12-08 "On The Road" with Luke Bogacki
"On The Road" with Luke Bogacki
My how time flies! It seems like yesterday I was writing my last column in the heat of summer. In reality, that was three months ago, and summer is long gone--we’re looking at another hard freeze tonight in Alabama. Allow me to begin by extending a welcome to Scott Lemen and the new DragRaceResults.com family. I’ve raced with Scott for years, and he’s a great guy. I’m excited because I know Scott will breathe new life into DRR, and I’m ecstatic that he’s asked me to continue penning “On The Road.” It’s hard to believe, but 2009 will mark my eighth consecutive year as an “author” on DRR, and my tenth if you go back to the days of Carl Blanton’s American Drag News. How crazy is that?
When I left off last column, I had just come off a fabulous mid-season run that included three national event wins, and a number of bracket triumphs. While the final chapters of the season weren’t quite as successful, I did manage to find myself in the right place at the right time with some regularity. It wasn’t a dominating performance by any means, but it worked well financially, and as a “professional” racer that, ladies and gentlemen, is the bottom line.
This tale of woe will start of in Tulsa, OK in late August with the IHRA Sooner Nationals. Due to travel constraints, cost, and logistics, I elected not to make the drive to Tulsa for the national event this season. Instead, I hopped on a bird and relied on some friends; as I drove Bruce Thrift’s dragster in Quick Rod, and Blake Allen’s Camaro in Hot Rod. While I had a good time in Tulsa, the weekend was essentially a disaster on the race track. After a myriad of mechanical problems in time runs, I went red first round of Hot Rod to eventual winner Tim Wilson. I did advance to the third round in Quick Rod, but I gave the finish line back by a little guy or two to end the weekend. I had booked a return flight Monday morning, in anticipation of a strong showing and a late finish. After being eliminated around noon on Sunday, I elected to hop in the truck with Bruce and ride to Alabama!
Labor Day weekend, I had my own cars prepared for a road trip to Baton Rouge, LA for the IHRA Sportsman National event. I got in a little over my head on the IHRA series in 2008, chasing points in 4 categories. As the season wound down, I actually had a chance at the national championship in three of them one point--so the hook was set, and I was chasing all over the earth in an effort to pick up points. At any rate, I was headed for Baton Rouge, despite the fact that all weather reports said I was driving into Hurricane Ike. I made it nearly to Hattiesburg, MS on Friday morning before I got word that the event was finally cancelled, so I made a 65’ U-turn and put the hammer down to get back to Montgomery Motorsports Park for a 4-Day bracket race.
There, I managed a decent showing; going deep into eliminations each day of competition in my CSR Performance Dragster. I never made a final in the main event, but reached the quarterfinals twice and was still in competition on Monday when the rains set in with about 12 cars remaining. I did make a final round appearance in a gamblers race on Saturday night. My would-be final round opponent was my engine builder and longtime pal Todd “Bones” Ewing, so we elected to split the money and head to Outback!
The only damper on the weekend, outside of the Baton Rouge rainout, came at Sand Mountain Dragway on Monday night. My good buddy Adam Davis had gone to Indy to run Stock, where he got bounced first round. He came back home, but his Nova was out of commission, and he needed something to race on Monday at the Mountain. My Vega was at home, so I told him to get it. Seriously--my crazy little Vega is nasty consistent, and Adam is probably the best racer in the state of Alabama--I’m no idiot, I’m about to get paid! Yea, he blew it up.
The short week following Labor Day presented an interesting dilemma. Tuesday morning, IHRA announced that the Baton Rouge event would not be made up. With just two national events remaining on the schedule, and an event yet to claim in four classes (which would require running two classes at each event), that essentially meant that I needed to attend both events. The only problem? This was Tuesday. And the first of the two events started Friday. No problem, right? I’m in Woodville, AL. That event was in Epping, NH. If I was going to make the journey, I needed to leave early Wednesday. Great.
After careful deliberation (I thought about it while I pulled the wounded bullet from the Vega… I tried for an hour to talk Jason Lynch into going with me… Then I talked him out of his car so I could be sure to qualify for Top Dragster… Then I called everyone I knew who might have a car there that I could drive… Then I called to see about having a wing next-day’d from Colorado to New Hampshire so I could run my car in Top Dragster… Then I found a wing in town…), I elected to skip the 20-plus hour journey, essentially throwing in the towel on the slim chances I had at the Top Dragster championship.
Rather than head to Epping, I spent a luxurious weekend of fun in the sun testing at Holly Springs Motorsports Park. In addition to being one of, if not the nicest eighth mile facility in the country, Holly Springs is also the war-zone for BTE testing. And I am test dummy number one (emphasis on “Dummy“). On the weekend, we ran three transmissions in the stocker, along with a couple converters, and a half dozen converters in my dragster. To make a long story short, if I NEVER change another transmission and converter, it’ll be TOO SOON. Did I say that? I meant, it was a lot of fun. And I LOVE Bryan Robinson and all the guys at BTE!
I spent the following week in the thriving metropolis that is Mena, Arkansas. Mena, which is actually a beautiful town in the hills of Northwest Arkansas, is home to Brodix Cylinder Heads. Jeff Brotherton of Brodix called on me for a favor (and I owe him plenty), so I headed West to wire a Chevy II he’d purchased. I figured I’d make a trip of it, and brought the rig with intentions of hitting the NHRA divisional event in Shreveport that weekend. Yet another hurricane ripped thru the gulf that week, washing out the NHRA race, but I did get the car wired and had a great time with the Brotherton’s. I even played “Wally-ball.” For those of you who haven’t played, it’s volleyball on a racquetball court. While I feel like I’m in pretty decent shape these days, I’ve never claimed to be much of an athlete--and it shows anytime I try to do anything, well, athletic. Honestly, if you’ve never tried Wally-ball, or probably racquetball, the angles are pretty deceiving. I ran into more than one wall. And while I didn’t dare let Jeff see it, I was one sore puppy the next day--way more work than this guy is used to!
Back at home, Bones and the crew at Huntsville Engine got the Vega bullet back together for me, and I dropped it in and headed to Carolina Dragway the following weekend for my final IHRA Pro-Am event of the season. Coming in, I had claims left in Top Dragster and Hot Rod. I was leading the Division 3 standings in T/D, and still had an outside shot at the Division 2 Hot Rod title. Plus, a strong showing in either category would move me up in national points as well.
After an all night drive, I made it in time for Friday test’n’tune, which gave me an opportunity to make sure everything was right with the repaired power plant. As expected, is was perfect, running right where it had before I turned Adam loose with it… Unfortunately, after three runs the transmission had a hitch in it’s giddy-up; a tell-tale sign of a broken planetary. The night after changing motors, changing transmissions wasn’t exactly at the top of my list. But duty calls, and that was the call of the night. What’s with the Vega? That motor/trans combination only had 1,200 runs on it--they just don’t build things like they used to…
I’d like to tell you how much the thrash paid off, but I had another dismal weekend. After a great season in Top Dragster, I failed to win a round in two days of competition, which left my seemingly surefire division title very much in jeopardy. In Hot Rod, my weekend was a microcosm of my miserable Hot Rod Season. On Saturday I was .012 on the tree and mathematically ineligible against Chip Johnson’s .011 package in round 2. On Sunday, my opponent actually gave me some room and I screwed up. I think I’ve mentioned this a time or two, but Hot Rod sucks.
With that behind me, I set out for Memphis, TN and the NHRA Mid-South Nationals. I’ve never won an NHRA national event (I’ve never won an NHRA divisional event), so that’s a really big deal for me. Plus my Stock Eliminator car owner Bryan Robinson lives in Iuka, MS and works at BTE, less than an hour from Memphis Motorsports Park. So this event is in his proverbial back yard. Seeing as we had enjoyed great success recently in the stocker, I had a really good feeling about getting my first big “Wally.” It looked good early on, as I made nice runs beside 2008 national event winners Tim Mosbek and Mitch Truman to advance to round three. There, I had to run some guy named Bertozzi. Never heard of him--they say he’s won a championship (or 17). I was red, and Anthony got to play on Sunday.
I also made an attempt to run Super Gas in the Mickey Thompson Vega, as Super Comp was not contested at Memphis (one of NHRA’s better decisions, by the way… Let’s see, we have a national event in Memphis the week before the Million Dollar Race: let’s not run… Super Comp! Brilliant). At any rate, I manage to miraculously get the Vega through tech and make a couple decent time runs in Super Gas. Seeing as the Vega runs a blistering 9.70 wide open, I elect to go ahead and make my mph disadvantage greater by turning on the stop at the 1000’ foot mark. Can you say 9.90 @ 118?
First round, I get a real good draw: National points leader Brina Splingaire. Perfect--why not open my Super Gas national event career by taking on number one… I actually had the right idea, I just failed to execute miserably. Brina treed me, and I knew it. So I got on the override with all intentions of parking the crazy little Vega to 9.90-something as she sailed by at 165. But, I lost track of where I was and got on the binders way too late, actually crossing first by .001 and losing a double breakout.
I did stick around to play crew guy/cheerleader and see Adam win his first NHRA national event in Stock Eliminator. After touring the country chasing the NHRA tour all summer to no avail, he definitely deserved to get a break and enjoy the spoils of victory. People have looked at me like I have three eyes for the last three years, but I’ve said (and still say) that Adam is, in my opinion, the best footbrake driver in the country. The way that he finished the 2008 season, he’s definitely making a case for himself.
I returned to Memphis Motorsports Park the following weekend for the annual Million Dollar Race. In addition to being the richest and most prestigious sportsman event of the season, the “Million” is also my nemesis. I’ve been to every Million Dollar Race since 1999, and while I’ve had mixed success in the surrounding races (I won a $20,000 in ‘99 and a $20,000 race along with the Mullis All-Star Shootout in 2001), I’ve never made a splash in the big show. The race is generally split with 8-20 cars remaining--that’s where the remaining competitors start talking money. Coming into this season’s event, I’d never gotten to talk about it.
This year started off inauspiciously as well, with a red light in the second round of Thursday’s special Dragster Race. In Friday’s $30,000-to-win event I advanced to sixth round in my dragster, and made a good lap only to get slapped around by Justin Melton who went on to runner-up. In the big show, Shane Carr whipped me in the dragster in round three (that marks the 1,011th consecutive time Shane has beaten me), but I managed to string together some good runs in the Mickey Thompson Vega. In the seventh round, with 14 cars remaining, I got to talk about it! We cut the purse a little bit there, assuring the seven losers that round of $10,000. I squared off with Chris Brown that round and won a great race. I was .001 and a couple thousandths under, and Chris was .003 and took .001 to lose a double-breakout.
With seven competitors remaining, we decided to give each of the losers $20,000 from the overwhelming purse. There, I ran Tommy Plott and my day came to an end. Tommy was .007 and took .006. I was .011, but the Vega made a bad run for the first time all weekend, unloading the rear tires when it hit the wheelie bars and running .02-over. It’s not like I could be upset with the Mickey Thompson Vega. From the time I unloaded on Thursday morning until that 8th round loss in the Million, it had varied .006 to 330’--in 16 runs over three days!
My buddy Dave Triplett went on to win the race, defeating Idaho’s Aaron Marcum in the final round.
As if that windfall weren’t enough, on Sunday I got things rolling once again. I had both cars in going to 5th round, where I broke a transmission in the dragster. That crazy little Vega once again made a stand, as I advanced to the final round before getting cracked by John Labbous, Jr. We drove back up the track after the final, without getting our tickets, and he asked me what the race was. I said “I think I was hi-.00, and you got there by about a hundredth.” He was dead-on 8, and I was .01 above with a zero.
He said “Yea, that makes sense. I’m pretty sure I was .000.”
“I let go and thought I got it, then I watched you leave and you looked good, so I bumped .004 out and gritted my teeth. When it left, I thought it was red. I’m pretty sure I was .000.”
He was .000.
That guy doesn’t suck.
I got to cap a stellar weekend at the “Million” by taking a picture with Little Caboose after he whipped me in the Sunday $30,000 final.
I’m going to use the Million Dollar Race as a good stopping point. The second half of this column will follow in the next couple of days, as I’ll wrap up the 2008 season with a review of my less than impressive trip East to Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina; followed by the annual Florida Winter Series, and a season-ending adventure in the city that never sleeps.
At this point, I cannot pass up an opportunity to shamelessly promote my latest undertaking, www.ThisIsBracketRacing.com. The site will probably not be up when you read this column, but it will launch around the first of the year, so be on the lookout! What is ThisIsBracketRacing.com? In a nutshell, it’s a subscription-only online driving school. As you avid readers know, I was fortunate to be able to put on a driving school at Mo-Kan Dragway early this season, and I had a ball being involved with it. That got my wheels turning, and this website is the end result. Detailed information will be coming out in the next few weeks, but as an overview, the site will consist of monthly tutorial columns from yours truly. These columns will span various facets of sportsman racing, with an emphasis on race strategy and a cerebral approach to ET Bracket and class racing. I’ll also have guest editorials from some of the best and most recognizable racers in the country, and tons of other information and aids aimed at making subscribers more successful and better prepared racers. Annual subscriptions will be available at an introductory price of $119, with a three month trial period and money back guarantee. Keep your eyes open, and be sure to check out www.ThisIsBracketRacing.com as this vision comes together.
Thanks again for reading, and stay tuned to DragRaceResults.com for “Part 2” of the final 2008 installment of “On The Road!”
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