12-06 "On The Road" with Luke Bogacki
It’s over! Stick a fork in me, I’m done. As I kick back on this cold December Sunday, I’ve got my first real chance to take a look back at the year that was. I have to consider 2006 one of my better years on the race track: I felt competitive just about every time I went to the track, and I had a pretty strong year financially, although I feel like I left a lot on the table. For the first time in my career, I was able to culminate the season by competing in the entire Florida Winter Series (17 racing events over 19 days), which was an absolute blast--although I’ll admit I wasn’t too disappointed to see it end, get home, and get some rest! If you’ve got a few minutes, sit back and enjoy the season-ending trials and tribulations from my last two months on the road for 2006. I enjoyed some triumphs, I suffered some miserable beats, but I had a good time for the most part, and got the chance to do what I love more than anything pretty much full time for an entire month.
I concluded my last column with the final Tenn-Tuck event of the season at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green. If you’ll recall, I had what we’ll call a sub-par showing at that event, that I’d just assume not relive it at this point. The following weekend, with no big dollar events on the schedule, Bubba, Lucas Bendall, and myself set out for Jackson Dragway in Jackson, TN for a little single day race that paid $2,000-to-win in both Super Pro and Footbrake. There, I managed to go a few rounds with the Vega in both classes before it made a hard right off the starting line for some unknown reason, and nearly came down on top of the guardrail, and I left with a fifth round showing in both classes.
We got a room somewhere down the road, and made our way to Middle Tennessee Dragway in Buffalo Valley (near Nashville) the next day for a $5,000-to-win Footbrake race. There, Bubba and I doubled the Vega, and I doubled my old Nova along with it’s current owner, Adam Davis. It took me a couple runs to get acquainted with old Blue again, but I really thought we were rolling good for awhile. At ten cars left, I treed my opponent by 5-hundredths, then proceeded to roll myself thru .0004 behind. Of course my lamp would’ve earned me the bye run into the semi-finals, but I couldn’t manage to cross first, so we headed home with next to nothing for the performance.
Next up, I hauled to O’Reilly Raceway Park for the DragRaceResults.com World Finals with Connolly’s dragster and the Vega in tow. I left my car at home, sending it with Bubba to a big dollar race at Holly Springs Motorsports in Mississippi (where he drove it down to 5 cars in a $10,000-to-win race).
My Indy performance was fairly miserable: I had three entries between Dave’s car and the Vega, and failed to stage for fourth round on Saturday. What’s worse? I sat idly by and watched my fellow championship contenders Rustin and Robbie Mayse both win round after round, before they finally got whacked in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively. Robbie claimed the race, but Rustin didn’t, so the points picture remained unchanged for the most part. A brutal cold front came in Saturday night, and cancelled the racing action on Sunday.
At that point, I loaded up and headed South, with Benny Gossett and Brad Ashton in tow. Benny, who went on to win the Sportsman National Championship, had come to Indy all the way from his West Texas home, and I had invited him to leave his rig at my house between Indy and the season closer at South Georgia--to save him a ride all the way back to Texas. About midway thru Kentucky, John Labbous, Jr. called and let me know that Beech Bend was racing that day, despite the cold, and we rolled in just in time to get a time run and race.
There, the wheel-standing little Vega was loving the cold weather, and scrubbing the bumper on the launch--which I thought was pretty cool. Then in 2nd round of Super Pro, she went up, up, and away and was drifting left... I finally had to abort when she got completely out of the groove near the 60-foot clocks with the wheels still up. I got her back to the trailer, moved some weight up front, and went back up for No Box.
I’m trying to come up with the best way to describe the events for the remainder of the day. Here’s my best shot: You know how any knucklehead, even with pretty poor driving and a car that won’t repeat will end up winning a race every once in awhile, almost in spite of himself, if said knucklehead just keeps racing long enough? Well, on that Sunday, I was that knucklehead! I was horrible on both ends of the track, and the win light just kept coming on. Second round, my man is red. Third round, my guy is .001 and .001 under--to my .050 and dead-on. At seven I get the bye. In the semi’s, I had to run Clayton Clark--one of the best no box racers in the country. We’re about even on the tree, and I’m holding a minute because my car was acting up... and he goes a little under his dial. The only I win is to screw up the finish line--which I’m pretty good at! I give it up .005 to win a double break-out. In the final, my opponent has me welded on the tree, but apparently he knows I’m holding a minute, and anticipates my dump at the finish line. Unfortunately for him, the Vega blew the tires off on the starting line for the first time in recorded history, and I held it pretty much on the rug to sneak by him and go dead-on! Like I said, even a blind squirrel gets a nut every once in a while!
Next up, I headed to Montgomery Motorsports Park for the biggest Footbrake event ever: slated to pay $100,000 to the winner. They were a little light on cars, so the main event ended up paying $80,000-to-win--still the largest footbrake purse ever. Over the course of the weekend, I was pretty proud of myself: I staged the little Vega 18 times, and my reaction times varied from .001 to .029. For me, on the bottom, that’s pretty dang impressive. What’s more? I actually drove the finish line like I’d done it before for the most part. Paul Russell cracked me in a good race in the main event. I had a little room on the tree, but I didn’t catch as much of his drop as I needed to, and broke out by .003, taking .020.
Sunday I was rolling along real well in the $10,000-to-win race, until I ran into my buddy Adam in the semi-finals. Now, I like to think I had a real successful couple years with my old Nova--we had some good times together--but Adam takes winning to a whole new level in that thing. He won over 20 races in ‘06 with old reliable! Unfortunately for me, that Sunday was one of the 20! We’re both .017 up front, and I ride in behind him waiting for him to stop... When he does, I catch it like I’m in front--but I never get by: we’re both .01-over, and he gets the nod by .004. Then he beat “Slick Rick” Alford in the final to complete one of the most impressive Footbrake performances I’ve seen in a while. Adam beat Alford, that duck in the semi‘s, Doyle Kay, and Scotty Richardson the last four rounds of competition. It doesn’t get much tougher than that.
I got to spend two days at home after the event in Montgomery, trying to get all my ducks in a row to head South: the next month would be a non-stop racing affair along the Florida Winter Series that would begin with my biggest event of the season (probably the biggest single event of my career), the season-ending DragRaceResults.com Pro Bracket Masters Championship.
There, my season-long battle for the Super Pro championship would come to an end, win or lose, and either I’d be taking home the new turn-key Race Tech 4-link dragster as champion, or I wouldn’t. Heck, it’s only a $50,000+ swing! In addition to the points chase, I had an outside chance at winning the Division 2 championship in Sportsman for the 2nd consecutive season, and a real longshot chance at the National title in that class if I could get on a roll. Plus, we had the huge Pro Bracket Masters Championship main event, which would pay over $25,000-to-win, and a pair of No Box Shootouts, that paid $7500 and $15,000-to-win respectively.
Jason Lynch showed up in my driveway early Wednesday morning, and we loaded my dragster into his Bullet Motorsports trailer, put Dave’s car and the Vega in my trailer, and made tracks toward South Georgia. Once there, we both entered the Wednesday night gamblers race, where I was -.001 first round. Racin’ Jason went on to win, which I figured was a pretty good start to our Winter Series trip.
Thursday I didn’t do a lot of good, although by advancing to the fourth round in Super Pro with my car, I did tie Rustin Mayse for the championship lead--we each had one race remaining to claim. Dave and I were both in with his car in the fifth round, before it spun a bearing, which meant an early end to the evening and to that cars winter series run.
Less than 12 hours after tearing up Dave’s car, I rolled around for my Friday morning time run in Sportsman, and absolutely stood the Vega straight up in the air. It got on the bumper, and just as I ripped the gas once to try to get it on it’s way down, it unloaded the rear tires and came crashing back to earth. I thought I’d broken everything under the front end, in addition to my back, but was amazed to find a smashed oil pan and broken fan shroud to be the only real casualties--both of which were easily fixable.
Jason had already offered me “Barney” (his purple dragster) to drive after we tore up Dave’s car the previous day. After the Vega incident, he made a joke: “Wonder what he’ll tear up on this thing...” About 30 seconds later, I sit in “Barney” for the first time, hit the starter switch, and abruptly rip about 5 teeth off the flexplate. It just doesn’t get any better than that!
After an hour-long thrash that included a flexplate and converter swap, as well as installation of CSR’s new 24-volt “Smart-Start” starting system (my man Lynch isn’t afraid to make some changes) I got a time run and was ready for action. Action that, in my case, didn’t last long. I failed to win second round in any of the three entries, highlighted by a costly mistake on the finish line in my dragster. While Rustin didn’t improve on his points total, that left me just Sunday to put together a strong enough performance to win the title (Saturday‘s race was a non-points event).
This is the beginning of my big wheelie at South Georgia. It gets uglier from here--she got all the way to the bumper, and actually got the rear tires off the ground. As a result, see that pretty Milodon pan, and nice Nitroplated Hedman Hedders? They don't look so pretty anymore. Thanks to Photos & More for the shot.
In Saturday’s main event, I failed to win a round in the dragster. In a brilliant display of pulling into the staging lanes, I had to run Jason first round, where he whacked me. Second round, opposite Chris Garrett, I’m .007, take .005, and am solidly in his way. In the $7500 No-Box shootout, I advance to the quarterfinals before turning it red for Clayton Clark. I had one of those days on the bottom: I’d been between .000 and .004 each time I staged, but the competition in that event warranted setting up tight, and I thought I could keep grouping them together. A -.002 lamp in the quarters proved me wrong!
Saturday night I entered both cars in a special gamblers race, in an effort to have a little fun and restore some confidence. And I did have fun: when it got cold, I did a 300+ foot burnout in the dragster, which was by far the highlight of my night (that, and the fact that in doing so I won a $5 burnout wager with my buddy Jeff Adkinson). I ended up losing to eventual winner Jeremy Bargo in the quarterfinals. Sure, the weekend wasn’t great in terms of claiming points or winning all the big money--but no one at the track did a better wheelie, or a better burnout, and that’s got to be worth something!
Sunday was the big day--the whole season comes down to one or two pivotal rounds. For me, it was just one. I was -.003 second round of Super Pro, ending my shot at the national championship. Rustin lost a few pairs behind me, which left us tied, but he won the tie-breaker (event wins). Effectively, the tie-breaker was head-to-head competition, as Rustin beat me in the final round at Tucson a month earlier. After a points race like that, you can’t help but look back on all of the silly little mistakes that you made that cost you a round here or there throughout the year: Obviously, if I could beat Rustin in the final at Tucson, I hold on for the win. If I don’t screw up the finish line Friday night, I’m the man... If I don’t screw up the stripe .001 (to be .05 above) in the final at Gainesville, I’m the champ... If I drop in the final at Bluegrass (like I knew I should), it‘s mine... If “if’s” and “buts” were candy and nuts... The bottom line is that there were a bunch of winning rounds along the way that probably didn’t deserve to be winners too, but you don’t think of those: you think of the missed opportunities.
That being said, if I couldn’t win, there’s not many people I’d rather see win than Rustin Mayse. Rustin and his father Robbie have been friends and business associates of mine for a couple years--and they’re good people. No doubt that Rustin will represent the series well as a champion. You know the scariest part? I still like to think that at 25 I’ve got a bright future in this sport--This kid is 18. He’s only been racing for two years. We’re all fooling ourselves if we don’t think he’s going to get even better than he already is--and that’s not a real pleasant thought!
With my title hopes gone, and after another a -.002 red-light in the first round of the $15,000-to-win Jeg’s No-Box shootout, my nerves were shot. I was ready to get the heck out of Adel, GA and try my best to forget the event ever happened. Only problem was that I was still in Sportsman competition with the Vega. In fact, when my buddy B.J. Bianchi lost second round, I could still win the Division 2 championship by winning the event. Unfortunately, at the time even that didn’t do much to excite me. I was emotionally drained, and didn’t much care--and it showed. But, much like the no box race at Bowling Green weeks before, the stars were in line, and I couldn’t do anything wrong. Almost in spite of myself, I won the event, and took the Division 2 championship in both Super Pro and Sportsman.
Monday morning, I dropped my rig off at an industrial park in town, and hopped in with Jason for the rest of the tour. A huge thank you to Jason Lynch and Mike Dzurilla of Bullet Motorsports for transporting my car to Bradenton and Moroso, and giving me a place to stay--they made the winter series possible for me.
At Bradenton, things got started fairly well: I advanced to the sixth round in Wednesday’s opening event. That round started a string of races that I’d just assume to forget: for six consecutive rounds, over three days, I made the following runs on the quarter-mile: 4 times, I’m .00, take .00 (including a .001, take .003), and the other 2 times, I’m .00 and drop to .01 above. I saw six win lights in the other lane. I don’t know if I’ve ever been thru such a string of brutal beats!
Friday and Saturday night, I managed to get deep in the 1/8th mile races, but couldn’t close the deal. On Sunday I drove really well, and had two entries remaining with 16 cars left (my car and one of the Bullet machines). There, I lost a good race in Jason’s car, making the wrong decision on the finish line. I came back around in my car, where I had to run Jason, and (as he’s been making a habit of) he disposed of me in a tight race. We were looking pretty strong, with three entries remaining at 16 cars, but that didn‘t last long--as Jason too bowed out the next round.
On to West Palm Beach, for the prestigious Moroso 5-Day Championships. There, I’m -.003 in round one on the first day. I got to watch my buddy Bones take the biggest payday in Moroso history that night, winning a cool $25,000. He and I kind of have an unwritten list of things we’d like to accomplish in drag racing: winning Moroso was definitely on that list for each of us, as neither of us had that feather in the cap. He checked that one off the list in a big way that Monday!
In the second round on Tuesday, when I let go of the button, my car took off for some unexplained reason. I did a little research, made a few phone calls, searched a few things on my car: and made a bunch of changes (delay box, transbrake solenoid, button, some wiring, etc.). I entered Tuesday evening’s eighth mile race, and once again drove by a close red-light in the early rounds.
Wednesday, things started coming together. I was .00 take .00 for the first three rounds, then got away with a bad light early on the ladder. I got the bye at 15, and made the right decision in the quarterfinals. Next thing you know, I’m in the semi’s at Moroso! There, I turn loose the button, and the car takes off again--leaving me red on the top amber. To add insult to injury, my opponent is .040 and .03-above--the worst run made beside me all week.
I coasted down the track and back to the trailer, where I proceeded to throw my biggest fit in recent memory. Normally, I’m pretty laid back--I mean heck, I lose every week--so it shouldn’t bother me much. But that round--after beating my head against the wall for two weeks--at the one event that I seem to want to win more than any other--to lose it that way, it was bad. I flung a chair, I kicked my car, I generally made an idiot of myself. Then we drank beer and laughed about it, and everything was okay again. The next morning, I found the culprit: a lose ground connection coming from the delay box--talk about timing!
The Thursday event rained out, making the Friday finale a $20,000-to-win affair. There, I roll thru the first couple rounds of eliminations, to the round that puts us on the ladder. I’m .000 on the tree--which would guarantee me the #1 spot on the ladder, and the first available bye run--if I can just win the round. Instead, I decide that .0001 behind my opponent is the place to be on the finish line, and his .020 induced dead-on lap beats my .000 and .02 above. Sweet! I later learn that not only did the goof cost me a bye run into the late rounds of a $20,000-to-win event at the most prestigious bracket race in the country, but that the top qualifier going onto the ladder also received a free entry into the 2007 Million Dollar Race. That’s only worth $2,000. Great.
As of Thursday night, I had all intentions of riding home with Jason once we were done at Moroso on Friday. For whatever reason, I woke up with a wild hair Friday morning and decided that I hadn’t been beat enough yet on the trip--and that I wanted to go to Immokalee Regional Raceway for the final two days of the tour (Saturday and Sunday). A group of us sat outside Friday morning contemplating the extension of our trip. “Me-Maw,” Scotty Richardson’s mother, was disappointed that they weren’t going on to Immokalee. Scotty and Jason said they were ready to go home, but Me-Maw was looking for another weekend of fun in the sun, so we hatched a plan...
After Friday’s race concluded, I put my dragster and one of Scotty’s in Scotty’s trailer, hooked it to Me-Maws motorhome, and she and I set out for Immokalee! Scotty and Jason stopped in Adel and picked up my truck and trailer, taking it back to Nashville. I know what you’re thinking--how much fun could a guy have riding around with a 60+ year old grandmother? But Me-Maw is a hoot! She’s really got a keen awareness to what’s going on at the track (She is a Richardson), she likes her beer and she likes to gamble (she escaped to a nearby casino Saturday night at Immokalee), and--bless her heart--the woman loves to cook! Which is a pretty good combination, because I like to eat!
At any rate, Saturday at Immokalee was another chapter in my plagued trip. With six cars remaining, I take a .015 advantage on the tree in the $10,000-to-win Super Pro race, but about 300 feet out, the crank bolt breaks and slings the drive mandrel (along with the fuel pump belt) off, ending my hopes at a big score. I did manage to win the Footbrake race, driving my buddy John Siegel’s station wagon. Like my last two bottom bulb wins, it wasn’t particularly impressive, but like they say: the bank doesn’t care how you win!
Sunday I made it to the quarterfinals again, this time with Scotty’s car, but I lost to eventual winner Roy St. Dennis. I was late, .012, and took .007 but lost a double-breakout to officially put an end to the Winter Series.
After the long ride back to Nashville with Me-Maw, then back to Alabama with my rig, I made one final appearance for the 2006 season: at the Turkey-Trots event at Huntsville Dragway. There, I entered the Vega in Super Pro, and managed to get into the fifth round each day, but I never got over the hump to make much money.
That’s it, it’s over. It’s been a fun year. In the last month alone, I bet I got to make more runs than most folks did all season (nearly 200!). And, I’d be willing to bet that on the season, I lost more rounds than anyone in the country (over 300)! But 2006 was a good year. I finished up with 13 wins in 26 finals. The one number I thought was pretty staggering: I staged for the quarterfinals 61 times last season, with 21 quarterfinal losses, and 14 semi-final losses. You would think with that much practice, I’d be a lot better at this stuff!
Financially, it was one of my better years, which is impressive in that 2006 was the first year since 1999 that I didn’t win a race that paid $10,000 or more. Between three runner-ups and two semi-finals in those events, and coming up one round short in the DRR points, I certainly left a lot on the table. But that, as they say, is racing! I’ve got two months of golf (when the weather cooperates), poker (when it doesn’t), and (oh, yea) work to mull it over and think about doing better in 2007!
Thanks for reading, and as always--please support our marketing partners when you have an opportunity. They make these racing misadventures possible: Bill Taylor Engineering/Memphis Performance, Mickey Thompson Tires, American Race Cars, Bullet Motorsports, Advanced Product Design, Goza Racing Products, Auto Meter, Rockett Brand Race Fuel, Hedman Hedders, TD Performance Products, DragRaceResults.com, K&R Performance Engineering, Brodix Cylinder Heads, M2 Race Systems, Milodon, J.W. Performance, Dixie Racing Products, and Nitroplate. Thoughts? Comments? Need to get in touch with any of these fine companies? E-mail me: LukeBogacki@aol.com.
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