09-15 "On The Road" with Luke Bogacki - Stuff Still Goes Wrong
I'll start off with an apology: I haven't offered up an On The Road column since March, so we're a little bit overdue here. I could give the obvious explanation: I've been busy, and that's not untrue by any means. But I think the root goes a little bit deeper than that.
As many of you know, I've been fortunate to be able to provide these columns for DragRaceResults for a long time (15 years – I know, I'm getting old). For as long as I can remember, I've LOVED writing them. It's fun to share some often humorous (sometimes downright pathetic) stories of failure and inspiring tales of success. I know that some of you who have read these columns for years feel like you've watched me grow up – it seems like every other weekend I'm approached by a fellow competitor who introduces themselves by saying “I feel like I've known you my whole life” as a result of this column. That's awesome. For as long as I can remember, these stories were about my racing, my dreams, my hair-brained stunts, and was an honest depiction of my life On The Road.
In recent years, my racing program has come a long way. Gone, for the most part, are the days of hopping into a 500,000 mile truck, hooked to a trailer with 3 bald tires and driving across the country without a care in the world to enter a race; not knowing if I'd have the cash to get home unless I won some prize money. I'm the same knucklehead, but today I'm a two-time national champion, cruising around in a six-figure rig, representing corporate backing and pushing a myriad of business interests centered around racing. I have no complaints; I'm living proof that dreams do come true. But back to my point: I feel as though this column has turned into an advertisement of sorts. In order to tell the story of what's going on in my life, I feel compelled to share the involvement of our core marketing partners, and talk a little bit about all of the things that we've got going on in order to pay the bills. In the process, the column has strayed away a bit from entertainment, and taken a bit more of an advertising feel. I don't know that I like that.
Look, you all know that we represent K&N Filters and Racing RV's. Hopefully you know that K&N makes the best filters in the world, and that they're deeply involved in motorsports; particularly sportsman drag racing. And you know that if you're ever in the market for an RV (of any type, size, or price – new or used), that Racing RV's is the place to turn. Those companies are awesome, and I urge each and everyone of you to support them – and support isn't even the right word. If you're in the market for their products and services, you'll leave your experience with K&N and Racing RV's happy! In addition, you know that we represent American Race Cars and that I'm available to assist American Race Cars owners at the track, and that we push two really great internet companies that operate under the Bogacki Inc. umbrella: ThisIsBracketRacing.com and RacerSwag.com. And you know that I co-promote the “Biggest Little Door Car Race in the Midwest”, the JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout with I-57 Dragstrip owners Scott Bailey and Wes Newman. You know that we sell APD carburetors and fuel systems, along with Flo-Fast Pumps and AirTek gauges, as well as K&N filters, SHARP Stuff Trans Coolers, BTE transmissions and torque converters, K&R Performance Engineering products, and more to support our marketing partners. And you know that we represent a long list of associate partners within our racing team and urge you to do business with those companies as well: like C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, Watts Auto Diesel Service, JEGS, Mickey Thompson Tires, APD, Renegade Race Fuels, American Race Cars, BTE, Accelerated Graphics, and Product Development Group. While I feel the need to mention that, I'm going to attempt to refrain from dedicating paragraphs and pages of this column to selling their products. I hope you all know that if I'm involved with these entities and businesses, that I believe in them whole heartedly. And I hope that you feel as though you can trust them as a result. At the same time, I want to bring On The Road back to the realm of entertainment. So rather than constantly pushing an agenda of any type, I hope to tell you a story.
This story picks up where our last one left off. Back in February, we had ventured south for a couple of early season bracket races while we were awaiting two new additions to our stable: a brand new Charlie Stewart Race Cars Super Gas Corvette roadster and a refurbished Gold Rush stacker trailer. The timeline for the Corvette goes like this: with our first divisional event quickly approaching, I was urgent to get the new chassis home from Charlie Stewart's shop in Azle, TX just as soon as it was ready. As we did with my first Corvette back in 2012, Charlie did all of the chassis fabrication in-house; he mounted the body, hung the struts, did all of the interior tin work, and had everything painted and powdercoated. Then I would bring it home and do the final assembly, wiring, and plumbing myself.
To make a long story short, I was on my way to Texas on a Wednesday afternoon as the powdercoating was being completed. Late that evening, I had a blowout, so I got to do the obligatory tire swap on the service road at 2AM in the middle of Nowhere, TX. I gave out a few hours later and stopped for a nap in a Wal-Mart parking lot just south of Dallas. Early Thursday morning, I arrived at Accelerated Graphics in Burleson, where I dropped off our 28' trailer for some vinyl updates, and our golf cart for a complete wrap. I ended up in Azle, at Charlie's shop around noon. He and a band of helpers had just unloaded the car from the powdercoaters hours before. By the time we went to bed (late), we had assembled the new Moser Engineering struts, steering, radiator, 4-link, anti-roll, rear end housing, Moser third member, axles, brakes, tubs and all the interior tin work, plus a handful of accessories.
Friday morning, we bolted on a new set of Mickey Thompson wheels and tires, loaded the car up and drove about an hour to pick up the body, which had been painted black the day prior. We arrived as a crew was literally finishing up buffing (they had also stayed late the night before to finish it up). We mounted the body to the chassis and headed back to Accelerated Graphics so that Chase Huffman could apply the wrap. By the time I got there, it was about 2:00 PM. Chase was finished by midnight!
I gotta admit, the new Charlie Stewart Race Cars built Corvettester looked pretty slick in black.
But I liked it even better once Chase applied the Racing RV's colors!
I headed back to Charlie's and caught a few hours of sleep. Saturday morning we unloaded and got back after it. We put all of the dzus fasteners in the body (over 50), mounted and cut the windshield, mounted the fuel door, and did a bunch of small but tedious finish work. I was on the road back to Illinois by sundown. After one more late night, I was home in time for Easter brunch! What we accomplished in roughly 60 hours was nothing short of extraordinary. Seeing as it's been several months since I thanked them in person, I do want to recognize Charlie, his wife Diana, son Jason, Dennis, Chris, Lynn, along with Chase and Rick Huffman for getting me one bad hot rod and making it all happen on my crazy schedule.
A long week was forgotten as I got home in time for Easter Sunday with my two favorite people.
Once I got home, the fun was just beginning. I had a little over three weeks to get everything assembled, wired, and plumbed in time to debut the Racing RV's Corvette at the Division 3 opener in Indianapolis. Lots of long hours and several late nights later, we answered the bell (barely). I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to my father-in-law Jack and Jeff Hayes of Purple Hayes Performance for helping me finish up the short rows in the wee hours leading up to Indy. Also, a big thanks to Danny Estep, who hauled the 'vette to Indy for me, as our trailer wasn't quite ready in time to go. Most of all, thanks to my wife Jessica and son Gary for putting up with it all!
Once again, I don't want to sound like an infomercial, promoting the products that we depend on; but I do think it's worth noting the pieces that went into building the nicest race car I've ever owned. You could say that I'm only mentioning the manufacturers listed here because they extend me special discounts on parts. Look, I'm not trying to come off as conceited; but I'm now a two-time world champion. I can get discounted parts from just about any manufacturer that I want. I chose these products because I think they're the best, and because I think the combination gives me the best opportunity to win another title in the future.
The new Corvettester is heavy on Moser Engineering products: we used a Moser 3rd member, Moser 40 spline axles, Moser's popular Pro Drag disc brake kit, and the new Moser Engineering struts. On the rear, the housing hangs from a set of Ohlins LMP series shocks. We used Mickey Thompson wheels all the way around (I had them powdercoated in yellow and black), including 16”x16” bead locks on the back to house the popular M/T “bubba” tire (3191W).
The rear end is all Moser Engineering components: axles, third member, and brakes; hung from a set of Ohlins LMP Series Shocks.
My “office” includes the new Auto Meter LCD display and data acquisition (this car actually got the prototype from Auto Meter). This unit is as slick as it looks, with virtually unlimited data acquisition technology. With it, I currently monitor engine RPM, driveshaft RPM, 3 internal G-Meters, 2 O2 sensors, vacuum, oil pressure, water temperature, shock travel, transmission temperature, fuel pressure, and more! In addition, we used a K&R Performance Engineering Pro-Cube Delay Box and Severe Duty switch panel. The shifter is the new Pro Outlaw from Biondo Racing Products, and we use an electric solenoid from Dixie Racing Products to control it. For this project, I used a bunch of wiring components and accessories from Fastronix Solutions.
The new Auto Meter LCD is pretty awesome, which fits in this car that is, well, pretty awesome!
Most of the items pictured here came from Fastronix Solutions (yes, I wired this, like I do all of my cars, myself).
To start the season, we're using the same 582 cubic inch Huntsville Engine & Performance powerplant that powered last season's championship winning Charlie Stewart Race Cars Corvette. It features a BRODIX aluminum block and BRODIX Head Hunter cylinder heads. HEPC put in a fresh set of Manley I-Beam Rods and Manley valve springs over the winter; along with a new set of Crane Severe Duty lifters that roll on a Crane bumpstick. Wiseco pistons, Clark Gaskets, a Milodon oil pan, Jesel belt drive and rockers, along with Lucas Oil and a K&N wrench-off oil filter round out the motor. We protect it with a J&J Performance engine diaper, and exhaust spent 116+ Renegade racing fuel through a custom set of headers built by Charlie Stewart from a Hedman Hedders kit. I had them coated by Nitroplate, and tethered with parts from CollectorTethers.com. The APD Max Speed carburetor, along with an APD belt drive fuel pump and K&N Fuel Filter round out the fuel system; and a Dedenbear cooling system keeps the temperature in check. I used Earl's ANO-Tuff fittings and flexible black hose to plumb it all.
Our Huntsville Engine 582 is a familiar site from 2014, just with some fresh internals from Manley, Wiseco, Jesel, and Crane.
The transmission and converter of course came from Bill Taylor Enterprises, and I plumbed in fittings to house our external SHARP Stuff transmission cooler for easy and quick cooling in the late rounds. All of the components pictured that didn't come direct from some of these manufacturers we purchased from the parts professionals at JEGS.
Running on just a few hours of sleep (for several consecutive nights), we made it to Indy in time to get the car certified and make a few test laps on Thursday prior to the divisional. On the first run, my gameplan was to run it to the eighth mile just to make sure everything worked, it seemed to handle okay, etc. Well, I got to the eighth and everything felt perfect, so I stayed in it. As I neared the 1000' mark, I thought to myself “This is stupid, just get to 1000' and lift.” As that thought crossed my mind, I saw a wisp of smoke, and as I lifted the cockpit was immediately engulfed in smoke. My first thought, “This bitch just blew up,” was immediately followed by my second thought, “don't crash on the first run,” or more appropriately: “I've got $$$ in this thing, DO NOT wad it up!”
I figured I was in my own oil, but the car never made a move, and I shut it down safely. I coasted around the turn, and gingerly tapped the motor over. That sounded OK. So I spun it over. That seemed fine. Good signs. So I hopped out and removed the hood, expecting to see a major oil leak that had my new car covered and filthy. To my surprise, it was spotless. Now I'm confused. I got back in, and fired it up – everything sounded fine. I built up a little speed, and shut it off to coast to the E.T. shack, convincing myself that what I'd seen was a bunch of fiberglass resin, dust, and remnants that just wouldn't come out with the blow gun. As I shut the car off to coast, I realized what the issue was. I could literally hear the rear tires rubbing the tubs as I coasted. AHA! At least that's an easy fix. The tubs were a little worse for wear, but I didn't burn a hole in them or anything, so life was good!
With the exception of a little melted fiberglass, the Thursday test session went incredibly well. Not only did I come into the event feeling fairly confident that I wouldn't hit anything, I actually felt like I had a good opportunity to repeat last season's 9.90 victory. That was short-lived. In round one, I came up -.003 on the tree. Of course, my opponent laid down a nice, conservative .200 package; so basically ANY shade of green on my side of the track would've made for an almost certain victory. But you know what, I've lived by the sword of aggressiveness for two years. I'll die by it occasionally as well, and I won't complain about it. A huge reason for my success is my disregard for fear in terms of a red light or giving back the finish line. I'll gladly accept the consequences for that mindset.
In Super Comp, things weren't much better. I was a little bit lost on the tree, which caused a lack of the aggressiveness I spoke so fondly of a paragraph ago. The result was a .017 lamp in round 2, which, as I've come to find out this season, simply will not win me any rounds in the 8.90 category. This time around, it was young Haley Gregory who beat me on the tree and then dropped me on my head to take the win.
In the week between the Indy points meet and the Norwalk divisional, I picked up my Gold Rush trailer. You may remember from last column; I bought an older Gold Rush stacker late in '14. It needed a lot of attention, but I knew just the man for the job. I picked the trailer up in Memphis and didn't even bring it home: it went straight to Warrior, AL, to Jim and Rachel Henderson's house. Jim and Rachel performed what could be classified as a complete interior renovation. They ripped out all of the cabinets and all of the interior tin. They installed a loft, rebuilt the lift, installed new hydraulic hoses, re-skinned the ceiling and walls, installed new cabinets, and re-skinned the existing ones. As if that weren't enough, they also fabricated and installed a completely new tongue and hitch, mounted all of my trailer accessories, and much, much more. The end result is a trailer that I'm so proud of, I can hardly describe it. The secondary result is that I'm afraid I effectively retired Jim and Rachel from trailer renovations – that was a ton of work! In the end, I've got a trailer that I plan to keep, likely for as long as I do this. I've always wanted a Gold Rush, and this gave me the rare opportunity to affordably make one exactly the way that I wanted it. Here are a few before and after shots.
One of the main benefits to the new race car house was that we are able to comfortably haul two dragsters, one door car, and our golf cart (the most important piece of the entire puzzle when you have a 2-year-old). This meant that we could now carry Jessica's American Race Cars dragster to the NHRA races! So at Norwalk, she made her Super Comp debut. Shannon Mingee kept that debut from being a successful one: Jess made a representative lap in round one (.030 and dropped to .90) but Shannon would have none of it and sent her packing with a .015-induced 8.91.
My weekend didn't go much better. I fought what ended up being a wide-open throttle issue (don't you hate it when you overlook the simplest things?) in the Corvette and lost a fairly embarrassing massive double breakout in round 2 (yea, I went 9.83. You got a problem with that?). In Super Comp, my .004 light was late beside Justen Moser's .002. I dropped to 8.92, and he posted a 8.907 for a .009 package. Sweet!
From Norwalk, we traveled to... Topeka, KS. Makes good geographic sense, right? I love going to Topeka, and I won this race last year, so this is where things would turn around... Or not. In round 1 of Super Gas, I was -.001. It did ease my pain slightly when I got the time slip and saw that my opponent was .00 and .90; I'd have had a hard time winning that one. In the K&N Filters Super Comp machine, I caught my opening round opponent early, and lifted a bunch – so much so that I told myself not to get cute at the finish line, I'd killed plenty. And then my win light didn't come on. For reasons seemingly inexplicable (at least inexplicable anywhere but Topeka), I set up on 8.86 and was going 8.80... Even at that, I should still be able to knock out my opponent's .030+ package, right? I coasted through, .020 ahead, to be... Wait for it... 8.899. This racing thing, it's pretty awesome! From Carterville to Norwalk to Topeka: 2300 miles. 5 entries. 2 win lights. Bad math.
On the bright side, Topeka brought the second Super Seminar of 2015. The seminar is something that Tommy Phillips and I dreamed up to provide an in-depth lesson in all things throttle stop racing. Prior to 4 NHRA events this season, we host the 6-hour seminar that covers everything from mechanical setup to driving strategy, and from weather and track prediction to mental preparation. We've had a lot of fun with it, and we've already been able to help dozens of racers. The first class was at the division event in Dallas, TX back in April (I flew in and out in the midst of the Corvette thrash), and Topeka brought Super Seminar #2. Obviously, after my performance I was imploring our attendees to do as I say, not as I do. Thankfully Tommy carried the flag with an event win in Super Comp!
We arrived home from Topeka late Saturday night. Being the glutton for punishment that I am, we called in two fresh arms from the bullpen, loaded them in the bracket trailer, and set out for Beacon Dragway in Paducah, KY for a little bracket action on Sunday. On the plate was a $5,000-to-win No Box class, in which I entered the RacerSwag Vega, and a $2500-to-win Super Pro race, which Jess set out to conquer in her American Race Cars dragster. She turned it red by .001 (that .001 was awful prevelant this weekend, huh?) in round four. I managed to advance to the quarterfinal round, and had been putting on a show before I realized that I was hitting the bottom and remembered why I don't do it very often. Racing Charlie Lockhart for a bye to the final, I posted up a very representative .053 lamp (I hadn't been worse than .018 all day). The best part? You know when I realized I missed it? When they handed me the time slip. I had no idea. In fact, at this point I was beginning to believe that I truly have no idea.
After a week off to regroup, we took our traveling circus to Route 66 Raceway. OK, this is where things turn around. I love racing in Joliet! I'd won this divisional event in each of the last two years, and went on to win the championship in the classes that I won here. This is the place where we get pointed back in the right direction. In the opening round of Super Gas, my opponent runs a near-perfect 9.901. Luckily for me, he paired it with a .030 light. That doesn't win, not in “my house,” or at least that what I told myself. “No one whips me here, not in Super Gas.” Hey, it's OK to be a little cocky, right? I didn't lose a round of 9.90 competition at the facility in 2014! I was .011 and 9.906 for the win.
First round in Super Comp, Jess is perfect .000 on the tree; but her car is a little fast. Her opponent is .013 and drops to 8.900. I watched that light up on the scoreboard from under the tower. Man, tough break! Moments later, I'm .015 (which we've already established simply won't work for me in Super Comp), and take .003 at the stripe. No beacon. My opponent is .011, and... Wait for it... 8.900. In three opening round matchups, the WORST E.T. that any of our opponents could muster was 9.901. Are you kidding me!?
Okay, obviously I have to ramp up the aggressiveness going forward – everyone I run is near perfect, right? Round two of Super Gas, I was plenty aggressive. To the tune of -.003 red. And that near perfect run in the other lane? .050 on the tree, 9.97. Yea.
To heck with .90 racing, I say: I'm going bracket racing (because that's not a bloodbath)! The next weekend I loaded up the bracket rig with Jessica's American Race Cars Dragster and my RacerSwag Vega and set out for the Racing RV's Ultimate 64 Shootout in Clay City, KY. Jessica had a wedding reception to attend, so I was on my own for the weekend. I pulled the poured seat out of her car and adjusted the pedals, then quickly realized how fat I am. She had 4.83 in the delay box for a dial-in from her last event. I staged up for my first time trial and promptly ran 5.01. Ouch! I had to wheel up the shift timer just so I could dial in the 4's!
After a broken shifter cable (of all things) sidelined me in round three with the Vega, I was fortunate to get rolling in her car. When the dust settled (and the sun came up), I won the opening $10,000 race in the dragster! It was literally dawn when we ran the final round after 5AM. That was by far the least fan-fair I've ever encountered after a big win. I literally drove the car off the track and into the trailer, closed the door and went to bed. I couldn't even call my wife to let her know until she woke up. So few people were watching that I literally answered the question, “How'd you do Friday” a dozen times throughout the weekend. But hey, a win is a win. And as hard as they've been to come by lately, I'll take it! One bonus that made this particular win even sweeter? It came on “$500 Friday,” a special offer from our friends at CollectorTethers.com; which meant that we earned an extra $500 just for using CollectorTethers products!
Jessica's car was nasty. At one point, it varied .003 to 330' over 12 consecutive runs in two days! The RacerSwag Vega was equally impressive. In fact, it was on a 6.36 every single time I staged, all weekend. Unfortunately, as good as it was, I drove it like I didn't trust it and lost early in both races. I entered Jessica's car in the $50k main event, and lo and behold, it made it's only bad run of the weekend first round. I was fast, and I got so complacent (lazy) because it had been so good, that I took a little too much stripe and broke out. Completely exhausted, I decided to forego the Sunday portion of activities, and headed for home Sunday morning.
That Monday, Jess, Gary and myself loaded up and set out for Texas once again. We had a break in our schedule, so it was time to get that Gold Rush down to Accelerated Graphics and let Chase Huffman work his magic. Two rainy days in an airport hangar later, we were pointed back North with one impressive sticker!
The Gold Rush as it arrived at Accelerated Graphics...
The Gold Rush leaving Accelerated Graphics.
Do you remember how much fun these columns were to read back in the day when I broke down all the time; had to call on friends (or acquaintences more appropriately) from all corners of the country to help me on the side of the road; and/or was subject to see the wheels from my own rig pass me on the interstate? The days when a 26-mile trip on the moped to get parts for the duallie that was stranded at a truck stop weren't uncommon? Yea, those were good times. OK, so those weren't the greatest days, but they made for good stories. And you probably got more of a kick out of them then I did, right? Well, you know those days are essentially behind me now. These days I roll in the luxury of a top notch, first class truck thanks to Racing RV's, and it's followed by a top-of-the-line trailer. It's all kept up, fresh tires, best of everything. No drama!
Well, I'm here to tell you; if you're riding around for 30,000+ miles a year, stuff still goes wrong, regardless of how great the equipment is. On our way home, I was somewhere North of Little Rock when the “Check Engine” light came on in the RV. “That's weird, I've got the cruise on 75 and it's running like a top.” I look around and notice that the digital display on the dash of this Freightliner has gone blank. That's not a good sign. That's the display that shows me what gear the auto-shift transmission is in. Having heard horror stories from other racers in the past, I fear that I cannot get the transmission out of twelth gear. I click the controller into manual mode and move the hand paddles. Nothing.
At this point, I know that whenever and wherever I stop, I'm likely going to be stopped for awhile. I had a full tank of diesel, enough to get home. I figured heck, as long as I don't have to stop, I can make it real close to home; where I can have my local buddies look at the truck and get it sorted out. That can probably happen, right? About an hour later, I came upon a traffic jam in construction coming into Memphis. Great! As I slowed, unable to get out of twelth gear, the engine stalled. I coasted to a stop on the shoulder of I-40 and tried to reset everything I knew to reset. No dice. The controller was still getting a signal that we were in gear, and the truck would not start. $600 (and five hours) later, I was towed to the local TAG service center. Fortunately, we had Jessica's Nissan Altima in the trailer for a drive around car while we were in Texas (Gary had a great time with Lucas and Liam Lopez – Jeff's and Elizabeth's boys). So, figuring I'd be holed up in Memphis for a few days, I unloaded it on the side of the interstate and sent Jessica and Gary home to Illinois.
I spent that night in a motel south of Memphis, hoping that the truck could be repaired the following day. When that didn't come to fruition, I called in yet another favor to Danny Estep. Danny and Jennifer drove to Memphis that afternoon, picked up me and the trailer, and carried us both back home.
Breaking down is never fun. In fact it pretty much sucks. But the logistics of this one weren't awful. We were planning to attend the $25K Showdowns the following weekend in Memphis. I could drag the trailer down there with the duallie, go pick up the RV, and just have Jess follow me home in the old Ford. Brilliant... Except, the RV turned into a nightmare, and every part that they threw at didn't fix the problem. The forecast was for a HOT weekend, and all three of us had been sick that week. Call me a wuss, but we pulled the plug on the Memphis trip.
Saturday morning, I realized that Sikeston Dragstrip had a $2500-to-win Footbrake race Saturday night. Off we went. Jessica ran her dragster in Super Pro, but lost early. I double-entered in Footbrake and was on a roll. The RacerSwag Vega was ripping off numbers just like it did in Clay City, and I was actually wrecking the tree on the bottom. It was literally sub-.015 package after sub-.015 package. I was feeling great!
In my second entry of round 4, I kicked the throttle opposite the always tough and aforementioned Charlie Lockhart... About 40 feet later the car bogged down and I instantly grabbed the nitrous button. Luckily, he went red. I was .1 slow to 60', and .2 slow to 330'. Uh-Oh! I got back to the trailer and flashed the converter; it was about 1000 RPM low. Now, the $2500 question: is it low because something in the converter is broke, or because the engine is down on power? It sounded fine. Having experienced something inexplicable like this in the past, my first thought was that it fouled a plug and was running on 7 cylinders. I quickly swapped the 4 spark plugs that I could get to easily and stalled it again: still low. Now they were calling the next round, and I held two of the remaining 12 entries.
For my first entry, I draw a 7.0 opponent. I dial up to 6.77 (had been dead on 6.31 all night). When I kicked the throttle, it was obvious that something was still very wrong. I couldn't have been good on the tree, the car just didn't move. But, I had no idea where I was at. I grabbed the nitrous and caught my opponent early. What to do? Screw it, I'm taking the stripe. I was .088 on the tree. My opponent was .099. I took .010 at the stripe to win a double breakout by .001. Wow!
OK cool, straight back to the lanes for my second entry; and I've obviously got to do something different. I can't get a light like this, so I decide to deep stage. I write “Deep” on all four windows, wipe off the 6.77 and dial up to 6.91. At this point I look over and realize that I'm paired with the same opponent that I just ran (he was also double entered). This is the same guy that I just staged shallow against, and broke out on a 6.77. This should be interesting.
I've rarely deep-staged in my life, and I'm not at all comfortable doing it; plus I don't know the rules for deep-staging at this event. I'd seen a couple other drivers going deep, but I assumed they didn't hold the tree – I just had to get in. So, not wanting to take any chances, I let my opponent pre-stage and then got all of the deep staging process - Pre-stage, stage, deep – in one motion. I was still stalled up pretty high because I figured I needed all of the RT I could get (I was just .088 for Pete's sake). My opponent didn't move into the stage beam... To the point I thought “Come on dude, stage it up.” Then auto-start took over and my tree started down, with his red light glowing.
My first thought was, “Oh man, this guy was just waiting on me to back up; he thought I got in deep on accident.” I felt bad. Then my next thought was, “Man, I'm really lost. I need to know what this thing can run.” My tree was already glowing green. Screw it. I floored it and made my run. .03 above, 6.94 (pretty good guess, huh?) Only .6 slow from round 4.
While the argument raged on the starting line, I figured I had plenty of time to change the other four spark plugs (which necessitated pulling the headers). Yea, it was a pretty good argument from what I understand. At any rate, I wasn't asked to rerun (which I would have done), and I now had two entries in with just six cars remaining. David Bell was also double-entered. What happened next could best be described as some sort of combination between Street Outlaws, The Jerry Springer Show, and bracket racing at it's finest. My plan was to run myself at six, advancing one entry to the semi-finals, but although none of the other competitors seemed to have a problem with that, it was apparently in violation of some track rule. Whatever, I didn't really argue the decision. Long story short, the whole scene in the staging lanes had very little to do with me, but it was entertaining to say the least. In the end, I was paired with Mr. Bell on my first entry. I once again went deep, but this time the car actually moved when I hit the throttle and I was way red. I ran it out to a 6.73 on my 6.97 ET. Whatever's broke sure is consistent!
I drove straight back to the lanes and was paired with a street car, which I thought was a pretty good draw given my situation. I left the 6.97 dial-in alone. I kicked it -.001 red (sound familiar), but it was probably not going to work out anyhow. Said “good draw” was .007 and under. Somehow I don't think I was going to get under that given the circumstances. After all the drama, I was sent home at 3AM with a broken race car and $200 to show for it. We pulled into the drive at dawn, because hey; apparently I can't go bracket racing and get a good night's sleep at the same time.
The following week I snuck out to Gateway Motorsports Park on a Thursday to do some testing with the .90 machines prior to the Chicago national event and JEGS All-Stars. That all went well. That night, they had their regular bracket program scheduled, and I had one more BTE converter I didn't get to try during the test session, so I decided to stick around. I won first round in Super Pro with a .007 package in the Corvette. I was set out for the bye run second round. I lost first round of the quarter-mile class with a red light in my dragster. It was 12:04 in the morning. I could see the writing on the wall. I loaded up, and was headed out the gate as they announced that I had the bye run. Give it to someone else! Don't get me wrong, there was a day when you couldn't have pried me away from that race that would pay the winner $1200 as the sun came up. But on this day, I had left home at 5:00 AM to test, and had accomplished all that I set out to. The thought of pulling 24-hours plus and putting another 7 runs on my combination in an effort to win a few bucks? Not appealing.
That brought us up to the Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, which we've already established is one of my favorite facilities. One small problem... The RV still wasn't fixed. The folks in Memphis assured me that it would be done by Tuesday afternoon. Which was good; we needed to leave Wednesday morning. Tuesday at noon, I called them. Not ready. Fantastic. So, rather than driving 4 hours to Memphis, I drove 6 hours to Dayton, OH to grab another truck off the lot at Racing RV's. Not a big issue, except I would eventually have to drive to Memphis and get the truck (and back to Dayton to return one). After a quick turnaround, I had an immaculate '07 Showhauler back in Carterville at about 3:00 AM. Early the next morning, we had it hooked to the trailer and were Northbound for Joliet.
We're really roughing it in our latest Racing RV; it's a '07 Showhauler. Like all of the RV's that we get to tool around in, it is for sale. Visit www.RacingRVs.com for details.
This time around, things finally started coming together. Although I got beat in the third round of Super Gas, I did manage to drive the K&N Filters dragster to the Super Comp final. Along the way I drove well for the most part, but also got some important breaks that I've been missing all season. Waiting in the final was a familiar foe, 2-time Million Dollar Race winner Gary Williams. GW hasn't done a lot of 8.90 racing, but in case you haven't noticed, he's pretty good. En route to the final, everyone he raced in Chicago was either a past world champion, a #2 finisher, or the front runner to win the '15 title (Ray Miller III, Austin Williams, Al Kenny, Trevor Larson, Kevin Brannon, and myself). To say that he deserved to win the event would be an understatement. After a solid outing on my part, I fell apart in the final round with a .039 light. Gary was typically brilliant: .009, take .001, and I was 8.899 anyhow. Not the ending I was looking for, but a good outing nonetheless.
I'm about to miss the tree, and Gary Williams is about to kick my butt in the final at Joliet...
The national event competition actually took a back seat of sorts, as that weekend was also my first appearances in the prestigious JEGS All-Stars event. I've read about the All-Stars my entire life, and I've had the opportunity to watch it shake down in person for the past several years. Just to earn a berth in the event was a great accomplishment. Although there are obviously no good draws in the elite 8-car field, my first round matchup was a monster, as I squared off with defending All-Stars champ Trevor Larson in a matchup of 1 vs. 2 from 2014. I got the nod when he missed the tree a bit, and that wasn't the only drama of the round. After the finish line, I just gave myself a little fist pump when I saw a large seagull headed my way. I darted and ducked at the same time – hitting a bird at 150+ with my helmet wasn't high on my to-do list! Somehow, I avoided my feathered friend (or it avoided me). ESPN2 caught it all on camera. Epic!
In round two I caught another break when Division 6 campaigner Eddy Plazier missed the tree as well. My heart stopped when he dropped hard and I took a bunch of stripe, but I was safe with a 9.91. That set up a final round matchup with Division 7 runner Marko Perivolaris. Rain halted the festivities Saturday night, forcing the finals to be run Sunday afternoon.
Marko and his family had one heck of a weekend. After driving for four days from California, they hurt the motor in their Corvette on the opening time trial. As if that weren't enough, they then hurt the motor in their Super Comp dragster on the final time trial! They purchased a complete engine at the track, and installed it in their Super Gas entry in time for round one of the national event. From there, young Marko went on a roll. Without the aid of a time trial, he advanced to round four of the national event, and into the final of the all-stars. His worst light in the six rounds was .013!
Thankfully for me, he finally missed it a touch in the final. He was .020. I was .009, and got to the stripe first by .002 to win my first JEGS All-Stars title. I've been really fortunate to accomplish just about everything I've ever dreamed of on the race track. The only major goals I would still like to check off before I hang it up are wins in a few elite events: the U.S. Nationals, the Million Dollar Race, and the JEGS All-Stars. I can now mark the All-Stars off the list. What's even better than winning the title? Sharing it with the people that mean the most to me: my beautiful wife Jessica, our son Gary, and my father-in-law Jack. Great memories!
My number 1 crew chief (and my favorite father-in-law) Jack, myself, Gary and Jessica after a victorious day at the JEGS All-Stars.
As if the racing itself didn't provide enough drama in Chicago, I was met with a really difficult phone call on Friday morning. The 5th annual JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout was slated to take place the following weekend at the new I-57 Dragstrip, which had been under construction for massive upgrades and had yet to open for the season. I-57 Dragstrip co-owner and my longtime partner in the event, Scott Bailey, called Friday morning, shortly after I'd run first round of the national event. They had tried to put the final seal coat of pavement on the main entrance road the day before. The paver sunk through the road (we've had record rains the last several months). If the paver sank, there was no way we could pull rigs through. We were forced to postpone the event.
So in the midst of one of our biggest races of the season, we also made the announcement that the JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout would now become the JEGS Fall Door Car Shootout, and take place October 2-4. No big deal, we just had to notify 225 racers that they would not be happy if they showed up at the track the following weekend (Thanks Jessica!).
The week after Chicago, we set out for Huntsville, AL and a pair of $10,000-to-win races. Nothing too exciting to report. We both lost early in Saturday's event, which was postponed when they hit curfew at 2AM... In the fourth round (Bracket races = no sleep. Remember?). On Sunday I made really nice runs in my K&N dragster: I was .008 or .009 every time I staged. Fourth round my .009, dead-on 6 was not in the ballpark, as Scott Lemen cut that package in half. The following round, he was .004, take .005 to end Jessica's weekend as well. Back to Carterville...
I set out for the Division 3 LODRS event in Columbus, flying solo for the first time all season. I missed the tree in round two of Super Comp (if .015 won't work, you KNOW .022 won't work), and that ended my weekend in the K&N entry. In Super Gas, I thought things were finally rolling my way. After some solid driving (and less than spectacular runs beside me), I faced off with Nathan Vrooman in round 4. I was just .001 ahead on the tree, and he dropped to 9.902. That should have spelled defeat. Luckily, I was able to post a perfect 9.900, taking the stripe by just .003. When that win light came on, I figured it was finally my day: I did a great job and finally caught a break! That earned me a bye run into the semi-final, where I squared off with Edmond Richardson. There, I did everything I wanted to do. I was .013 (which was better than it sounds: it was really loose there and I couldn't be better than .008 – even chipped at 6000!), and I got to the stripe first by just. .001 (after a lot of shenanigans in both lanes). I felt great about it and looked at my win light. No electricity. Big E was .010 and 9.89. My .013, take .001 was .004 further under. Good times!
We took the next weekend off from racing ourselves, but flew as a family to San Francisco. Tommy Phillips and I put on our third Super Seminar of the season preceding the national event in Sonoma, and Jess and I made a mini-vacation of it. We went to the county fair. She and Gary took in the Charles Schultz museum. We drove over the Golden Gate bridge. We walked out onto the Fisherman's wharf and took in the San Francisco aquarium, and we took the most scenic ride down the North coast of California (thanks Kyle Seipel for the “must see” tips). The view, the food, and the weather was amazing!
We had a great group and a full house at the Sonoma Super Seminar. Special thanks to Georgia Seipel and her staff for very luxurious accomodations at the track!
Of course, it couldn't all be roses and sunshine. Upon our arrival in San Francisco, we were informed that our rental car reservation could not be upheld. Roll the footage from the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry tells the rental clerk that she “had no problem taking the reservation. The flaw came in holding the reservation; which is really the most important part.” Thank you Dollar Rental car for doing your best to ruin our vacation. Three hours and $400 later (at 3AM) we had a car, for the night (yep, that was the one night rate from the “enterprising” competitor, who had the only cars available at the entire airport). But hey, even that couldn't keep us down for long. We enjoyed our stay out West!
That brings us to last weekend, which unfortunately brought more of the same at the divisional event in nearby St. Louis. In Super Comp time trials, Jessica and I had a reaction time challenge between the two of us. I was .006, .018, .003, and .013. I didn't win one session! After putting on a show in time trials, she slipped up and missed the tree badly in round one. She's really hard on herself, and she's yet to win a round in S/C, but she's progressing nicely. Big things are on the horizon.
Crewman in training...
In Super Comp, I was unable to capitalize on a perfect reaction time in round two (.000 didn't work either); my opponent perfectly executed the rarely used “dump and run” technique and caught me with my pants down. She stopped (and go'd) to 8.90, .003 ahead of my 8.92.
In the Racing RV's entry, I advanced to third round where I was .009, and managed to get .002 behind to ring up a 9.93. As my buddy Brad Plourd would say, “Be .00, take negative .00.” It didn't work. I tried it twice.
The Gateway event marked the midway point of our NHRA season, and my results have been below average. The All-Stars win was huge, and we've had good success on the bracket scene, but at this point it doesn't appear that a third consecutive national title is in the cards. Don't get me wrong, I'm not giving up! I feel like we've got the equipment, experience, and ability to get on a monumental run. But that's what it would take to even muster up a top ten finish at this point, much less earn a title. But we'll keep going and we'll keep putting our best foot forward. For the last two seasons I've said repeatedly that I've been very fortunate: that I wasn't as good as my results indicated. The same holds true now. I'm still very fortunate to be able to make a living doing what I love, and I'm confident that I'm not nearly as bad as my recent results indicate! It's all part of the ebb and flo of this crazy game!
Until next time, please support the marketing partners that make it happen for me, namely: K&N Filters, Racing RV's, American Race Cars, RacerSwag, ThisIsBracketRacing.com, and all of our associate marketing partners. Thanks for reading, I look forward to seeing you On the Road!
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