12-13 "On The Road" With Luke Bogacki - Country Comes to Town
As I sit down to write my final “On the Road” column for 2013, I’ve had nearly two months to digest the racing season, and the year in general. Even with the added perspective that several weeks at home can provide, I’m still not sure that I can put it all into words. What an incredible year. In April, our little boy Gary was born. I think any parent will tell you that the first moment we lay eyes on a son or daughter is undeniably the greatest moment of our lives; and I would certainly agree. As if that weren’t enough to make 2013 a year to remember, I managed to claim the NHRA Super Comp world championship. The championship is obviously the pinnacle in our sport, and to a guy that has been a student of this game all of my life, and always put the championship (particularly the Super Comp championship) on a pedestal… Well, it’s an honor that is very special to me - truly a lifelong dream realized.
The Bogacki family at the NHRA banquet.
While I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome in Super Comp, our racing season wasn’t all fun and games. We had some rough spots. My Super Gas struggles were well documented. In the end, it doesn’t look terrible: I split two LODRS final rounds with a win in Las Vegas and the runner-up in Atlanta. Late in the season, I also made back-to-back national event finals in Super Gas, only to lose them both. For the better part of the season, however, my Super Gas program was a dumpster fire. It didn’t have anything to do with my race car: Charlie Stewart and his crew build the best Super Gas machine that money can buy. It really didn’t have much to do with the driver: I wasn’t perfect by any means, but I drove better than my record would indicate. I just failed from a tuning standpoint. For three full months, that car was absolutely awful. I’ve never had a combination that confused me as much as this one did.
My lack of success wasn’t due to lack of effort either; I worked on that car and threw parts at it all summer. In retrospect, however, I just kept pressing in the wrong direction. It wasn’t until an early-September conversation with Greg Brotherton that I began to see the light. The bulk of the car’s inconsistency and unpredictability came from a section of Drag Racing 101 that I apparently skipped over: I was lugging it. The combination was running in an RPM range that I’ve had success with in the past; but with that cylinder head, that cubic inch, and the weight of that car, I was really restricting the combination, which made it super-sensitive to the slightest change in conditions. After Indy, I made a torque converter and gearing change to raise the down track RPM significantly, and whalaaa: I had a brand new race car. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late to make an impact in 2013. My two national event runner-up’s came after my points earning season was complete, and I finished well outside of the top 10.
The Corvette wasn’t our only struggle in 2013; as my trusty Vega failed to park itself in the winner’s circle all season. That’s the first time that has happened since I’ve owned it, and judging from that car’s history, it’s one of just a handful of times in its 40-year career that it has gone a season without having a trophy set on the roof. Granted, we didn’t race it much. Jess got back behind the wheel in June, and only raced a handful of time throughout the rest of the season. She went a bunch of rounds, but never sealed the deal. Early in the year, I drove it to 3 final rounds but came up short in each attempt.
Looking back, that was a theme for the season. I appeared in 12 final rounds. Given my limited schedule, I’m very happy with that number. In those final rounds, however, my record was 3-9. That’s pretty pathetic! Granted, a number of my final round opponents made incredible runs beside me: in several instances I did a pretty good job only to see the wrong win light blink. But I also made some mistakes, and I lost a couple of finals due to mechanical issues – which absolutely drives me insane. While it’s impossible to look back on a championship season as a disappointment, there is still plenty of room to improve our program; and that’s the main focus now as the calendar turns to 2014.
On the Track:
I ended my last column with a recap of the national events in Dallas and St. Louis; at both events I was runner-up in Super Gas, and in both events I fell in the opening round of Super Comp. I had already filled my allotment for six points earning national events prior to Dallas, so the Super Gas finishes didn’t help my cause and the Super Comp defeats didn’t hurt me either. When I wrote the October column, the only races that I had remaining on the 2013 schedule were my final NHRA LODRS event in Reynolds, GA, followed by the annual C.A.R.S. Million in Montgomery, AL.
In the process of my runner-up in St. Louis, I blew a head gasket in the roadster. I limped it through the event, but the following week the head had to come off. Seeing as I consider myself mechanically competent, I figured that I was capable of fixing that issue in-house (read on to see how I proved myself wrong). A few hours of work and a fresh gasket later, I was back in business and ready for a trip south.
Silver Dollar Raceway in Reynolds, GA has been pretty good to me in limited trips to the facility. Back in 2010, I came in as a longshot to win the Super Comp title, and left looking like I would be the champion. Even though Gary Stinnett passed me at the division race in Vegas a few weeks later; I still look back at that event as one of the biggest highlights of my racing career. The racers in front of me had to lose early, and I had to win the event to take the national points lead – and all of that actually happened. The feeling I got when that final round win light came on is one that I’ll never forget; so needless to say that little track in central Georgia holds a special place in my heart. My fondness for the facility grew again last season, when I was able to win Super Gas at the same event.
Coming into this year’s event, I was leading the Super Comp points standings. I had the opportunity to improve my score if I could advance past the fourth round of competition. There were still a handful of racers with a chance to pass me; and most of them were there in Georgia. In Super Gas, where I came into the event on a bit of a roll, I was a longshot to finish in the top 10 nationally – I figured I would need to make the final or win the race to sneak in the back door and claim a silver card for 2014.
On my opening Super Gas time trial, I was mentally patting myself on the back for a job well done on the head gasket swap when the throttle stop disengaged and kicked the ‘vette back to wide open. It sounded so good, and felt so fast… Until about 1,000’ when all hell broke loose. I thought it pitched a rod out the side.
Come to find out, that wasn’t the case. What did happen was that a couple of exhaust rocker stand bolts pulled completely out of the head. That hydraulic’d a couple of cylinders, which broke a couple of lifters as well. Further examination revealed the culprit. The engine had different length bolts for the intake and exhaust rocker stands. The shorter one’s were meant for the intake rockers; when installed on the exhaust side, they had about 3 threads into the cylinder head. Apparently three threads were plenty, until she hit about 7500 rpm. So, I was instantly upset with whoever assembled this motor; because that’s obviously a major mistake… Then I realized that idiot was me. I hate being an idiot!
Wait, it gets better. I examine the situation, and here’s what we’re looking at… I can heli-coil the head studs without much difficulty. I got the broken lifters out, and the cam doesn’t look awful – I mean, it’s not great but I’m confident it will get me through the weekend. Obviously there is a bunch of lifter bearings and material in the motor, so I’ll need to drop the oil pan and clean it out. Now, I have a complete spare engine in the trailer for situations like this. I even ran it in the Corvette just 6 months ago; so I have a clue what it will run. Isn’t the purpose of carrying a spare motor to use it in this case?
My excitement for the weekend in Reynolds…
In a display of sheer situational brilliance, I elect to fix the wounded engine rather than replace it. I started the project around noon and worked non-stop until about 1AM, when I collapsed into bed, confident that I had it fixed. As if screwing up in the first place wasn’t a bad enough decision, and electing to repair the engine didn’t compound it, my third brainiac moment was a clincher. In the midst of fixing the engine, Jason Lynch came by to tell me that he had hurt the motor in his dragster, and had left his spare at home.
“No problem, just take mine!” That’s what it’s there for, right? Why on earth would I need it, I’m fixing this one.
You can probably guess what’s coming… After my nightlong thrash, I fired the ‘vette up the next morning to warm it up… And promptly pulled one of the heli-coils out of the head. Even at this point, after making the mistake in assembling the motor AND making the poor decision to attempt to fix it at the track, I would have had time to swap motors and make one time trial… If I hadn’t loaned the motor out the night before. Absolutely brilliant! My weekend was just one poor, misguided decision after another. I took three steps back and punted on my Super Gas weekend.
With that out of the way, it would free up all of my remaining energy to focus on Super Comp; and I convinced myself that was actually a good thing. Super Comp was the class that mattered. If I could win the event I would clinch the championship, and after all, I had a car capable of doing that and a history of winning here.
First round, I met up with Matt Weston. I was .007 to his .004. When I let go, I didn’t think I could hit it any better; and I wanted the finish line. I couldn’t catch him, but assumed he had to drop; so I set in a few hundredth’s behind and waited for it. He stopped hard, and I did a decent (not great) job to cross first by .016. We were both much quicker than we thought, and I lost a double-breakout 8.869 to 8.888. I lost when I made the decision to cross first, but the combination of his better reaction time and my less than stellar performance at the finish line made it look pretty ugly on the scoreboard.
That was Saturday afternoon, around 4:00. Needless to say, I was not in the best of moods after my outing. I could not leave Reynolds, GA quick enough. I packed up and headed West for Montgomery, AL. I dropped the trailer there in preparation for the million, unhooked the truck, and headed North. I was home Sunday morning before they ran round 2 in Reynolds.
At that point the biggest threat to my championship hopes was Kyle Cultrera, a young man from Maine who had an incredible season (he finished in the top 5 in both Super Comp and Competition Eliminator). Kyle had to post a combination of a win and runner-up between Reynolds and the final divisional event in Las Vegas to pass me for the championship. He advanced to the semi-finals at Reynolds, and I had already researched flights to get myself to Vegas and play blocker… but Tom Stalba stopped him in the semi-finals, which eliminated Kyle from championship contention. There were still a few drivers who could pass me; but they’d need several late round finishes in the final races of the season.
Meanwhile, my buddy Jason Lynch emerged from one of the coolest Super Gas battles you could imagine. Coming into the event Jason, Troy Coughlin, Jr., Ray Sawyer, and Mike Sawyer were all claiming their last race of the season, and each of them could leave the event in the lead for the title. As it fell, with three cars remaining it was Jason, TJ, and Ray. How cool is that? The winner of the race would leave with the championship lead, and the others would have no chance to win the title. Jason ended up defeating TJ in the final round. I was so happy for him!
Much like my situation three years prior (but admittedly much more dramatic), Jason won the race on demand to take the lead. Unfortunately for him, his title pursuit ended much like mine did three years prior: Rick Beckstrom passed Jason at the last divisional event in Vegas to claim the Super Gas title. Congrats to Rick, but also congrats to Jason Lynch: he was completely off the radar with two events remaining. He won Noble and he won Reynolds, and it was nearly enough to win the championship.
Once Jessica got off work Thursday, she, Gary and myself headed South for the C.A.R.S. Million. It rained in Montgomery all day Thursday, so we looked brilliant when we came rolling in early Friday morning without having missed a thing. On the track, my weekend was fairly uneventful. I just drove my dragster, and I did manage to turn on 8 win lights before losing a round. Generally at an event like that, 8 consecutive win lights will get you PAID. In this case, however, persistent showers caused the racing to be broken up, and my 8 round wins actually came in three separate events. I was still in Friday’s $40,000 event when rains forced a split; and with that I was able to recover most of my weekend entries. I got bounced in round 3 of the big show, and then Mia Tedesco ended my season in round 5 of the $20,000-to-win closer. That was fitting, that Mia would put an end to my 2013 campaign, as she’s been a thorn in my side on the race track all year. Just like our past encounters, I made a pretty nice run: .008, dead-on with a 9. She was .003 and .010 above. She owns me.
And just like that, it was over. Just to make sure it was over and I didn’t get any wild ideas, we made a stop in Huntsville Monday morning and pulled the motors out of both the dragster and the corvette at Huntsville Engine, leaving them for a freshen up (dragster) and repairs (corvette).
The Waiting Game:
While my season was over, there were still three events on the NHRA schedule that would determine my fate in the Super Comp points battle. With the national and divisional event in Las Vegas, as well as the NHRA Finals in Pomona still on the docket, just two competitors had a chance to overtake me for the title. It was a long shot, but having been through it before I was honestly waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me. When Landon Stallbaumer lost in round 4 at the Las Vegas national event, it was official. I’m the 2013 NHRA Super Comp World Champion.
I was actually cleaning out the trailer and listening to the audiocast online when I heard. Landon had been driving so well that weekend that I had basically accepted the fact that he would make the final round (which would make me wait at least another week to see if I would win the title); so I really wasn’t prepared to hear that it was over. Jess was out of town, so Gary was in his car seat in the trailer with me. I would love to say that we did a little “Happy Dance,” but that wasn’t really how it went down. I just sat down, kind of stunned, and tried to take it all in. If you had told me a year ago that I’d be staring at my 6-month old son and trying to reconcile the idea that I’d just won the world championship… Well, I don’t think I could have envisioned it. What a year indeed.
Although I knew that the championship was in hand, it felt a lot more official a couple days later when I got the call from Eric Lotz at NHRA. He congratulated me and passed along all of the information for the Lucas Oil Series awards banquet in Hollywood. We booked flights and reserved rooms for myself, Jessica, Gary, my mother Ellen, and my father-in-law Jack. NHRA did an incredible job of making our accomplishment feel very special: the banquet and accommodations were breathtaking and made for a night that we’ll never forget. I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little overwhelmed by the whole scene, and at times I was very much outside of my comfort zone. I only half-jokingly say that the whole experience in Hollywood was where “country came to town,” but we did have a great time.
My father-in-law Jack, my Mom, Jess, Gary and I on the red carpet at the NHRA awards banquet
Speaking in front of the small crowd at the Lucas Oil Awards Ceremony was an experience. It was nerve wracking and it was emotional for me. It’s so difficult to wrap up a life’s worth of work and dreams in a 10 minute speech; and for me, that’s what this is.
I talked about my father – he and I set out to win the championship in an old ramp truck with a 500 cubic inch Cadillac engine towing a little trailer that his Altered would barely fit in. It was a dream that we shared, and one that I’ve chased ever since. In recent years I’ve been close – heartbreakingly close – I finished 2nd in 2010 and 3rd last season. Although I didn’t like it at the time, those near-misses made winning the title even more special. It’s so fickle; a round or two throughout the season makes all the difference, and there are literally hundreds of talented racers capable of winning the title. Dad isn’t here anymore to enjoy this success, but he’s still a big, big part of it. His vision and his guidance and advice still light the way for my greatest successes. All of that emotion came out on stage, and I’m fine with that. If it didn’t mean so much to me it wouldn’t be so special.
Our little guy was the star of the show!
Like I said in my speech, I don’t deserve nearly as much credit as my race car does. I firmly believe that I had the best car in the category all season. I’ll take credit for that to some degree, because I pride myself on not cutting any corners in preparation and selecting nothing but the best equipment for my racing program. But credit also needs to be given to the manufacturers who work to develop and produce the best products for our form of competition. The combination that carried me to victory is a 240” American Race Cars Swing-Arm Dragster powered by a 632 cubic inch Huntsville Engine powerplant. The engine features the new BRODIX SR20 cylinder heads, Wiseco pistons, Milodon oiling system, a Crane cam and lifters, Jesel rocker arms and belt drive, and Earl’s Performance Plumbing. Hedman Hedders coated by Nitroplate and outfitted with CollectorTethers.com hardware handle the exhaust chores, and Renegade 116+ racing fuel is pumped into an APD carburetor managed by a Dedenbear throttle stop. We use Lucas Oil Products and K&N filters on all of our racing vehicles.
A BTE “Top Dragster” transmission and 10” torque converter applies the 1100+ horsepower through a Moser 3rd Member and Axles to Mickey Thompson tires and wheels. A single Ohlins TTX-36 shock is the pivotal component in the suspension, and Moser’s Pro-Drag brakes get me whoa’d up. We use K&R electronics exclusively, and I’ve come to depend heavily on the information that I gather from Auto Meter’s Multi-Function Data Logger. I use a B&M Pro-Bandit shifter with a Dixie Racing Products electric solenoid. Additional parts and pieces come from J&J Performance engine diapers, Nitrous Express, California Car Cover, and ISC Racer’s Tape. The paint on all of our cars (except the Vega – that came courtesy of Krylon) is handled by Todd Zeller and his crew at Todd’s Extreme Paint in Milan, MI.
While the task of matching 2013 probably falls somewhere between difficult and impossible, I’m bullish about the future. Our racing program is growing by the day. This season we’ll debut my wife Jessica’s new American Race Cars dragster (yes, this is the car that I hoped to have done last September, but it just didn’t quite work out that way). I’m confident it will be worth the wait. It’s a beautiful car from top to bottom, and it’s got all the best componentry available; it mirrors my championship machine with a few added options geared for bracket competition (A NX nitrous kit, K&R’s new Pro-Dial board, etc.) and safety (an ISP head protector, poured seat, a second Moser Pro-Drag brake system on a hand brake, etc.).
Some assembly photos of Jessica’s new car; it should hit the track in February.
We’re also in the process of making the switch from my venerable dually and living quarters trailer into a truck conversion coach and tag trailer. That’s our biggest undertaking of the offseason, and I’ll have more details in an upcoming “On the Road.”
This season I’m going to stay a little bit closer to home: my intention is to chase the NHRA Division 3 schedule, and at this point I have no intentions of barnstorming across the country to, I don’t know, Pomona!
I’m going to have a bit of a renewed focus on the bracket scene in 2014, which I’m really looking forward to. Don’t get any crazy ideas: I’m not going to bracket race 4 days a week, 45 weeks a year (been there, done that, circa 2000-2010). Our main emphasis will once again be on the NHRA tour, where I’ll make 6 national events and 8 LODRS events in pursuit of a national title in Super Comp and Super Gas. The difference will be in additional national events: in years past I’ve attended 9-12 national events each season. In 2014, I’m going to cut that back to 6 and pick up a handful of big bucks events to fill the schedule. I plan to show up for the K&N Spring Fling 20’s, the World Footbrake Challenge, the C.A.R.S. Million, the $25k Showdown, the Great American Bracket Race, and possibly a few more. Part of the reasoning, admittedly, is because I love bracket racing and I’ve missed it the last few years. More importantly, however, given the size of the fields and the quality of equipment, I think that attending the major bracket events holds great value for our marketing partners. I’ve managed to convince them of that; which makes the bracket schedule more justifiable on our end!
In Super Comp and Super Gas I’ll compete in the same two cars I drove in 2013, with the same combination in both vehicles. I had kicked around selling the Corvette and replacing it with a new car from Charlie Stewart Race Cars, but the sale fell through and at this point I’m not sure I could replace it in time for the start of the season. It’s actually kind of exciting to think about starting the season with tested combinations: I won’t know how to act. The only adjustment on the docket is to switch the dragster over to APD’s new “Max Speed” carburetor with the throttle stop built-in. As many of you know, I tested that setup in the Corvette toward the end of 2013 and I was very impressed with the results. In the midst of the points chase, I was hesitant to change anything on the dragster, but I’m convinced the APD “Max Speed” is a better setup, so we’ll integrate it into the S/C combination before we hit the track next spring.
On the marketing end of things, I’m happy to report that all of our 2013 marketing partners are back onboard in some capacity for 2014. Several of those partners have stepped up their level of involvement as we grow our team, which is always a good thing. We’ve also added a pair of new Associate Marketing Partners to the fold for 2014 and beyond: PCD Wraps and Graphics and Watts Auto Diesel Service.
PCD specializes in vehicle wraps for trailers, race cars, daily drivers, and fleet vehicles. In addition they’re basically a one-stop branding shop. PCD Wraps and Graphics offers logo design, business cards, vinyl signs, sublimated crew shirts, banners, you name it. I’ve used their products and services for years, and they’re great.
Watts Auto Diesel Service is more of a silent partner; their main concern is helping with the charitable fund raisers that we’re involved with and helping us create a platform to further inform and encourage fellow racers and fans. It goes without saying, but I’m very humbled and excited to build a relationship with each of them, as well as our returning Associate Marketing Partners: K&N Engineering, Tinsley Drilling & Company, C.A.R.S Protection Plus, Advanced Product Design, BTE, Product Development Group, JEGS, and Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels.
We’ve got a couple new commitments in the works as well, but the T’s aren’t crossed and the I’s aren’t dotted just yet, so I can’t let the cat out of the bag. Look for some big announcements next month as our team continues to grow and improve. At this point just let me say that 2014 will be very, very exciting!
Motor City Hot Rod & Racing Expo:
The Motor City Hot Rod & Racing Expo is going to be pretty awesome. I strongly encourage any racing or hot rodding enthusiast in the region to make the trip to Novi, MI and the Suburban Collection Showplace March 22-23. The Expo will be kind of like a trade show: the exhibitors are all new equipment manufacturers (no used parts, no junk). But unlike a trade show, it’s open to the public and attendees can purchase products and services right at the show. The idea is this… Say that you’re interested in a specific product, like that new “Max Speed” carburetor from APD. You can walk into the show, see the product in person, hold it in your hands, and get a demonstration as to how it works. You can speak directly to the manufacturer (in this case John Kyle, Joe Hessling, or Randy Scheuer) and they can tell you all about the product. If you decide it’s for you, you can purchase it right there and take it home.
In addition to the product information and retail, we’re adding a lot of events to make the Expo fun. There are concessions and bars in the hall. Brian Whitworth is putting on a practice race on Saturday. We’ll have a couple roundtable seminars; one featuring local, regional and national champions from 2013; and another featuring successful entrepreneurs from the racing industry. NHRA Top Fuel World Champion Shawn Langdon will be in the house for a meet & greet and autograph session. Scotty Richardson will host a live “Schooled by Scotty” event during the show. Did I mention there are bars in the hall? It’s going to be educational. It’s going to be an opportunity to purchase quality products at discounted prices. And it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Keep up with all the latest Expo information here on DragRaceResults.com, visit www.MotorCityRaceExpo.com
, or “like” the Motor City Hot Rod & Racing Expo on Facebook.
JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout:
The SDCS will return to I57 Dragstrip July 25-27 for our 4th annual event. The race will mirror last season’s event, as that format seemed to work very well. Stay tuned for more details in the coming months.
Support a Great Cause:
If you’ve read this column for any length of time, you know that the support of cancer research and cancer patients is near and dear to my heart. My father succumbed to cancer 12 years ago, so I understand the devastating effects it can have on a family and a loved one. I’ve also watched people beat the disease, and/or live with it thanks in large part to the advances in modern medicine. Those advances are made possible thanks to hundreds of great charities that support the cause. I’ve been an ardent supporter of the JEGS Foundation for Cancer Research for years, and urge you to do the same. This season, the SDCS raised over $2500 for the foundation thanks to the generosity of SDCS competitors. For years, I’ve donated 1% of my race winnings to the foundation, and I urge you to do the same. Individually it may not seem like much, but together we can make a difference!
Sometimes cancer hits close to home; statistically every one of us will either fight cancer ourselves or watch a loved one battle the disease in our lifetime. I’m one of several racers watching and cheering on one of our own in her battle right now. I’ve known Jeryka Lawrence and her family for several years. I met her parents, John and Becky at the races some 20 years ago. I’ve raced alongside Jeryka, her brother JR, her husband Kyle, and his family. Jeryka, at just 26, is fighting a battle that most of us cannot fathom. For details, subscribe to her blog: http://jerykalobner.blogspot.com/
Through the emotional ups and downs of the 18 months since she was diagnosed, Jeryka has remained incredibly strong, upbeat, and determined. She purchased half ownership in the gym where she’s worked for years. She got married. She’s racing. She’s living. And she’s awesome.
While supporting cancer research helps everyone inflicted with the cruel disease, Danielle Davis, Scott Lemen, and myself wanted to do something just for Jeryka – to let her know that we’re thinking of her and that she’s not in this fight alone. Rick Huffman, Chase Huffman, Jeremy Maples, and more have pitched in to make this a reality. “Team Jeryka” apparel is available here on DragRaceResults.com and DragRaceStore.com. Originally the plan was to have it appear on the ThisIsBracketRacing.com online store as well, but our storefront is a mess that is apparently beyond repair – so just purchase the stuff here on DRR. 100% of the proceeds go to Jeryka and her family.
It’s not much. In the grand scheme of things it’s probably just north of nothing. But our support isn’t nothing: Jeryka will tell you that herself. I’m a “Team Jeryka” member and I’m proud of it; I’ll wear my pink sweatshirt with pride!
I hope everyone enjoys the holidays, we’ll touch base again in 2014!
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