11-09 "On The Road" with Luke Bogacki
Alright, who turned the page of the calendar to October (nearly November?) Seriously, it feels like the 2009 season has flown by while I wasn't looking. They say time flies when you're having fun; and I know from experience that the days pass really quickly when you're constantly on the run. The last several months have brought both for me: a lot of work and a lot of fun, so I guess it's no wonder that summer seemed to pass me by.
At the conclusion of my last column, I was on cloud nine: I'd just scored huge back-to-back victories at the NHRA national event in Atlanta and the IHRA All-Stars competition in Rockingham to cap off what had been a stellar early season run. What's happened since has certainly had it's moments, and I definitely feel fortunate to be enjoying another great season, but the wins haven't come as easily or as consistently as they did early in the year. Seeing as I've got several months to recap, I'm going to attempt to hit the high points (and try to just tell the good stories!)
The week after Rockingham, I headed off to St. Louis for the NHRA national event. There, like I had in Atlanta a few weeks earlier, I was fortunate to be able to shoe Scotty Stillings' Pontiac Grand Am in Super Stock competition, as well as my ThisIsBracketRacing.com Super Comp dragster. The weekend wasn't what I hoped for on the track: I turned it red with 10 cars left in Super Stock Sunday afternoon. But, it did give me the opportunity to spend a few days with my sweetie, Jessica Camden, who lives in nearby Murphysboro, IL. You'll see several references to Jess in this column (and undoubtedly those to come). Without trying to get too cheesy or sentimental, she's the best thing that's ever happened to me. I'm so in love I don't know where to start, and I'm incredibly fortunate to be a part of her life.
The lovely Ms. Jessica and myself
The week after Gateway, I set off to Mo-Kan Dragway for our second annual ThisIsBracketRacing.com "Live" driving school, just on the Missouri side of the Missouri/Kansas line. For this session, my good friend Brian Folk flew in to be the "guest instructor." I picked Brian up from the airport Thursday evening, and we stayed at the track in my trailer. I awoke early Friday morning to an unwelcome sound that I quickly pinpointed as strong winds beating on the side of the trailer (it sounded like the skin on the trailer was flapping like a flag). I sat straight up in bed, and looked down to see Brian sitting straight up on the couch. His next line will echo in my ears for years to come:
"Luke! I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."
I've never been one to worry much about mother nature-I mean it's out of our control, right? Well, I've also never weathered an inland hurricane in a 50' trailer miles away from civilization. Winds were reported at 80 miles per hour (which I still think was an understatement). The entrance sign to the track was blown down. A pair of light poles were taken to the ground. A mile down the road at a trailer dealership, there were two overturned enclosed trailers (For once in my life I was actually glad I didn't own a lightweight Gold Rush!). It was crazy, but Brian and I came away unscathed.
Despite not having the benefit of modern electricity for the remainder of the weekend, the class went off without a hitch, and once again we left Mo-Kan with a very content group of students. My hats off to Carl, Scott, and Craig Blanton along with the entire Mo-Kan crew. Track owners who are weaker of heart would've thrown in the towel, but they managed to operate the entire race track (timing system, tree, tower, and ET booth) on three generators and make it all happen. Thanks also to my buddy Blake Allen for helping put the school together and cooking out for everyone Friday night, and of course to Brian for lending his knowledge and expertise.
Bfolk, ThisIsBracketRacing.com “Live” student Alesi Gerthe, and yours truly at our driving school at Mo-Kan Dragway.
Next up was the NHRA national event in Bristol. I won't spend much time on it, I didn't win a round. It was great.
I then attended the Great American Bracket Race at No Problem Raceway in Belle Rose, LA. In addition to a great weekend of huge paying events, the weekend also brought my first foray into race promotion, as Gaylon Rolison allowed me to promote and host a 32-car "race for a dragster." Mark Horton and Travis Colangelo at American Race Cars built a new swing arm "Patriot" dragster that I assembled as a complete roller. Thirty-two "Hi-Rollers" entered the event for $1,000 each, and we had one of the best gamblers events I've ever witnessed. The entry list read like a "who's who" of sportsman bracket racing. When the smoke cleared, my longtime friend (and former roommate) Stephen Hughes went home with the car. He beat Byron Jordan in the final, with Shane Carr and Donnie Burleson collecting semi-final money. The Shu (as we affectionately call Stephen) had a big weekend all around, as he took the runner-up spot to Brian Hughes in the $50,000-to-win main event Saturday.
On the race track, my weekend wasn't spectacular. I did manage to salvage things with a No Box victory in the Vega Sunday afternoon, but what will stick with me for awhile is my performance in Saturday's 50 grander. I was driving great and things were going my way. I had three entries left in competition (both cars in the 50, and the Vega in No Box) going into round six. There, I lost all three entries within ten minutes. I kicked things off by screwing up the finish line .000 to Mike Bloomfield in my dragster. A couple minutes later I lost Shane Carr in the blind spot in my Vega and gave it back a bunch. A couple minutes after that, I gave it back .000 in No Box. That round, there were 13 cars left in the 50, and I was two of the them. The next round, with 7 left (when I was none of them), the remaining entrants made a pretty healthy split. Sweet!
I try to tell our students in live schools and on ThisIsBracketRacing.com not to get too down on themselves when they make mistakes due to aggressive driving (red lights, giving back the finish line) - it means you're trying. But at what point does the average human being say "Alright man, get IN FRONT of somebody!"
The following weekend I ventured North to Edgewater Sports Park for the annual Ultimate 64 Shootout. There, a dismal weekend on my part was salvaged by my buddy Jason Lynch. Following Friday's scheduled festivities, the track hosted a $2500-to-win bracket race. Seeing as the Ultimate 64 format already offers me a smooth 82 opportunities to get beat (okay I'm exaggerating, but I do enter EVERY event they offer, and have every year since the events inception), and very little opportunity to sleep, I elected to sit out the event. Over pizza on the corner, Jason decides that he wants to run that race, but that he wants to do a wheelie. So, we make the executive decision to unload the Vega, raise the wheelie bars, raise the launch chip, and (without the benefit of a time trial) let Jason do a wheelie. 8 wheelies later, we got a check for $2,500! That's why I love hanging out with Jason; if nothing else he makes me realize this stuff is supposed to be fun (and like all of us, sometimes I tend to lose track of that). I laughed all night, and we had an absolute blast running that race! What's more, by the time Jason ran the final, it was actually Saturday morning, May 30 (my 28th birthday). Happy birthday to me!!
In the $50,000-to-win main event I made my only splash of the weekend, as I advanced to the quarterfinals, only to lose to Jason. Of course, we made a pretty deep deal, so when he rolled on to defeat Jeff Hefler in the semi's and Troy Williams, Jr. in the final, he helped put food on my table for the second time in as many days. I left Edgewater with a good payday despite not doing much on the race track myself all weekend long.
I've heard that a good woman can make you do crazy things. The first weekend of June Montgomery Motorsports Park had two $10,000-to-win races, three hours from my house. Holly Springs Motorsports had an IHRA double-header Pro-Am (where I can use my gold card), three hours from my house. I-57 Dragway had a $1,000-to-win Super Pro, $600-to-win Footbrake, regular Saturday night program, six hours from my house. But that's where Jessica was, so I made the journey. The night ended well, as I drove the Vega to a win in the Footbrake category following a lengthy final round burndown (which is fun on occasion).
Me & Jess cheesing at I-57. Photo courtesy of Rene F. de Groof.
The following three weeks took me on a Northern tour of sorts; I attended the No Box Nationals in Bunker Hill, Indiana, the JEGS U.S. Open Bracket Championships in Indianapolis, then did a pair of schools the following week in Maryland and Illinois.
I can't say enough good things about the two events in Indiana. They were two of the most enjoyable, well run, well structured events I've been to all season. Unfortunately, I can't say any good things about my performance at either event. I had some mechanical issues both weekends, and I didn't drive well. The highlight of the entire two-week swing was winning the burnout contest between Jason Lynch and myself in the quarterfinals of a gamblers race at Indy (I did a really good burnout).
I made the trek from Indy to the thriving metropolis of Durand, IL, home of Folk Race Cars. My stay there was very short-lived, as I caught a flight from Chicago to Philadelphia Monday morning. There, I did a private driving school and test session at Cecil County Dragway in Maryland with a small group of racers Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Thursday evening I flew back to Chicago and met up with Brian and Nick Folk. They hosted a Driving School at Byron Dragway that weekend that I was very happy to be involved with as a guest speaker. I probably sound like a broken record saying this, but I get so much enjoyment out of the driving schools. In the grand scheme of things, I realize that racing doesn't mean a whole lot; but it's all I know. And being able to share what I know with others who want to learn and succeed, and watching them take some of that information and improve, It's a really great feeling. I really feel like it's what I was meant to do.
Next up was the Tenn-Tuck event at Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green (one of my favorite facilities). In Friday's opening event, I managed to make it to the quarterfinal round before losing a close race to eventual winner Lane Dicken. In the second race I got bounced in the opening round with both cars. Friday night, I set off for Murphysboro, as Jessica's sister Jennifer got married on Saturday.
I didn't stutter. I left Bowling Green, with three ten granders remaining, to go to a wedding. Times they are-a-changing!
My buddy David Myhre was in town from California. He stayed at Beech Bend and raced the Vega in the remaining events, had some fun, and went some rounds. He even earned a check on Sunday in the crazy little Vega.
The following weekend, I made my way to Bristol Dragway for the World Footbrake Challenge. I've said it before and I'll say it again: this race is to Footbrakers what Indy is to NHRA racers, what the Moroso 5-day used to be to big dollar racers. It's a neat, neat race. It's big money, it's well run, and it plays host to the best footbrake competitors in the country. This season I struggled to get anything going Friday and Saturday, but I put together one of my best bottom bulb performances on Sunday and it was just good enough. I was able to beat one of the best footbrakers I've ever seen, Doyle Kay, in the final and take home the $10,000 check. It may sound crazy to some, but in a season that has included four national event wins, the IHRA All-Stars title, and bunch of big money bracket races, I probably consider that win my biggest accomplishment.
From left to right; we’ve got WFC co-promoter Steve (Cyclops) Stites, my rent-a-crew chief for the weekend David Myhre, Adam Davis, his fiance Heather, Jessica, myself, and co-promoter Jared Pennington after a big victory at the 2009 WFC. Photo courtesy of Angela Macy.
The next weekend I made a whirlwind Southeastern tour that included competition at Sand Mountain Dragway Friday night, Holiday Raceway Saturday, and Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green on Sunday. With the exception of a hefty diesel bill, very limited sleep, and a couple of semi-final checks, I came away with nothing to show for my efforts.
I left Bowling Green and headed to Illinois to pick up Jess for her last summer tour (she's a school teacher, so it was almost time to head back to work), and we set out for Martin, MI. There, I was having a pretty miserable weekend at the IHRA Northern Nationals: I had two entries in the prestigious Moser Axle Mania Shootout but lost them both in the opening round. A day later I got bounced early in Stock Eliminator as well. But, the weekend was salvaged when I escaped with a win in the Quick Rod category. Despite the disappointing start to the weekend, the victory kicked off my Northern trip on a great note.
The rest of that Northern trip: not so great. We spent a couple days at Jeremy McCormick's cabin with the Folk family (which was awesome) before setting off to Stanton, MI for the World Super Pro Challenge. There, I went some rounds (I lost in the semi's of a 5 grander, and had two cars in fairly late in the 50), but didn't cover the tab for the weekend. I put Jess on a plane back to Illinois and set out for the NHRA national event in Brainerd, MN.
My weekend at Brainerd has been fairly well documented, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it. In Super Comp I was .009, and took .008 in round two for the loss. In Stock, I was disqualified prior to eliminations. Why? I wrote the wrong year model on my tech card. Yes, it was a minor (in my mind at least) mistake on my part. Yes, (to me) it seems like a very petty infraction. But I was DQ'd, and the bottom line is that it was my fault-a very silly, stupid mistake on my part that cost me the opportunity to compete (and made for a very, very, long ride home).
As if my weekend in Brainerd could get any worse! Friday night somewhere in the middle of Wisconsin my truck breaks a tensioner pulley, throws the belt, and I'm stranded on the side of the interstate. I limped into a truck stop and spent the night. The next morning, I unloaded my trusty Zuma scooter, rode it a little over 20 miles to a handful of Mom & Pop parts stores, and a Ford Dealership. I got extremely fortunate to find the parts I needed, and by noon I had the thing repaired and was on my merry way. I made it to I-57 Dragway in time to see Jess get beat in Super Pro, and spent the entire day Sunday on the lake. Sitting on my floatie, drinking a Bud Light, I couldn't help think about how cool a boat I could buy if I sold all this racing junk and quit!
I took the following weekend "off." But I just couldn't stand the thought, and ended up at Alabama International Dragway with the Vega. As it turns out, that was a good idea. I won the No Box category, and was runner-up to my good friend Jackie Rogers in Top ET. The crazy little Vega had done nothing but sit in the shop and leak for the month I was gone up North. I changed the oil, drove it on the trailer, and it moved .003 to 330' in nine runs on the top bulb. Why do I insist on racing anything else?
I did a school the next weekend at Prescott Raceway in Arkansas, that once again went very well. Big thank you to Greg Brotherton, who helped me as an instructor; to Larry Boartman and the staff at Prescott; and to Mike Morehead who helped put the school together and essentially did all of the leg work.
After that, I was all systems go on assembling and finishing my new American Race Cars Dragster. I'd driven to Ohio a few weeks earlier to pick up the machine, and had all intentions of debuting it at the NHRA division event in Atlanta. As it ended up, I missed that deadline by a few hours. Rather than kill myself to make Atlanta, I wound up at Huntsville Dragway that Saturday night for the new whip's maiden voyage. Needless to say, it couldn't have gone much better. She went faster than I expected (4.54), and then went 4.54 eight more times as I won Pro in the first outing!
The new whip. It’s pretty, it’s fast… It’s pretty friggin fast! Photo courtesy of Auto Imagery.
I have to take this opportunity to brag on my car. It's really, really, nice! I'm so proud of it. Mark Horton and Travis Colangelo at ARC seem to turn out a nicer car with every one that leaves their shop. This is my fourth American Dragster, and the attention to detail is incredible. Todd's Extreme Paint in Ohio did an amazing job on the paint. I used Auto Meter's new "Stack" dash and data-logger set-up, and I've already learned more from two months of racing with it than I had in years of racing with a conventional gauge cluster (especially in throttle stop tuning). I tried to build the car really light: it's got a Kevlar nose, a K&N carbon fiber scoop & tray, carbon dash, lightweight everything. The guys at Huntsville Engine took the Brodix 12-degree 582 I'd been running for two seasons and put it in a new Brodix Aluminum block. In the end, the car weighed in at 1825 lbs. with me in it (over 300 lbs. lighter than my previous machine). To date, I've been 7.11 @ 188, 4.48 @ 152, and 8.90 @ 182.
Engine components include a new APD 1050 "Throttle Stop" carburetor, a CNC throttle stop from Sunset Racecraft, the K&N scoop, tray, and filters, a Milodon Oiling system, J&J Performance Diaper, and a set of Hedman's new line of chromed merge-collector dragster headers. I'm using a new canister-style shock from Ohlins that is distributed by Matt Cooke of Dixie Racing Products. Of course the car has Mickey Thompson wheels and tires, and a BTE transmission and converter like each of my other cars. I also used parts from JEGS mail order, K&R Performance Engineering, Nitroplate, Figspeed.com, B&M, ISC Racers Tape, Goza Racing Products, Moser Engineering, Nitrous Express, and Rocket Brand Racing Fuels.
I nearly made it two events with an undefeated race car. The weekend after my Huntsville debut, I headed South to No Problem Raceway in Louisiana for an NHRA division event. I went red first round in Stock, but I advanced to the final in Super Comp with the new car, only to turn it red to 2009 title contender Tommy Phillips.
Why is it that when I win and Nick Folk is around, I have to buy a new shirt? From left to right we’ve got quite a crew: Heather White & Jeremy Jensen, Nick himself, Jason Folk (or that might be Larry, not completely sure), Craig Treble, Bryan Robinson, Brian Folk, and Cassie Robinson. Photo courtesy of Auto Imagery.
I had some trailer tire issues on the way to Belle Rose (I got to unload the scooter again-becoming way too much like habit). I do need to thank Jimmy Hidalgo and Jimmy Hidalgo, Jr. for their help. After the race, I drove to their shop from the track, and they found me a couple tires, helped mount them up, and gave me some contact information to order all new tires and have them mounted in Dallas the following weekend. Racers certainly are a good group!
Unfortunately, getting new trailer tires mounted up was the highlight of my Dallas trip. I once again went red in Stock and got bounced second round of Super Comp. Jess flew in, and we made the rounds-saw a lot of my old friends, visited the Stockyards, and had an enjoyable weekend. It's taken me a long time to learn, but maybe racing isn't everything after all.
I made my way home for a couple of days before turning back around to head to Memphis Motorsports Park for their NHRA national event. Other than the weather, that weekend really couldn't have gone much better. In Stock, Bryan and I actually won our first heads-up run in round 2 (by .004!), but then lost another heads up the following round to Slate Cummings. In Super Comp, the new rocket ship continued it's winning ways, and I got to hoist an NHRA wally for the second time.
Much like my win in Atlanta earlier in the year, I was in the right place at the right time. At both events I had to make one great run; and I was fortunate to make an excellent run in the round that I needed it. And, at both events, with the exception of that one run, it was essentially set out on a silver platter. In Memphis after a great round three race with Lloyd Parfait, I had my next three opponents red light and I grinned for the cameras. My buddy Jeremy Jensen (who drove my black dragster in Super Comp) won Super Gas, so our victory circle celebration was pretty memorable!
I stayed in the area for the next week, running a $20,000-to-win event in Mississippi on Tuesday leading up to the Million Dollar Race once again at Memphis. Unfortunately, I didn't have a great million. I drove decent; I had great race cars; but as can easily be the case in that event, the chips didn't fall my way. I had both entries (the rocket ship and the Vega) in the fifth round of the million (two rounds from the split), but lost them both there. In the other events I went some rounds, but on the whole came out well behind for the weekend. But that, as they say, is part of it.
The following weekend I set off to Reynolds, GA for another NHRA divisional event, as I needed a couple of grade points to run national events in 2010. I put the Vega in the trailer rather than the stocker so that I could sneak off to Dothan Dragway in Alabama Saturday night for a big bracket race. There, I got down to six cars in the $4,000-to-win Pro class before turning it -.001. In Footbrake, I was able to get thru competition and take home a $2,000 payday. I returned to Reynolds at about 5:00 AM, slept for a couple hours, and attempted to run Super Comp and Super Gas on Sunday.
In 8.90, I gave the finish line up in round 2. I did advance to the quarterfinal round in Super Gas with the Vega only to completely botch up the finish line and lose a double breakout. I could make a lot of excuses: I was running 9.90 @ 118 (to my opponents 165). I was set up to go 9.91 wide open (and the Vega had been incredibly good all day). I had maybe three hours of sleep. But the bottom line is that I took .060. And if I had taken .050, I'd have been a winner!
After a couple days at home, I went to Rockinham, NC for the IHRA World Finals, the Summit All-Star event, and the new Tournament of Champions Run-Off for the World Championship. My Momma has said "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. "So I suppose in this instance I should keep my mouth shut. I'll just say that poor planning and a disappointing string of decisions from event officials, along with weather and racing surface issues created an absolutely ridiculous event. From all standpoints the race was a complete disaster, and we never got to compete in the tournament of champions, the event that sportsman competitors from all over the continent had come for. As much as I hate to say it; if you didn't qualify for the IHRA tournament of champions and didn't spend the weekend in Rockingham, consider yourself fortunate.
On a brighter note! While I was beating my head against the wall in Rockingham, Adam Davis was making me money. Adam sold his Nova and took my Vega to the big Footbrake event in Montgomery, AL. There, he lost in the quarterfinals of Friday's $5,000-to-win event. He had to run himself in the semi's of Saturday morning's 5-grander, then was runner-up to John Burleson. Saturday night, he beat Doyle Kay in the final of the main event, a $20,000-to-win race. He capped the weekend Sunday by advancing to the final round of the last $5,000 event and splitting with his buddy Brad Ford. All in all, he put 56 runs on the Vega in three days! It's amazing what a good driver can do in a good car!
I'm at home now, trying to regroup a little bit. We've got a pair of schools coming up: one at Sand Mountain Dragway this Saturday and Sunday, then another at South Georgia Motorsports Park on Monday and Tuesday. That school at SGMP precedes their 5-day event, which kicks off the annual "Winter Series." From there, I'll head to Bradenton, FL and then on to West Palm Beach for another pair of 5-day events that make up the marathon. Then it's back to Holly Springs, MS for a Thanksgiving race before I hang up the helmets for 2009.
On a sad note... We, as a racing community, lost one of the good guys a couple of months ago. Many of you got the opportunity to meet Jerry Dooley. I met him when he worked for Barry Grant, and then worked together extensively when he went to work for John Kyle at APD. I introduced myself to Jerry when I was 18 years old. I was a no one in the drag racing world. There was something about me that Jerry liked, and he was the first major player in the racing industry to give me a chance. We put together a marketing partnership with BG and established a long standing business relationship that developed into a really great friendship. Jerry was one of the first calls I received when my father passed away. In the years since, our relationship took on the role of mentor/student, driver/tuner, and in some instances father/son. We had some great conversations, and he gave me a lot of advice that will stick with me for the rest of my life. Over the course of the last year, when Jerry got really sick, we became more distant. I feel like that's pretty poor on my part-that's probably when I should have been there more than ever. But you just have to know Jerry-he was one tough, stubborn old bird. And it's almost as if he didn't want me to go thru that again; to see someone you really care about suffer; and he seemed to keep me at bay to an extent. As I look back on it now, that's probably the last in a long list of selfless things he did for me (and for countless others I'm sure) throughout his life. Jerry Dooley was a very good man. He is and will be dearly missed.
Jerry died from complications stemming from cancer. Research shows that each and every one of us will be directly affected by cancer in our lifetime-we'll either be forced to deal with the disease ourselves or have an immediate family member stricken. I've watched the disease devastate the people closest to me; and I don't wish it on anyone. Individually, I can't stop it - I don't guess anyone can. But I can't help but think that together we can make a difference. I mentioned last year that I donate to the JEGS foundation for cancer research, and I urged you to do the same. I donate 1% of my race winnings to the charity. It's not a huge amount of money, but it's something that I can do that makes me feel like in some small way maybe I'm making a difference. I challenge each of you to do the same. Alone, I'm one man who's donated a little bit of money over the past two years. Together as a community, we can raise enough money to make a difference. If it saves one family from having to go thru the pain of losing a loved one, it's worth it.
Thanks again for reading, I look forward to weaving a great tale of race winnings in Florida by years end!
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