Closing out 2019
It’s been awhile since we caught up! At the end of my last post here in On The Road, the weather was gorgeous. I was gearing up to take a swing at a potential NHRA World Championship. I owned a dragster. Things have changed a bit in the last 4 months!
In an effort to test a bit prior to the Fall Fling 500, Jessica and I ventured to our home track, I-57 Dragstrip in mid-September for some local 1/8th mile action. Unfortunately, we did a really poor job of pulling into the staging lanes in the quarterfinal round. I got the win light (anyone who races with their spouse could certainly argue whether or not I actually “won” anything, but I digress), and went on to win the race. On the bright side, it was a great way to head into the biggest race of the year with a bit of added confidence. On the not so bright side, my wife wasn’t thrilled with the outcome…
On to Bristol! Let’s start with the bad news… About 20 minutes into our 9-hour journey to the Fall Fling 500, the generator quit on the motorhome. We were a bit pressed for time, and I wasn’t smart enough to figure out what was ultimately an easy fix quickly… So we pressed on. The cabin temperature was somewhere between unbearable and miserable; particularly for a family of 4 with a 1st grader and a 15-month-old. It was bad enough that when we stopped for the night, we got a motel room. Thankfully, we were able to purchase a parking spot with power at beautiful Bristol Dragway; so once we got in and parked things were definitely looking up!
That didn’t last long. On day 1, I entered the 32-car race for a dragster. After getting bludgeoned in round 1, I heard a funny noise on the way back to the trailer. After much speculation and confusion as to the culprit of the noise, I came to find out that I had cracked the roller on a lifter. You know, one of those unbreakable bushed lifters that everyone raves about getting 800+ runs out of? I got 61. Nice! I guess it just goes to show that in racing; *&%^ happens. Even when you buy the best stuff!
Fortunately, it wasn’t a big deal. It flat spotted a really small area on the lifter and nicked up the cam slightly; but it was nothing that was going to keep me from competing in the race that I had looked forward to all season. Unfortunately, it was a trick to find. Lifter was the original diagnosis, just based on sound. But literally about 5% of the roller was flat. I kept running the valves, but it never fell on the flat part; so I was convinced I had other issues. At one point, we had the oil pan off. Obviously, that was unnecessary… But it marked the third HUGE dollar event of 2019 (Spring Fling Million, SFG 525, and now Fall Fling 500). At EVERY one of those races, I had the oil pan off of my dragster. Vegas was ugly (ka-boom). Both of the others were random, odd things that were fixable… No big deal, but damn. Could we pick a less opportune time?!?
After a long (and largely unnecessary) thrash (thanks to Kevin Brannon, Ivey Hutto, John Labbous, Jr., John and Jr. Lobner, and everyone else who pitched in), I was back in business for day 2. And I almost made that pay off. I managed to advance to the semi-final round in the Wednesday $30,000-to-win main event before getting dropped on my head by Shawn Langdon. I went .001 under for the ‘L’ after posting a superior reaction time.
Unfortunately, neither Jessica nor myself got much rolling the rest of the week, including the $500k main event. On the bright side, Danny Estep diagnosed the stunningly simple generator issue, so we had air conditioning on the ride home (definitely a plus)!
The next two weeks would be pivotal for my dwindling hopes of a third NHRA World Championship, as they brought back-to-back events at our nearest NHRA facility: Worldwide Technology Raceway (the race track formerly known as Gateway International Raceway…. Which is the race track formerly known as Gateway Motorsports Park). The first week was the national event, where I needed to advance to the final round in order to gain any points at all. I did my best, but .007, take .007 was good for a losing time slip in round two alongside reigning NHRA Super Gas champ Devin Isenhower (he was .007 total). Jessica made it one round farther before losing to eventual winner Christopher Dodd.
As if my own results weren’t enough, the championship picture became painfully clear that weekend, as Ray Miller III drove to victory at a divisional event in Galot (in fact, he doubled up, winning both Super Comp and Super Gas!). I felt like my title hopes were a bit of a longshot to begin with, and Ray Ray just made them a whole lot slimmer!
Coming into the divisional race the following week, I basically needed an event win; and all that would do was give me a reason to drive to Las Vegas to try and make another deep run in an effort to overtake Ray Ray. My weekend started well enough; I had a pair of red lights in the opposite lane in rounds 1 and 2, and made decent laps each time. Then in round 3 I made an awful mistake that ended my weekend and essentially torpedoed any chance of a title I was clinging to.
Had I been able to win round 3, waiting in the wings in round 4 would have been my beautiful bride, Jessica. Given the fact that she owed me one, and that she has owned me head-to-head with few exceptions, I probably wasn’t going to get through that one anyhow! And as much as my own loss hurt, that low wasn’t nearly as low as the high of watching her mow through the remaining field was high. One of Jessica’s goals for 2019 was to win a Wally. She wrote it down every morning; not as “I will win a Wally,” but rather “I’m a Wally winner” – it was more of a statement than a dream. And she made it a reality that October evening.
The win was cool for a lot of reasons. For one, as mentioned earlier, it’s the closest NHRA track to home. Jessica and longtime friend Mark Buttrum grew up racing together, and he won Super Gas (he also won the national event the week prior). Jessica and Shana Stone were joking in the staging lanes early Sunday morning about how neither had won an NHRA event (I think most people would assume that they both had); lo and behold, they met in the final round. And Jessica’s father – the man who introduced her to the sport and has raced alongside her for 20+ years – was there to witness it. Pretty cool stuff.
So it was early October, and there was obviously quite a bit of racing left in 2019. The Million was upcoming, and I hadn’t missed one in 20 years. Mathematically, I still had a “shot” at the Super Comp championship, but it was the longest of long shots. I had to make the final at BOTH the national event AND the divisional event in Las Vegas (assuming the points meet went 8 rounds, which it did), and win one of them… And hope that Ray Ray didn’t improve or that someone else didn’t surpass his total. In short, my hopes were almost exclusively mathematical. If those two races were 200 miles from home, I’d probably give it a shot. But Las Vegas is not 200 miles from Illinois. After a busy summer, and with numerous family and business commitments (most of which I had put off for months) looming, we decided to pack it in and call it a year!
While we came up short of the ultimate goal of the NHRA World Championship, I did manage to hang on to the Division 3 Super Comp crown. So Jessica and I enjoyed a fun night at the annual awards ceremony following the PRI show. We clean up pretty good!
We won’t mention that in the process of trying to be a real sweetheart in my speech I called my wife “selfish” (rather than “selfless”). Thankfully, I caught it and corrected myself… But of all the things I could’ve messed up!
About a month after our season ended, my dragster found a new home. I don’t normally get attached to race cars – I tend to look at them as a tool. But I can honestly say that with the exception of my Vega, I have never had a car that I liked more than my dragster. It was the first ridiculously over-the-top detailed car that I built. Originally, my intention was to race it for a year or two and flip it… But I just liked it too much to do that. We clicked almost instantly, and that car and I accomplished some pretty amazing things together. We won a handful of national events. We finished in the top 5 a couple times and won a division championship. We won the Spring Fling Million. Lots of moments that I’ll never forget featured that car as a main character…
But if there’s one thing that’s a constant, it’s change. And she’s in good hands with George and Gayle Towns.
With the long skinny car out of the shop, we made room for the new addition… For 2020, I’m making the switch from Super Comp to Super Gas in a brand new C7 bodied Charlie Stewart Race Cars Corvette. As of this writing, we just rolled this beast into the shop. Charlie, Nathan Martin, and the team at Charlie Stewart Race Cars knocked this thing out of the park, but we’ve got a lot of work to do before we make our Super Gas debut in May. Look for updates to our progress on the Luke Bogacki Motorsports Facebook page.
And if you’ve been following along with the <Vega Resurrection> then you know that the Vega is really close to hitting the race track! The motor is in, it’s on the ground, the wiring is done, the windshield has been installed. It’s close. In fact, when Chris picked up the Corvette from Charlie, he dropped off the Vega: the crew at CSRC is building stainless headers & exhaust: one of the final touches for the Vega. The goal is for it to make its first appearance in years at the 10G and BG event in late March. I… Can’t… Wait!
2020 will mark the first time in over 15 years that I won’t campaign a dragster. We’ve still got Jessica’s car, but she’s made it clear that it’s hers! I’ll split my time between looking through the windshield of the Vega and around the K&N hood scoop of my new Corvette.
Offseason is basketball season!
What do we do when we’re not racing? Well, as a family we get REALLY into hoops during the winter! We’ve been longtime Southern Illinois Saluki season ticket holders. This year was supposed to be a rebuilding season for our Saluki’s – like most fans, we had very low expectations. But our new coach Bryan Mullins and his staff have these kids playing at a high level: the season has been surprisingly successful and a lot of fun! They’ve got Banterra Center rocking again!
In addition to the Saluki games, Gary and I have developed a tradition of taking an annual “Guys Trip” that for the last three years has centered around basketball. This year, we ventured to Indianapolis to take in my little man’s first NBA game and a trip to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse to watch the Butler Bulldogs. Awesome memories for sure!
Gary is also in his second season as a player, which puts me in my second season as a coach. Our 1st/2nd grade boys team, the Golden Eagles, are a bunch of fun!