down a few opportunities mainly because I didn’t feel like I had the time to dedicate to promoting a race the way that I would want to. Well, the time and the opportunity came together for me over the offseason, and I’ve partnered with Scott Bailey to put on the JEGS Spring Door Car Shootout at I-57 Dragstrip, my new home track in Benton, IL. As I write this column, the race is less than three weeks away: April 30-May 1, 2011. By now, I hope most of you have heard of this event, but if not check out our thread in the “Featured Big Bucks Events” section of Bracket Talk here on DragRaceResults.com.
 
I think we’ve put together a really great event. From a racers standpoint we’ve got a massive purse for a fair entry. We tried to limit the amount of money racers can spend by limiting the event to one entry (same car & driver can’t double) and one round of buy backs. In addition, we’ve got over $20,000 in prizes that we’ll give away at the event courtesy of a host of great sponsors. JEGS is onboard, and Jeg Coughlin, Jr. will be onhand racing at the event. We’ll even have an autograph session with Jeg for the spectators on Saturday night. 
 
We’re still a couple weeks away from the SDCS, and I can already tell you I’ve got a newfound appreciation for track owners and event promoters. I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what it took to put together an event of this nature, but I can say now that I had no clue. It’s a lot of work, and we haven’t even made it to the track yet! Hopefully we’ll be fortunate with a nice weekend of weather, and hopefully the door car racers in our area will support an event that would appeal to me as a racer. And hopefully all the planning will come together and we can produce a fun, enjoyable race for everyone involved. I hope to see you at I-57!
 
 
Now that we’re pretty well caught up on my winter away from the track, I’ll spend the next few pages giving my account of the handful of weekends where I have enjoyed the opportunity to go play so far this season. Like I said before, this season is going to bring a little different outlook for me. I’ve still got all the equipment: two dragsters, the faithful Vega, and two rigs; so I could end up anywhere at anytime. I’m not going to chase the NHRA tour this season, although I’ve already attended a couple NHRA national events, and will likely make one or two more. My plan for this season is to bracket race. I’ll attend most of the marquee bracket races across the country, and when those aren’t going on I plan to do a lot more local racing than I have in recent years. I’ve always enjoyed racing at the smaller tracks and events, meeting the weekly racers, and traveling with a low-buck attitude. It’s how I grew up racing, and to be honest I’ve grown to miss it in recent years. I’m anxious to have the opportunity to return to those roots in 2011!
 
My racing season got started in late February, some 1900 miles from home in Pomona, CA at the NHRA Winternationals. The trip wasn’t too tough, as the jet liner I rode covered it in about five hours, with a stop in Atlanta (I didn’t think that was on the way). Justin Lamb and his fiancée Jeanine picked me up at the airport late Wednesday night, and I made a couple laps in his Camaro Roadster and Super Comp dragster on Thursday. Surprisingly, sunny California didn’t provide much better weather than I’d left in Southern Illinois. We had rain, cool temperatures, and even a brief hailstorm on the weekend. We got a round of Super Gas in on Friday, and it didn’t go well for me. I posted a seemingly competitive .005 reaction time and 9.91, only to watch the win light come on in the opposite lane. My opponent, Val Torres, welcomed me to the west coast with a .017 package that was just a little better than what I was throwing down.
 
I got to sit and think about that run for a couple days, as first round of Super Comp didn’t hit the track until Monday morning (we did get to participate in a couple of west coast cacklefests, as we drove to the staging lanes and down the push road a time or two, but didn’t actually get to the racing surface). Once we did get to race, things actually started falling together. Justin’s car was really good, and I hit the tree pretty well (although the three months worth of rust were very evident in my finish line driving). I managed to advance to the quarterfinal round, where I squared off with Jim Glenn for the bye to the final. There, we were both .013 and he did a better job than I did at the big end to get the win, 8.918 to 8.922. Falling short that close to a final round appearance (and in retrospect a likely victory, as my would-be final round opponent was .050 on the tree) sucks, but all in all I couldn’t be too disappointed in the trip. I had a great time, and I didn’t completely embarrass myself on the other side of the country. Thanks again to Justin and the entire Lamb family for the opportunity!
 
With the conclusion of the Winternationals pushed back to Monday, I obviously had to place a call to Jackie Fricke at Accelerated Travel to reschedule my flight home. The only option that was remotely cost effective was to catch the red-eye home Tuesday morning. I left Pomona with Ryan Herem, and spent the evening bumming around Palmdale, CA (another of my previous residences, although it seems like a lifetime ago; we moved from Palmdale when I was 8 years old). Thanks as well to Ryan for putting up with me and giving me a ride back to the airport. After the long weekend, I made it back to Illinois about lunch time on Tuesday (nearly a week after departure).
 
After a weekend spent at the MVC basketball tournament watching freshman sensation Jake Odum dominate the valley and take Indiana State to the conference championship (for those of you outside of my clique, I have a bit of a man crush on Jake – one that was solidified by his performance in the tournament), it was time to debut my own race cars for 2011. With the Tenn-Tuck Triple Crown event looming, I decided to drive south until I found a race track that had a bracket race. I ended up at “The Hill,” Music City Raceway in Nashville, TN. My day ended early with the Vega, as I was very late second round in No Box. I managed a better showing with the dragster, as I made my way down to the quarterfinals before locking horns with John Labbous, Jr., who politely reminded me to stay out of his sandbox by thoroughly embarrassing me at the finish line. 
 
I left Music City and headed to Bowling Green for their regular event on Sunday. There, I entered both cars in Super Pro but once again fell early in the Vega. I advanced to the semi-finals in the dragster only to meet up with John for the second consecutive day. This time around, we matched identical .009 reaction times and both ran .011 over the dial-in. Of course, his win light came on, because that’s just what it does (especially against me). It shouldn’t bother me, as I honestly feel like he’s the best top bulb bracket racer in the country right now. But even if he’s supposed to beat me, the competitive side of me just doesn’t like it when he does! 
 
That set the stage for the Tenn-Tuck weekend, and I was back at Bowling Green the following Friday. After a decent showing in Friday’s main event (I lost fourth round in the dragster), I managed to make the final round in Friday night’s $5,000 race. There, I was set to square off with my buddy Greg Coffman. Since Bryan Robinson and I were staying at Greg’s house that weekend, and the rest of our crew was eager to get to dinner, Greg and I elected to split the money and go eat, forgoing our final round matchup.
 
Saturday, a good weekend got even better. I managed to get a roll going in the ThisIsBracketRacing.com Vega for the first time in 2011, and advanced to the final round of the $10,000 main event, once again, alongside a close friend, Jeremy Jensen. What’s more? I slayed the giant in the semi-final round, as I came out on top of my third matchup with Mr. Labbous in a week’s time. In the final, my crazy little Vega did a crazy little wheelie and nearly hit the crazy Christmas tree. I had to lift, and gave Jeremy the easy victory. It’s like I told my friends at the track… You can work on your car and tweak the combination, and make it as good as it can possibly be (and that car normally is). But when its all said and done, you’ve still got a Vega!
 
 
Jeremy Jensen was kind enough to share his winner circle photo with me after our final round matchup in Bowling Green. Check out the matching Spring Door Car Shootout decals on both final round cars!
 
I went a few round in Saturday night’s race, and lost early in the Sunday $10K before packing up and making the 3.5 hour journey back to Southern Illinois. While it was far from perfect, my first big bracket weekend of the season was a huge success!
 
Back at home I took another weekend off before Jess and I hopped on a bird headed west once again; this time to Sin City for the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals. Last season, I won a trip to Las Vegas courtesy of McCarty Auto Sales at the K&N Spring Fling 20’s in Bristol. Combine that with the fact that the Lamb family once again offered up the keys to their Camaro Roadster, and it sounded like a good weekend for a trip to Vegas (on second thought, what doesn’t sound like a good weekend for a trip to Vegas?).
 
Justin actually had some issues with his Competition Eliminator Cobalt the previous weekend at the LODRS event, so he took over the reigns of his Super Comp dragster.  John and Becky Phlegar were gracious enough to lone me their Cameron Dragster for the weekend so I had a Super Comp ride in addition to driving the Lamb’s Camaro in Super Gas. Unfortunately, my weekend in the Phlegar ride was short lived as I got dropped like a bad habit first round of Super Comp to lose a double-breakout. I managed to make another decent showing in the Lamb’s vehicle only to come up short once again. This time, I advanced to round four before losing to Max Tafoya in almost the same manner that I did in Pomona: nearly even on the tree, both above, both down some MPH; and I’m a few thou behind. Good job on Max’s part, poor job on my part. Once again, thanks to the Lamb’s for the opportunity (sorry I haven’t been able to hold up my end of the deal and come through for a victory). 
 
Jess and I in windy Las Vegas during Sunday Eliminations.
 
Away from the track, we had a great time in Vegas. We stayed at MGM, made a brief tour of the strip, lounged around the pool, and did some shopping. Jeanine even made Jess an appointment for a massage in the luxurious spa at the Mirage. In an abbreviated whirlwind trip to Vegas (Jess worked Thursday and Monday) we had a lot of fun.
 
Last weekend brought the maiden voyage on the rebuilt F350. I set out for Clarksville Speedway in Clarksville, TN on Friday afternoon, and believe it or not it appears that we got all the bolts tight and assembled everything correctly! I made it to Clarksville without any hiccups. As if the day could get any better, I managed to drive the Vega to my first “W” of the 2011 season, as I won Footbrake at Clarksville over my pal Lucas Walker. Jeremy Jensen played a critical role as my crew chief for the night, and he and his girlfriend Heather offered up some great hospitality, as I stayed at their place in metropolitan Mcewen, TN Friday evening. Saturday, I made my way to Northwest Tennessee Motorsports Park in Gleason, TN. There, I had visions of a great showing, but dropped the ball late with a semi-final loss in both Super Pro and Footbrake competition. 
 
On the bright side, my truck not only made it from home to Clarksville, but also from Clarksville to Mcewen, Mcewen to Gleason, and then back home (about a 300 mile round trip)! Good times!
 
 
The only other major announcement I have following the offseason is the addition of Lucas Oil Products to our race team for 2011. I think we’re all familiar with the Lucas family and their line of lubricants and products. I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to align my team with their company this season and beyond. ThisIsBracketRacing.com will continue to highlight my racing operation as my major marketing partner. Lucas Oil will join a great group of marketing partners that are back onboard for 2011 including Bill Taylor Enterprises, Mickey Thompson Tires, American Race Cars, JEGS, Huntsville Engine & Performance, K&N Engineering, 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.
 
I’ll spend the next few weeks racing close to home as we prepare for the inaugural JEGS Spring Door Car Shootout April 30-May 1. Once that’s in the books, I’ll ride north to Byron Dragway to assist the Folk’s with their annual driving school for a third consecutive season. After that, I’ll turn my focus back to my own racing, as the big dollar bracket season really begins to ramp up with events like the K&N Spring Fling (Bristol, TN), the JEGS U.S. Open Bracket Championships (Bowling Green, KY), and the Ultimate 64 Shootout (Cleves, OH).  I’ll share some experiences from those events and my first foray into race promotion in my next column. Thanks again for reading. Good luck in 2011, I’m sure I’ll see you somewhere “On the Road!”
 

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