Hello DRR, I’m back again with my quarterly rambling of life “On The Road.” Believe it or not, I have very little to complain about this time around. The last couple of months have been pretty good, on and off the track. Like I’ve said before, I think these columns are more fun to read when the author is ready to toss a jack stand through the computer screen, so I apologize in advance… For the most part, the last few months haven’t sucked at all.
Before we get too deep into my regular racing recap, allow me to give a much more important update. Those of you who read my last column will remember that it ended frighteningly: my father-in-law Jack was in the hospital after suffering a stroke while we were at the NHRA national event in Chicago. A number of readers and friends reached out to Jessica and me to lend support, which we greatly appreciate. I’m incredibly happy to report that Jack is doing great. Somewhat miraculously, he has very little lasting effects from the stroke. He’s back to work, he’s racing again, and to be honest it seems as though he’s never missed a beat. Save for slight loss of peripheral vision, he’s as good as ever. Despite the scare, Jack, along with Jess, me and our entire family (and really, about everyone who’s ever met the man) are very lucky, it could have been much, much worse.
Jess and I flew to Norwalk, OH for the NHRA national event over July 4th weekend, thanks to help from a bunch of friends. Ray Connolly drove my rig from Chicago to Norwalk, which allowed us to come home for a few days; then Jason Lynch and Mia Tedesco picked us up Wednesday night at the airport in Cleveland (thanks guys!). Although I’ve never left Norwalk with a victory, it is without question my favorite race track. The place is awesome, but it teases me every time I go. Dating back to the IHRA World Nationals days, I’ve made about a half dozen trips to the northern Ohio facility. Coming into this season’s event, my worst trip to Norwalk netted a semi-final loss; but I had yet to earn a victory there. Notable close calls include an opponent laying down at .001 package in the final of the Ten Grand Nationals; I was .003, take .002 in the semi’s of Quick Rod at the World Nationals one year for the “L”; and Troy Williams crushed me in the final of the same event a year later. Nonetheless, I was convinced this would be the year that I broke through.
My mother made the drive up from Alabama for the weekend, so it was nice to spend some overdue time with her as well. Mom, Jess, and myself made plans to stay over on Monday following the event for a trip to the coolest amusement park in the world, Cedar Point (just about 30 miles North of the track). Definitely a fun weekend!
The one thing we didn’t plan for was the heat. As a kid that grew up in Texas, and lived in Alabama for years, you wouldn’t think that the hottest racing weather I can remember would come in Ohio… But I’m here to tell you, the 2nd round of Super Gas was as miserable as I can ever remember being in a race car. My opponent and I were the first pair out, but once we got suited up the track crew decided to do some grooming. So we sat in the sun, buckled up (black firesuit, of course) for a good 10 minutes. My weather station read 108* when I got back to the trailer. It was rough.
Despite the heat, I turned in my best driving performance of the season through the first three rounds of both categories. I advanced through round 4 in Super Gas, which meant that my buddy Brad Plourd’s Lucas Oil dragster was the only thing standing between me and two entries in Sunday’s final eliminations. I had been .00 on the tree every round in Super Comp, and my car had been nasty. I decided to throw Brad a curveball: I decided to set up 8.90. I NEVER do that; I’m always trying to do something at the finish line. I just figured that my car was awesome, I had been wrecking the tree, and he would never expect me to hold it on the floor.
My plan was working to perfection: I was .006 to his .030. In fact, when we left the starting line I remember telling myself “He can’t win.” I was wrong. He could. Remember how I said that I never set up 8.90? There’s a reason for that! My run completion showed I was going 8.904, which would have resulted in a .010 package had I just closed my eyes and trusted my car. But no… I’m not capable of it.
Instead, I think “Wow, I’m eating him up. He’s gonna drop me; don’t get dropped!” Yep, I kill 14 mph to go 8.93, and get .004 behind his 8.90. I’m the man.
After reliving that mistake for about 18 hours, I got to make another one the following round of Super Gas on Sunday afternoon. There, I was late and took too much stripe opposite Nathan Vrooman and bowed out of Super Gas as well. That gave Nathan the bye into the final, which he won. Another Norwalk appearance, another late round finish, and another loss. Sounds like a summary of 2012 to this point.
On the bright side, we had a blast at Cedar Point and enjoyed not one but two dinners at what is, in my humble opinion, the best Mexican restaurant on the NHRA tour (no one can remember the name of it; but I think it’s the only Mexican joint in Norwalk… Check it out). After an uneventful 10 hour ride home, we enjoyed a much needed weekend off and began to prepare for the 2nd annual JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout.
My wife has an indescribable crush on Linus, so we had to get a picture of them together
As most of you know, the SDCS is my little creation of a race. I teamed with Scott and Leigh Ann Bailey of I-57 Dragstrip last season to put on the inaugural event, and I think just about everyone involved had a great time. We guaranteed a bunch of cash ($7500-to-win each day), brought in a ton of prizes thanks to some great sponsors, and I felt like we created a fun atmosphere for a great weekend of racing. The best part? The only cars allowed on the premises have doors (not entirely accurate: we allow left-hand steer roadsters as well).
This season, the 2nd annual JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout went even better than the first. We packed the I-57 facility with 160 entrants, the weather cooperated, and the best door car racers in the Midwest put on one heck of a show. Congrats to the big winners: Rhea King and Jeremy Jensen won the $7500-to-win main events. Jesse Bobo collected the biggest payday of the weekend when he won the Ohlins King of Illinois Shootout. That race was $500-to-enter, winner take all deal. It boasted a whopping 29 entrants, and Jesse walked away with a smooth $14,500 and a new set of Ohlins Shocks. Mark Buttrum was the other big winner, as he drove his recently purchased Cutlass to victory in the APD Quick 16 on Saturday night. For complete event results, check out this link: http://www.thisisbracketracing.com/news.cfm?details=5F5409090E05
Sunday’s Main Event Winner, Jeremy Jensen
The weekend following the JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout I ventured off to Gateway Motorsports Park to do some throttle stop testing with the dragster and the Corvette. That day ended with a semi-final loss to Phil Bryant in the dragster, but I was pretty happy with the performance of both cars. That was good, seeing as I was about to embark on a four-week stretch of NHRA events.
I talked Jess into spending her last two weeks of summer vacation on the road, and we set out for the beautiful tourist destination known as… Cordova, IL. There, I didn’t have much success to speak of. I got bounced in round 3 with both cars, losing to Brian Johnson in Super Comp and my good friend Tommy Phillips in Super Gas. Tommy went on to win, which was cool, but the early losses pretty much shot down any chance I had of winning a Division 5 title in either class. Obviously, they didn’t do much to improve my chances of a national championship either.
I get cracked by this guy in round 3, and still make his picture… Pretty gracious of me, huh?
We left Cordova and enjoyed a very leisurely drive up to Brainerd. We stopped in southern Minnesota Sunday evening and enjoyed a double feature at the movies, then spent a full day at the Mall of America. If you could see my wife’s closet, you would know how much she enjoyed that stop. And to be honest, although I figured it would be a complete whip, I actually enjoyed the MOA myself; it’s pretty cool.
On to Brainerd, where my goal was to conquer my B.I.R. demons… You may recall my first appearance at this event. When I drove from Alabama to Brainerd in 2009, I was disqualified in Stock Eliminator for writing the incorrect year model on my tech card. Without trying to rehash the whole situation, it was a dumb mistake that I take full responsibility for, although I still don’t feel it warranted disqualification. Regardless, it was probably the most frustrating, embarrassing and humiliating experience of my racing career. Fast forward one year, to 2010 when I came to Brainerd in contention for the Super Comp national championship. The race was my last national event at which to earn points. I lost to Gary Stinnett in round 1. At the time, I thought that would impact my chances to win the national title. Little did I realize that Gary’s win would kick off a streak of some 16+ round wins for him, and he would go on to beat me for the national championship by less than one round. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that probably goes down as the single most pivotal round loss of my career.
Earlier this season, I once again bucked conventional wisdom and made the journey North for the divisional event. There, I had freak mechanical problems in both cars; falling in round 2 of Super Gas and in the semi-final of Super Comp. In short, Brainerd had not been very good to me, and to be honest I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it. I kind of felt like the place owed me something, and I actually made sure to schedule my 2012 season in a way that the Lucas Oil Nationals would be my last points-earning national event. I just had a feeling it could be a big one.
And I was right… All of the deposits I had dropped into the luck bank at Brainerd over the past three years were sitting in my account for the weekend. I got several good breaks, ended up in a great spot on the ladder in both classes, and made some nice laps when I had to. By Sunday afternoon I had earned an opportunity to do something pretty incredible, as I advanced to the final round of both Super Comp and Super Gas. Super Gas was out first, and I caught another break when my opponent, John McMasters had mechanical issues and slowed to 10.14, handing me an easy win. I came right back to the lanes with my dragster to square off with Steve Mikus in the Super Comp final. There, I couldn’t be ashamed of my run by any means: I was .013 and took .007 at the finish line, but my car must have gotten a whiff of nitrous because it was much faster than I anticipated and I lost a double breakout. Steve was solid: .009 and 8.881, to my .013 induced 8.870.
I’ll admit, the loss was a little disappointing. I know all too well that I may never get another opportunity to double on the national stage, and that would have been something very special. But, the disappointment didn’t last long. Up until that weekend I had been to three NHRA national event finals in my life, and I was in two in the same day. The Super Gas win was my second of the season, which is pretty special to me, especially seeing as it’s my first year in the category. The final round showings pushed me solidly into the top 10 in both categories, and gives me an outside shot at the championship.
It goes without saying that both cars were incredible in Brainerd. In fact, for the most part they have been all year; the weak link in my racing program is certainly not my equipment! I want to give some credit where credit is due: the folks at American Race Cars (who built my dragster) and Charlie Stewart Race Cars (who built the ‘vette) built two incredible hot rods. A pair of Huntsville Engine & Performance powerplants do the heavy lifting, and both are outfitted with BRODIX cylinder heads and aluminum blocks. We use Lucas Oil lubricants and care car products exclusively in both the race cars and support equipment. Both cars utilize Moser axles, rear end components, and brakes, and the information from a pair of Auto Meter Multi-Function Data Loggers has worked wonders for my .90 program. Additional manufacturers whose products I depend on include Wiseco Pistons, K&N Engineering, Dedenbear, Renegade Racing Fuels, K&R Performance Engineering, ISC Racer’s Tape, Todd’s Extreme Paint, Milodon, AirTek Pressure Systems, Nitroplate, Hedman Hedders, Ohlins Shocks, Dixie Racing Products, Frankenstein Racing Heads, B&M, J&J Performance, Nitrous Express, and DragRaceResults.com.
After a long ride home from Minnesota, there was little rest for the weary. I spent a couple days trying to figure out why my dragster had a rocket engine attached to it in the final, and ended up spending Thursday afternoon testing at I-57. I told Scott I needed to bring the dragster out to make some runs, and he sounded kind of excited to watch it go down the track. I made twelve 60’ passes, on the throttle stop. I never even drove to the end of the track to make the turnout. My Auto Meter MFDL showed that I never eclipsed 46 miles per hour; so I’m sure my runs really created viewing pleasure for him! But on my end, I felt like I learned some things and had a better feeling going into the weekend. I left the track on Thursday evening, and made the 7 hour drive to Topeka, KS for the Division 5 event.
Funny (well, kind of funny) story here. The weekend prior to labor day always brings a pair of NHRA LODRS events; one in Bowling Green, KY, and the one in Topeka. Bowling Green is 3 hours from home, Topeka is 7. I’ve been to the event in Bowling Green just twice, and won Super Comp both times. While I’ve never been to the divisional event in Topeka, I’ve raced there a handful of times and have never been to a final. Easy decision, right? I went to Kansas. My logic was the Division 5 chase; it’s long and difficult to explain, but for my divisional points score it made more sense to go to Topeka.
So, I drove into the wee hours of the morning and pulled into Heartland Park. I awoke just a few hours later to rain. It was at that point that I picked up my phone and looked at the weather forecast: 70 percent chance of rain for the next three days. Meanwhile, they were racing in Bowling Green. BRILLIANT!
I spent three full days in Topeka and made three total runs; one time trial in each car, and first round of Super Comp, which I won. I got stuck in the mud. The race got postponed to a date two weeks later that I could not attend, and of course they completed the race in Bowling Green. Awesome.
I wasn’t just stuck… I got stuck trying to get my truck to my trailer (I had to get under the trailer so that I could PAY someone to pull the entire rig out). A few buddies came up with the brilliant idea to strap a winch in the bed of the truck, and drag it back to the trailer. Surprisingly, no one was harmed in the making of this picture.
Wait, it gets better… Here are the overall implications of the rainout from my perspective. The good news is that if/when I did not make the trip to Earlville, IA for the conclusion of the race, NHRA counts that as an automatic withdrawal; which means that the race doesn’t count against my quota of events (so it’s like I never went to Topeka). The bad news is that Earlville is the last Division 5 event, which means I will have no more opportunities to improve my home division score. That really hurts my chances to win the division, but has no effect on my national points total (because for your national score, your best 5 divisional events count, regardless of what division they come from). That basically meant that I just had to find another race to attend in order to make the maximum 8 points-earning LODRS events. The only two options were Noble, Oklahoma or Las Vegas, NV. Neither of those are particularly close to Carterville, IL. Obviously, Noble is much closer but to be honest, I’d rather mow my 3 acre yard with a weedeater than race in Noble, OK. It’s nothing against the track or the ownership, or Oklahoma in general; it’s just that I’ve raced there about 2 dozen times in my life. I’ve never won. And I’ve been pulled from my pit area as often as I’ve driven away. I hate the place. And I knew that if I went I’d be in a bad mood from the moment I pulled out of the driveway. So, Vegas it is.
Putting it all together, I chose to bypass the divisional event in Bowling Green, three hours from home, and instead will now make the one in November in Las Vegas, about 23 hours from home. Just call me “Meteorologist Luke.”
In drag racing, Labor Day weekend is synonomous with the NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. Believe it or not, I had never been to the “big go” prior to this year. I always said I would do it someday, but that day simply hadn’t come. I decided this was the year, it was time to give it a shot. I unloaded Wednesday morning, drove to tech, and was welcomed by an odd sound from the HEPC 632 in my dragster. Further inspection revealed a blown head gasket. Awesome! So, prior to ever making a run down the fabled Lucas Oil Dragway facility, I had the heads off of my dragster in my pit area (which also happened to be someone’s back yard). Life is good. In retrospect, I guess I caught a huge break when Topeka was cancelled (even though I could have spit nails at the time).
Thanks to some help from my buddies Jeff Lopez, Jeremy Jensen, and Jason Lynch, we got the rocketship back up and running, and I even made the last time trial session of the day. On Thursday, I advanced through the opening round in both cars, but Friday morning I got bounced in round 2 of both categories. In Super Gas I killed too much momentum early in the run, and knew I was screwing up by about 1,000 feet. I held it to the floor the rest of the way, but came up .004 behind. In Super Comp, I lost a really good race with Joey Hughes: we were both .007 up front, but I lost the braking contest at the stripe, 8.898 to his 8.91. And with that, my first Indy experience was over. Looking back, I probably picked a good race to get bounced early. The last few rounds of competition ended up getting pushed back to the following weekend, and I wouldn’t have been able to attend. I was already supposed to be in Louisiana and Iowa that weekend, so it didn’t hurt my feelings not to add Indianapolis to the list!
The reason I could not attend the make-up race in Iowa (and would not have been able to return to Indy) was the Moser Great American Bracket Race at No Problem Raceway Park in Belle Rose, LA. The event is great to begin with: an awesome atmosphere with three days of racing highlighted by a $50,000-to-win event. But I’m a little bit more invested in the event than that. Britt Cummings, Slate Cummings, and myself host a BRODIX ThisIsBracketRacing.com “Live” Driving School annually preceding the race. Plus, event promoters Britt and Gaylon Rolison also allow me and the staff at American Race Cars to put on the American Race Cars Dragster Shootout, a separate 32-car field in which the winner takes home a new Dragster. We dolled up the car quite a bit, with an awesome paint job from Todd’s Extreme Paint, all the Moser Engineering rear end and brake components, Mickey Thompson Wheels and Tires, Auto Meter dash, and K&R electronics. It makes one lucky racer a very nice (and very lucrative) new car!
This season’s GABR American Race Cars Dragster Shootout car was a real eye-catcher!
I carried the race for a dragster machine and my trusty Vega to Belle Rose for the festivities, and I have to admit the outcome was really a dream weekend. Our school went well, as for the third consecutive year we had a really great group of Louisiana racers in attendance. In fact, one of our graduates, Marvin Allemand, was runner-up in Friday’s $7500-to-win event (another graduate, Val Harmon, won Super Street the following weekend at Noble). The dragster race went off smoothly for a fourth consecutive season, and was won by Bobby Johns. In an unlikely sequence of events, that race was the third time this year that Bobby won an American Race Cars dragster! They don’t give too many of those away, so for one dude to win three of them is highly improbable and impressive.
On the track, I entered the Vega in both Super Pro and Footbrake. On Friday, I got down to 10 cars in Footbrake before giving back the finish line, and lost at 9 cars in Super Pro. On Saturday, I turned it -.002 with 9 cars remaining in Footbrake, but I advanced all the way to the final of the $50,000 main event. There, Gary Williams cracked me. Imagine that… I think Gary is 7-0 or better in $50k finals, he’s the best high stakes racer in the history of our sport. I, on the other hand, am now 0-3. Oh well, we worked out a very deep split, and the Vega took home another enormous payday. I’d like to win one of those big races just to put the check on the wall, but you’ll never hear me complain about making a big deposit on Monday morning!
The following weekend brought a welcome weekend at home, as Jess and I made our way to I-57. I took the dragster to do some more throttle stop testing; so I ran it in Super Pro and the Vega in Footbrake, while Jess worked the delay box installation and removal to run the Vega in Super Pro. I ended up winning the Footbrake category, but that’s not what anyone wanted to talk about that night (or in the weeks following it). Nope, everyone wanted to talk about third round of Super Pro. As it happened, Jess and I got paired up. As I said before, she was in the Vega, and I was in the dragster, testing on the throttle stop. I made a pretty solid run. Heck, my run was more than solid; I was .011 and took the finish line by .001; I’d take that lap any day of the week. My win light didn’t come on.
Nice work babe.
My Footbrake victory was definitely overshadowed!
A couple days later I hit the road again, this time for a homecoming of sorts as I ventured off to the Texas Motorplex, less than an hour from where I grew up, for the AAA Texas NHRA Nationals. There, I played in the annual Gregg Morris Foundation Golf Tournament on Wednesday. Gregg was a great guy who managed the Motorplex for a period when I was coming up. He passed away a little over a decade ago, and the tournament was designed by the folks at Circus Motorsports as a fund raiser for Gregg’s family. In addition to being a lot of fun, it’s a really special event for a great cause. I was very happy to be a part of it.
I’m not sure how happy my golfing teammates were that I was a part of it, however. I hadn’t picked up a golf club in about 5 years prior to the tournament. I wasn’t particularly good five years ago, and let’s just say that I didn’t get any better over that time period. In an 18-hole, 4-man scramble, I think we played my ball twice. Regardless, I had a blast playing with Rick Huffman, Russell Marr, and Mike Carlson. I look forward to doing it again next season.
On the track, my weekend was miserable. In the opening round of Super Gas, the throttle return spring bracket on the Corvette twisted (apparently in the burnout) and hung the accelerator pump wide open. So, when I staged and pushed the throttle to the floor, no one was home. An hour later, I went red in the opening round of Super Comp. I had compiled dozens of tickets for local sponsors, and old friends in Texas for the weekend… And I was done before they started selling hot dogs on Friday morning. Fantastic.
On the bright side, I did get to catch up with a lot of friends I haven’t seen in awhile. Here I am with my buddy Daniel Gossett’s daughters, Madison (in car) and Abigail.
I stuck around and watched Tommy Phillips put on a show, as he doubled in Super Comp and Super Gas for the second time in his illustrious career. Monday morning, I joined Tommy, Jimmy Lewis (who had a great weekend as well with a Top Sportsman win and Super Gas runner-up), Alexis DeJoria, and several other racers for the 3rd annual Racers for Kids car show at the Children’s Medical Center in nearby Plano. Children’s is the 5th largest children’s hospital in the country, and specializes in the care of kids who face life threatening illnesses. We all set up our cars in the driveway of the hospital, right in front of the lobby. Event coordinator Jason Kizlinski, a local Super Street racer, had a ton of goodie bags, and a prize wheel set up for the kids. Those that were healthy enough to come downstairs got to walk around, check out the cars, and talk to us. Most of them took a real interest, asked all kinds of questions, sat in the cars, etc. I was asked to join Alexis, Donna Watson, and Forrest Fair as part of the group that ventured upstairs to see the kids that weren’t healthy enough to leave their rooms. As you might imagine, that was an experience that really tugged at the heart strings.
Photos courtesy of Children’s Medical Center
Here I was, two days ago bemoaning my misfortune. In my own little isolated world, getting beat first round in both cars was a catastrophe. Meeting these kids and their parents definitely gives a fella some perspective. What they’re battling and what they’re feeling on a daily basis makes any problems I ever thought I had seem very trivial. While the gravity of it all was hard to swallow at times, it was heartwarming to see smiles on the faces of those children. Obviously, their situation is way beyond my control. But I couldn’t help but feel that, if only for a minute, we were able to take their minds off of their daily battles and provide some excitement, laughter, and hope. That’s more gratifying than anything I could ever do on the race track.
Here is the group of racers that participated in the 3rd annual Racers for Kids Car Show, photos courtesy of Children’s Medical Center
Next up was the AAA NHRA Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, our home town national event. Once again, I was in charge of rounding up tons of tickets for sponsors, family, and friends, as Gateway is only about 100 miles from home. And once again, my weekend ended very prematurely. My first round opponent in Super Gas gave me a .009 package to work with, and needless to say, that didn’t work out for me. In round two of Super Comp I lit it red for the second consecutive event with a heartbreaking -.001. After reaching Sunday’s final eliminations at five of my first six national events this season, this race marked three in a row where I failed to get out of second round. Sometimes you’re the windshield…
The real excitement of the weekend came early Saturday morning, when Jessica’s youngest sister Christina, and her fiancé Joe brought the newest addition to our family into the world. Avery Jo Elbrecht was born a little after 2:00 AM on Saturday, September 29. We thought she might grace us with her presence earlier that evening, so I drove home to meet her, but I had to give up before midnight and make my way back to the track with first round waiting at 8:00 AM the next morning. My early exit from the event gave me plenty of time to go meet Avery on Sunday. She’s a little sweetheart!
It’s pretty incredible to think about, but I only have five races remaining on my schedule for the season. Crazy, it seems like just yesterday I was putting the finishing touches on the ‘vette! My standing in NHRA points and the Topeka debacle will keep me from attending the annual Florida Winter Series for the first time in several years, but I’m looking forward to my trip out west. I’ve got this weekend off, which will be nice because I won’t see my own bed (unless you count the bed in my trailer, which, by definition, is in fact my own) for nearly five weeks. I’m off to the Division 2 event in Reynolds, GA, then the C.A.R.S. Million in Montgomery. Unless something changes in the points chase, I’ll leave there headed for Las Vegas. I’ll run the national event and the divisional in Vegas, and right now I’m planning to continue on to Pomona for the NHRA Finals before bringing it all back to Illinois and calling it a year. I’m planning the trip out West because, at least right now, I have a mathematical shot at the NHRA World Championship. In fact, if I’m crunching the numbers correctly, I have a mathematical shot at the title in both Super Comp and Super Gas. My chances in Super Gas are really just that, mathematical. In Super Comp my chances are a little bit more realistic, although I’d still call myself a longshot at best. Nonetheless, it’s pretty cool to come into the last few races with a chance, slim as it may be. Not too many people can say that.
Thanks again for reading, look for a follow up sometime in December when we can wrap a pretty little bow around 2012 and begin looking forward. For those of you who still haven’t checked it out, we’ve got all sorts of cool things happening on ThisIsBracketRacing.com, visit today. Once again thanks to Tinsley Drilling and Company, Advanced Product Design, Bill Taylor Enterprises, C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, JEGS, and Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels for keeping the wheels rolling. And thanks to all of the manufacturer’s whose products we depend on week in and week out. Good luck to everyone as you close out your own season, I look forward to seeing you “On The Road.”