5-12 "On The Road" With Luke Bogacki - Completely Overhauled
Alright, I’ve caught a little bit of flack at the race track recently for not having written an On the Road column for DRR nation in awhile. While I realize it’s been a few months, let me say two things in my defense. First off, the agreement that Scott and I have is for this contribution (talk about a loose use of that word) to DRR to come on a quarterly basis. Yes, I realize that the first quarter of 2012 came to a close about six weeks ago. That brings me to my second defense. As of early April, I really didn’t have much to share. I mean, since the last installment of On the Road, all I’ve done is gotten married, built a (insert superlative here) new race car, and completely overhauled my entire racing program. With that said, it wasn’t until the recent weeks that we had much on track action to discuss here in the column.
Here’s the blow by blow…
Our big day came on January 21, when my wife, Jessica and I finally tied the knot. It was an incredible experience that I’ll never forget. Jess looked absolutely gorgeous, we were surrounded by family and friends, nothing went incredibly wrong, and we threw one helluva party if I do say so myself! Thanks to everyone who shared the day with us, and to everyone who offered well wishes. Granted, to this point that’s the only thanks many of you have gotten (yep, we’re still working on those thank you cards), but know that your love and friendship means the world to us!
After a few days at home, Jess and I set out for Punta Cana for our honeymoon. I’ve never considered myself much of a vacationer. Up until late January I had never left the country (save for a trip or two to Canada with a race car in tow), and I even warned my lovely bride that I may become hard to live with (I‘m sure that was her first inclination of that). I wasn’t sure how I’d adapt to 4 days without a schedule or agenda. Boy did I miss on that! When can we go back?
Punta Cana was pretty rough. Our resort had a half dozen awesome eating establishments, the pool ran throughout the resort and backed up to our room, and the ocean was about 500 feet away. Add in the obligatory frozen concoctions that were prepared in coconuts, and well, it was heaven on earth. Needless to say, I’m already looking forward to our next vacation!
A Change in Direction:
Since about last Labor Day, I’ve been busy laying the groundwork for my racing program in 2012 and beyond. As most of you loyal “On the Road” followers (bless your hearts; both of you) know, after over a decade of bracket and IHRA competition, I chased the NHRA tour for the first time in 2010 and enjoyed a really good season. As most of you also know, the grind of the points chase really wore me down, to the point that I essentially took a year away from the NHRA tour in 2011 and refocused on bracket racing. After doing some soul searching, and gathering advice from a handful of friends and business associates whose opinions and insight I really respect, I decided to make a pretty drastic change in my approach to racing in 2012 and beyond.
My heart is in weekly bracket racing, and it always will be. I love the camaraderie, the laid back atmosphere, and the fun associated with those events. While I don’t necessarily race “for a living,” I am dependent on income derived from racing to put food on the table. As a result, my schedule for as long as I can remember has been filled with 40+ weekends of racing each season, criss-crossing the country in search of the next prize check. The only way to make it all work from a financial standpoint is to race, and to win, as much as possible.
To be completely honest, I got tired. Priorities have changed a little bit in my life. Racing at the level that I have for the past decade is a 7-day a week job that often requires attention 18+ hours a day. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it; but I’m ready to spend some more time on other things that I enjoy as well.
That thought process actually led me back to the NHRA tour. Chasing points within the NHRA Lucas Oil Series gives me an opportunity to select 14-18 events and say “This is my season.” The travel is still pretty strenuous, but fewer actual events means more time at home; and fewer runs (NHRA event = 8-10 runs max, big buck bracket race = hopefully 40+) means less maintenance and upkeep. While the actual event purses, entry fees and travel expenses along the tour don’t necessarily create a winning business plan, what the NHRA Lucas Oil Series offers more than any other sportsman racing venue is exposure and the opportunity to promote corporate partners.
That, more than anything, is what I’m trying to focus on at this point in my career. The NHRA tour offers me a great opportunity to continue to build and promote ThisIsBracketRacing.com, as well as our series of BRODIX Cylinder Heads “Live” Driving Schools throughout the country. It also provides a great platform to create exposure for our key partners. For 2012, I’m really proud to welcome two new associate partners to the fold: Tinsley Drilling and Company, and C.A.R.S. Protection Plus.
Tinsley Drilling & Company is a Texas based independent oil and gas drilling company that has earned a reputation for their ability to drill quickly, capture product, and bring the job in with a low expense ratio. If you’re like me, the thought of drilling for oil is more of a pipe dream than anything, but for anyone involved in the oilfield industry, the Tinsley family and Tinsley Drilling & Company can provide an answer for any drilling needs.
If you haven’t already learned about C.A.R.S. Protection Plus you will soon (OK, you will now), as they’ve become heavily involved in sportsman drag racing over the last year or so. In a nutshell, C.A.R.S. Protection Plus is a Pittsburgh, PA based company that offers a complete line of limited warranties to meet the specific needs of pre-owned vehicle owners nationwide. C.A.R.S. even offers a vehicle warranty for my dually (obviously the decision makers in Pittsburgh have never read this column).
In addition to those new partners, we also welcome back four key companies for the upcoming seasons: JEGS, Mickey Thompson Tires and Wheels, Advanced Product Design (APD), and Bill Taylor Enterprises (BTE). Each of those partners have been a big part of our racing program for several years, and they’ll all be instrumental in our growth going forward. If you don’t know about any of those companies, crawl out from under your rock and either ask me about them, give them a call, or visit their websites. They each offer quality products at fair prices with excellent customer service. As part of our agreement in 2012, we’ll be carrying a full line of APD components (gas and alcohol carburetors, fuel system components, carb accessories, and more) on the trailer. So, if you’re in need of any APD components at the track stop by, or give me a call. John Kyle and the staff at APD has worked with me personally, and lots of other (smarter and better) racers to develop and perfect their products for all sorts of sportsman competition. Their stuff is the best; if I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t be using it, much less selling it!
The Plight for Promotion:
The added emphasis on promotion and the need to create as much exposure, visibility, and brand awareness for our marketing partners and our race team as much as possible spurred a lot of ideas and projects during the winter months. Jeff Strickland at Strickland Signs and Graphix designed and applied new back door and side door wraps to our trailer.
Chase Huffman at Accelerated Graphics in Texas did a bunch of work for us over the winter. He and his father Rick (also racers I’ve known forever) designed our new crew shirts and developed our handout cards (yes, we have handout cards… I’ve even signed a few autographs!).
Photo courtesy of Robert Grice, Extreme Photography
We had some awesome flags designed that display on the trailer and promote our key partners as well; anything that can provide added visibility at the track and promotional appearances helps!
We also updated our team t-shirts over the winter. We’ve got these t-shirts as well as a complete line of ThisIsBracketRacing.com apparel (shirts, caps, visors, coozies, etc.) on hand at all the events we attend, and of course it’s all available online at http://www.thisisbracketracing.com/store.cfm.
The crown jewel of our promotional program is this sweet pit cart. I can’t take full credit for this idea; I saw one in Troy Coughlin’s Pro Mod pit area at Bristol last year and had to have it. The cart houses a merchandise display for our apparel on top, and a video display for team and sponsor information on the bottom. Plus, compartments attach to each side for promotional information like catalogs and brochures from our marketing partners and our photo handout cards.
I made several calls to big companies about building the pit cart, but by the time I was ready to get it into motion most either didn’t want to build anything as small as I needed, couldn’t commit to a deadline, or were on another planet in terms of pricing. That’s when my buddy, Jason Lynch told me: “Call Tuffpaw Mike. He told me that if we could dream it, he could build it.”
“Tuffpaw Mike” is Mike Eggleston, of Tuffpaw.com, which operates out of a suburb of St. Louis, less than 100 miles from our house. True to Jason’s word, Mike took the project and ran with it. I couldn’t be happier with the finished product, the care Mike took in design and assembly, his attention to detail, timeliness, or price. This is not a paid endorsement; Tuffpaw.com isn’t one of our sponsors… But the man went above and beyond to make sure I had what I wanted, and I think that deserves some recognition. I’d urge everyone to check out Tuffpaw.com for any of their your accessory needs!
I also want to thank Jimmy DeFrank and California Car Cover for designing a custom cover for the pit cart. I knew California Car Cover had great car covers, but they can also design custom covers for just about any application!
In between our wedding in January and the time that I actually hit the race track with the new racing program in April, I did manage to find time for some fun things and some personal activities. Among the highlights were the annual I-57 Dragstrip banquet (always a blast), a few SIU basketball games, and the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament (“Arch Madness”) in St. Louis. I also had the opportunity to put on a handful of BRODIX “Live” Driving Schools already this season, including a Junior Dragster school at Sand Mountain Dragway in Alabama where I partnered with Jeff Rucks and Jr. Dragster guru Thomas Huddleston. We had a blast, and I’m pretty confident that a dozen little guys and gals left the school a little bit more confident in their racing ability!
Through my relationship with the Tinsley family, I found that Joanna Tinsley operates her own gym and fitness center. I was basically making small talk with her one day when I said that I’d like to get into better shape. I guess I’d better watch what I say! Joanna drew up a workout routine for me, and it’s pretty intense! I didn’t want to let her down (and let’s be honest; I needed it!), so I’m actually proud to say I’ve gotten pretty motivated about it. I’m jogging three miles a day, three days a week, and she’s got me on a solid upper body routine as well; all stuff I can do from home. The results thus far are fantastic: I’m down 16 lbs since early February and I feel great! If anyone is interested in a simple fitness plan that really works, drop me a line and I’ll get you in touch with Joanna!
The good times that were so abundant this off-season were marred by two really tough phone calls that made me do a lot of thinking. Within six weeks, we lost two pillars in the performance racing industry who have both been instrumental to my career and growth in ways beyond what either realized. The racing family lost Paul Barrentine in February and Garry Reavis in March.
When I first established a business relationship with Bill Taylor Enterprises some 12 years ago, Bill’s son-in-law, Paul was one of the first people that I remember dealing with. As our partnership grew, I’m proud to say that I struck up a friendship with Paul and his family. In conversations first on the phone, then in several meetings at BTE, I took a lot from Paul. He was the type of person who had a way of expressing his personal beliefs, almost nonverbally, in a business atmosphere. His calm demeanor and peaceful, analytical decision making had a big affect on me and the way that I approach life and business. The Barrentine family and the staff at BTE will undoubtedly carry that spirit forward as the company continues to grow and prosper, but I know that we’ll all miss Paul a great deal.
The passing of Garry Reavis hit even closer to home. Garry and his partner at Huntsville Engine, John Cline, were my first “real” employers. I met Garry through Todd Ewing in 1999, and we hashed out a program in which he and his HEPC staff would build my race motors. Thirteen years later, the staff at HEPC still builds every engine I run. When I called Todd and Garry in 2003 to tell them that I had an opportunity to take a job essentially racing for a living with a competing engine builder that I couldn’t turn down, he was the one that called me back a day later and offered me a job at Huntsville Engine. I moved to Alabama and went to work for him for two years.
Garry was the hardest working person I had ever been around, and he demanded a level of excellence from his employees that I didn’t realize I was capable of. He was a hard man to work for, and at times a harder man to know and understand. But he sure taught me a lot. Several of his short words of advice still echo in my ears day after day. Since I left HEPC in 2005 and Garry retired shortly thereafter, we’d lost touch for the most part. Not any ill will, just life taking us in different directions. The day Todd told me he’d passed away I laid in bed awake and thought about life; he was the guy who was so strong you couldn’t imagine him being taken from us before he was damn good and ready to leave. I’ll miss you GR.
The decision to consciously pursue the NHRA tour this season was made a little bit more difficult by the fact that as of 1/1/12 I really only had one competitive NHRA class vehicle. My faithful American Race Cars dragster carried me to the Division 2 Super Comp title in 2010, but I didn’t really have a second car to go with it. Bryan Robinson, my good friend and the owner of the Stock Eliminator Nova I drove for several seasons, and I got burnt out on the Stock project and swore it off (he’s since sold the engine/trans combination just so we didn’t get any crazy ideas). And while I love my little Vega, it’s just not the ultimate weapon for Super Gas competition.
That situation dictated a call to my longtime friend, Charlie Stewart. Charlie is a longtime racer who I’ve watched drive everything from bracket cars to Competition Eliminator to a diesel powered pro-stock style truck (I didn’t stutter… It ran in the 7’s). I grew up watching Charlie race, his son, Jason is about my age, and we’ve stayed in touch since I moved from the Lone Star State a decade ago. Charlie formed Charlie Stewart Race Cars a few years back; they specialize in Corvette bodied roadsters and do a bunch of side work (back halves, wreck repairs, etc.). I discussed the situation a little bit last column, but after some prodding Charlie talked me into making a trip to Texas last winter to drive one of his cars. He knew that would set the hook; I had to have one. He built me a gorgeous new ’63 Corvette roadster and delivered it in February.
We featured the new Corvette buildup on ThisIsBracketRacing.com and here on DragRaceResults.com as well, so I won’t spend a bunch of time on it here. To read all the details, and see lots of close up pictures, click on these two links:
I don’t want to go on forever, but the car is friggin’ awesome! Charlie and his staff did a great job; the car is gorgeous and works exceptionally well. Everything was well thought out and laid out, which made my job of assembly, wiring, and plumbing so much easier.
The Corvettester as I’ve known it, from start to finish.
Taking it to the Track
Before I was ready to hit the ground running with the new Corvette, I made a couple voyages to Beech Bend Raceway Park with our other vehicles. In mid-March I made my debut in the dragster, which is the same 2010 ARC machine that I drove in 2010 (it sat in the shop for most of the 2011 campaign). New for 2012 was a 632 cubic inch bullet from Huntsville Engine & Performance featuring a set of BRODIX 12 degree heads and BRODIX aluminum block that was saved from my previous 582 cubic inch combination.
In my first appearance at Bowling Green, I focused on getting a starting point for my Super Comp combination, and ran on the throttle stop all day. I was pleased when the same t-stop setting from a year ago warranted an ET gain of nearly .2 and 4 mph in the eighth mile. I had intentions of making a quarter mile 8.90 blast before the day was through, but I kept winning rounds in the eighth mile bracket race. Before I knew it, my day of testing was paying dividends, as I advanced to the semi-final round and was awarded with a bye run into the final. On the bye, I just couldn’t help myself. I still had a 5.88 dial on the scoop, but I rolled the time out of the throttle stop timer and blasted off. The result was a pretty significant breakout on my bye run: 4.47 @ 153 mph!
I lost a good race to Randy Rice in the final, but I couldn’t help but feel good about my 2012 debut!
The next week, I returned to Beech Bend for their first Tenn-Tuck Triple Crown event of the season, this time with the Vega in tow. Unfortunately, the Vega didn’t cooperate as well as the dragster had a week prior. Funny, it was the one car I hardly touched over the winter (the motor never left the frame rails), but somehow it developed a bug that I couldn’t figure out. Believe me, I tried; I threw the whole trailer of spare parts at it over the course of the weekend, but to no avail. After two days of non-stop wrenching, my buddy, Jeremy McKague summed it up best:
“I know what’s wrong with your Vega,” he said.
“Tell me, please.”
“It’s been sitting in the shop all winter, right? Next to that new, pretty, sexy little Corvette that you’ve been paying so much attention to… That Vega just got a little attitude. It’s thinking ‘just keep paying attention to that little hussy. Who got you here? Well… I’ll be damned if I’m going to keep cooking for you!’”
I failed to illuminate a single win light in the Vega. Mike Tedesco of C.A.R.S. Protection Plus and the Tedesco Racing team offered me one of their new American Race Cars dragsters for the weekend, but I didn’t have much luck in it either. As a whole, the Tenn-Tuck experience was pretty forgettable for the Bogacki camp.
A week and a half later, the Corvettester made it’s debut back at Beech Bend. Jason Lynch and I rented the track with intentions of testing both our roadsters (he has a new car from Charlie Stewart Race Cars as well) and our dragsters in 9.90 and 8.90 form. We actually spent three full days testing: a Friday track rental, the standard Beech Bend Test ‘n’ Tune on Saturday, then another rental the following Tuesday.
Results couldn’t have been much better. The roadster went right down the track on the first run, and I eventually got it dialed in to the 9.90 index at over 164 mph. The rocket ship dragster produced an 8.90 ET at over 183 miles per hour. We tinkered, tested, and changed just about everything you could imagine over the course of the session, but I left with two race cars I was really confident in.
Of course, the weekend would not be complete with the obligatory “Luke is a knucklehead” story. I know, it’s pretty amazing that I got this far into an On The Road column before reaching that point! Anyhow, once we got done on Saturday, I left the trailer at Beech Bend and drove my truck home for Easter Sunday and few much needed days with my wife after what seemed like a month long thrash. Of course, I locked up the trailer extra tight for its two day stay away from home.
I arrived back at the track at about midnight on Monday night. Which is when I realized that the trailer keys were sitting on my dresser at home (200 miles away). Brilliant! A night on Jason’s couch and a call to the locksmith later, I was back in business (and about $40 lighter).
After a week off to finish up some details on the car and trailer, and to tackle the project of putting new brake pads and rotors on my truck (which turned into a bit of a nightmare in and of itself), I set out to Ennis, TX for the Division 4 event and my first points earning outing of 2012. Realistically, I couldn’t have hoped for a much better weekend. The roadster was absolutely flawless. It deserved a better finish, but its driver certainly held it back! In round three I just had one of those indecisive moments at the finish line: I couldn’t decide whether to take the stripe or drop. In the process I not only got a few thousandths behind, I also failed to kill the E.T. I was holding. The result was a double breakout loss and yours truly kicking himself all the way to Houston.
Photo courtesy of Robert Grice, Extreme Photography
In the dragster, I caught a couple breaks but wasn’t nearly as prepared as I had thought coming into the weekend. I had a myriad of small mechanical issues that added to one big mess. I screwed up, so I can’t blame my fourth round loss on my car, but the problems I was fighting had me holding a lot more than what I’m normally comfortable with. Needless to say, before I even loaded up at Dallas the dragster got a whole bunch of fresh parts!
I spent the next couple of days catching up with some old friends in the DFW and Houston areas as part of my journey to Baytown for the O’Reilly Spring Nationals. As I’m sure you’ve gathered by this point, the weekend couldn’t have gone much better. I was able to park the new Corvette in the winner’s circle at the first national event it was entered! Better yet, I got the chance to race one of my best friends, Jeff Lopez (The original Tex Mex) in the final round. That was really cool; I know I would have been just as happy had his win light glowed in the final, and I think he feels the same way. It was a really neat experience, and I hope that he and I can do it again soon!
Me and Jeff in the final at Houston, courtesy of Auto Imagery
Me and my crew for the day: Jason Oteri and Brad Demitras
My weekend in Super Comp wasn’t spectacular. I fought some more minor mechanical issues and lost a good race in round two to Bart Nelson. The loss, once again, wasn’t a result of mechanical problems, rather a result of Bart doing a much better job than I did; but I still didn’t quite have the car figured out.
My victory celebration in Houston was short lived. I left the track and drove to my longtime friend, Tommy Phillips’s home in Forney Sunday evening. We met for lunch Monday and went over our curriculum for the following day’s BRODIX TIBR “Live” Driving School at Wichita Raceway Park in Wichita Falls, TX. We decided the best plan was to leave his place at about 4:00 the next morning and make the three hour trek to Wichita Falls (I think there was an error in judgment there), but the journey went fine and school was a lot of fun as always.
Once we finished up Wednesday evening, I hitched my wagon and headed North for the final leg of my three week tour, which would conclude at the NHRA Division 5 LODRS event in Great Bend, KS.
I parked in line outside the gate Thursday evening, and when I awoke Friday morning I couldn’t get my truck started to pull in the track. As I produced a battery charger and extension cord from the trailer, my neighbor in line says:
“This will give you something to write about on DragRaceResults.com.”
Funny, I never seem to have a shortage of material.
Thankfully, I was able to jump it off and get into the track, but the situation would require a new starter before I was content to say it was “fixed.”
Once I made it into the facility and turned on the weather station, I was a bit concerned. The 5500’ of corrected altitude and 27.70 barometric pressure was a far cry from anything I had seen in Dallas or Houston. I decided I better make a couple runs in the dragster during Friday’s test session to make sure I had it fixed, and see how much slower it would be here than back on normal turf. On my last run at Houston, I was running 8.84. From that run, I sped it up a full tenth: so in theory, I could run 8.74@183. My first run in Great Bend produced a 9.09 ET at 175 miles per hour. Wow!
The indexes for both classes were adjusted to 9.05 and 10.05 respectively, so I was actually pretty close. After some discussion with the guys at Huntsville Engine and APD, I made some minor adjustments on both cars for the conditions, and felt pretty good about the weekend.
Then came Sunday morning… I knew it was supposed to cool off on Sunday. But when I awoke at about 6:30 it just felt muggy. Cooler, but muggy. I unloaded the cars and glanced at the weather station: it showed maybe .03-.04 quicker than my last run on Saturday. No big deal.
I was tinkering with something on the ‘Vette when I happened to look up and see the sky to the North and the West was pitch black. Thinking back to my buddy, Willie Burnett’s advice when I told him I was coming to Great Bend (“Bring your own tornado shelter”), I immediately started reloading both cars. By the time I got the door closed on the trailer, the wind that had been a steady 15-20 mph cross/head wind all weekend was now a 20-25 mph cross/tail wind from 180 degrees the opposite direction… And it felt like someone turned the air conditioning on.
It never rained. And at 9:15 I was driving to the staging lanes in my dragster trying to comprehend what my weather pager was displaying. The best I could predict, the current conditions would be .17 faster than my last time trial (which was .14 faster than the same weather monitor had read just 90 minutes earlier)! The scary part? That prediction was pretty close!!
Through the drastic condition changes and the wind, I managed to go some rounds in both cars. I had brain fade in round three of Super Gas: if you scroll back to my explanation of my loss in Dallas, just rinse and repeat for Great Bend. In Super Comp, I managed to make it to the semi-finals. At that point, my buddy Jeff was still in as well, and on the opposite side of the ladder; so I had visions of back-to-back final round confrontations in my head. But that didn’t work out for either of us! On my end, I made a pretty representative lap: .008, take .012. But Terry Edwards trumped me with a .005 and dead-on 9.059. With Jeff’s loss to Dale Maher our day was done in Super Comp. He did, however, proceed to take care of business in Super Gas, where he defeated Kari Larson in the final. The win was Jeff’s first SG victory of the year, and his third final in five appearances! I know it’s early, but I have to think my buddy will contend for a single digit, and possibly the overall crown at seasons end!
Before hitting the road, I did get to celebrate with the Lopez family. Photo courtesy of Barry J. Bergeron
I loaded up and made a 250 mile journey through the Kansas wind to Matt Driskell’s shop in Wellsville. Matt, a former world champ and renowned engine builder in his own right, was kind enough to let me leave the rig at his place for the week between Great Bend and the national event in Topeka. Monday morning I hopped on a bird to St. Louis and got home to my wife that afternoon with the clear notion that 3 weeks is entirely too long to spend on the road. I’m glad that was the longest extended road trip of the season!
This week we fly back to Topeka, then on Memorial Day weekend I get a rare opportunity to do some bracket racing right here at home: I-57 Dragstrip in Benton, IL. I’m looking forward to that, and the following six week stretch of NHRA events that will make or break my points earning season. Until next time, good luck and have some fun! Thanks again for reading, and be sure to support the manufacturers that we depend on week in and week out: American Race Cars, Huntsville Engine & Performance, Moser Engineering, Lucas Oil Products, Auto Meter, BRODIX Cylinder Heads, Charlie Stewart Race Cars, Wiseco, Hedman Hedders, B&M, Todd’s Extreme Paint, J&J Performance, Frankenstein Racing Heads, Nitrous Express, Nitroplate, Milodon, ISC Racer’s Tape, K&R Performance Engineering, Ohlins, Dixie Racing Products, K&N Engineering, Dedenbear, Renegade Racing Fuels, and of course DragRaceResults.com.
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