As the summer months approach, I wanted to take a few moments to touch base with you, the DRR community and bring you up to speed on our season to date. In the two months since my last On the Road, we’ve had a lot of well documented success. I picked up what was probably the biggest win of my career at the Spring Fling Million in Las Vegas. As part of that trip, I also took Super Comp runner-up honors at the national event at the same facility. A month later, I added a Super Comp Win at the NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta. Pretty incredible stuff. As I mentioned, all of that has been pretty well documented; but there is always more to the story than the results. That’s what On the Road is for!
DRR Ultimate Series:
Our 2017 season got started at the DragRaceResults.com Ultimate Series at Huntsville Dragway. I got there early to make some test runs on Thursday, as nothing in our trailer had been down the race track since 2016. Although there were a few hiccups on test day, I was pleased (and pleasantly surprised) to get three cars down the race track without anything significant falling off! Thursday night, the on-track action got started with a gamblers race, which I elected to enter in my Racing RV’s Corvette. Why the Corvette, and not one of the dragsters? Because going 4.80’s in a buggy is FUN!
Back at the track after a long winter
The reason that I mention the Gambler’s race is because after 20 years of racing, you’d think I would have figured out all the ways to lose. That’s not to say I don’t duplicate them on the regular, but it’s kinda rare that I find a new way to screw up. In my first loss of the season, I did…
If you’ve ever been to Huntsville Dragway, you know that the return road runs parallel to the race track on the right side, and it’s elevated a little bit, so returning cars are coming up the road just feet right of the shutdown area, and you can see them above the wall. On Thursday night, they had some issues with the lighting in the shutdown area – they were working on the lights, and it was really dark…
In round 2, I’m paired with Allen Wickell, and he’s fast. He’s dialed 4.40-something to my 4.80-something. Mind you, I’m in a buggy running 4.80’s, it’s my 4th run of the season, and it’s dark. So, for a variety of reasons, I kinda want to pay attention to where I’m going. I’m in the right lane, I’m holding .01, and when I let go I think “ooh, that’s good.” I leave, look up, and see my win light on the right guardrail in the darkness of the shutdown area. Cool, he went red! At that point, I go into time trial mode, and focus on making sure that I keep the Racing RV’s whip centered up in the groove to make a good run. I never looked over at Allen. Why would I? As we approach the finish line, something looks off but I can’t really pinpoint it. As we hit the stripe, I look up at the scoreboard and see that I’m .011 under. Then I see HIS win light come one. Wait, what? Immediately, I see a dragster coming up the return road… with one head light.
In the darkness at the end of the track, I assumed that head light was my win light (in my defense, the win light mounted atop the wall is at almost the exact same height as the head light of the dragster coming back up the return road). To add insult: I was .006 to Allen’s .040. He was .01 above. I was .011 under wide open (again, thinking I was holding .01), .050+ in front. That’s a hero time slip right there!
The rest of the weekend wasn’t too notable. We got plenty of rain. We actually finished Friday’s $25,000-to-win event, but Jessica and I both lost early. We had all three entries still in the Saturday $50k and the Sunday $25k when the races were stopped; but we weren’t very deep into eliminations of either race. I packed everything up, sent Jess, Gary and my father-in-law Jack home to Illinois, and began my journey west.
Sunday evening, I hopped on Interstate 40 near Memphis. From there, it’s an easy drive. I-40 from Memphis to Kingman, AZ – just keep on going forward! Then from Kingman, it’s about 2 hours up over the Mountain and the Hoover Dam to Las Vegas. It was actually an enjoyable trip; I broke it up into three days and took it pretty easy. After making that trip in a 400,000+ mile dually, I gotta admit riding in the luxury of my Racing RV’s coach has me pretty spoiled!
Once I arrived in Las Vegas, I was greeted by wind. And I mean wind like I’ve never seen before. At the 2016 Spring Fling Million, I thought the wind was brutal: it was a pretty constant 35-40 mph crosswind the entire day of the Million. That was child’s play. The Thursday prior to the national event, my weather station recorded a 78 mph gust. That’s like a weak tornado! There were porta potties and trash barrels flying all over the pits; bouncing off of trailers and trucks, and anything else in the way. There was at least one overturned semi on the interstate. Trees were down. I was inside the coach, with the leveling jacks down, and at one point it felt like it was going on its side. Crazy stuff!
Las Vegas Nationals:
First, the bad. I made a pretty solid run in the opening round of Super Gas to get busted (I think I was .010 take .013 on my opponents drop - or something in that range, and nowhere close to winning).
The good: despite a less than stellar driving performance on my part, I managed to put my K&N Filters Dragster in the Super Comp final alongside my buddy Ryan Herem. There, I made my best run of the weekend: .010 take .009 vs. a pretty hard drop. That didn’t get it done by .001: I was 9.049 on the 9.05 index. We all come to win, and obviously that’s what I wanted to do. But in all honesty, I probably had no business advancing to the final. And if I had to lose, I’m not sure there was anyone in the field that I would have rather lost to than Ryan. He even bought dinner after he whipped me – can’t ask for much more than that!
About 9 seconds after this photo was taken, Ryan Herem was really happy and I was really confused: “I hit the tree good and didn’t take much… Why isn’t my win light on?”
After navigating the journey to Vegas and the national event on my own, I met Jessica and Gary at the airport in Anaheim, CA on Monday afternoon. We checked into a motel across the street from Disneyland, and for a second consecutive year enjoyed a few days at the happiest place on earth. I know I’ve said this before, and I know that at times this column comes off as me whining about the occasional stress and difficulty of life on the road… But we’ve got an awesome gig. The opportunity to make a living doing something that I’ve always loved, and to share it with my family, and have opportunities to do stuff like visit Disneyland along the way is both awesome and unique. I know we’ve got it good, and I do cherish this time in our lives. Disney was a blast!
Las Vegas Divisional:
The NHRA Division 7 event in Las Vegas brought me another round 1 loss in Super Gas. This time I was .010 take .004, no good. In round three of Super Comp, I made the wrong decision at the finish line: I took a .00 stripe but I knew better than to try to cross first and came out on the bad end of a double breakout. On the bright side, Jessica advanced to round 5 in her S/C season debut at the wheel of her American Race Cars dragster. After my loss, I became head crew chief and cheerleader; it’s always fun to see her turning on the win light!
Our Spring Fling Million weekend started slowly: Jessica and I were knocked out in round 2 with all three of our cars in Wednesday’s opening event. On Thursday, I lost early in the Racing RV’s Corvette, but Jess and I had both dragsters in with 20 cars remaining. I bowed out to eventual winner Rayce Kidd there, while Jess advanced to the final 10 cars before losing to Sean Shaffer.
That brought us to the main event, and (three weeks later) the real reason we made the 24+ hour journey West. Obviously, it went well. As I write this, more than a month after the fact, I’m still at a bit of a loss to put the day into words. A few years back, when I won my second NHRA national championship, I gave a lot of thought to my goals and motivation going forward. I made a bucket list of sorts: races that I had never won, and wanted to win before it was all said and done. The short list included the JEGS All-Stars, the U.S. Nationals, and a Million Dollar Race. I thought those were long term goals, stuff that I’d be pursuing for the rest of my life. In 2015, I won the All-Stars in Super Gas, and a few months later I won Super Comp at Indy. Now I’ve won the Spring Fling Million. Obviously, that’s extremely gratifying; and as much as I’d like to say that I set my mind to it and made it happen, I think we can all realize that there is a lot more to it than that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of myself for putting in the work and effort in preparation (both mental and physical), and the lifelong commitment to our sport. I’m proud of my performance, especially under the pressure of the late rounds. But there was a lot of good fortune involved. I won a lot of close races. And winning close races, more often than not, is not a skill. Putting yourself in the position to win close races requires talent, skill, equipment, confidence, etc. But winning those .001 and .002 margin races repeatedly? There’s a lot of good fortune involved there. I definitely had it that day. In the Super Comp final two weeks prior, I came out on the wrong end of one of those .001 races that could go either way against Ryan Herem. In the million, I came out on the right end of one of those .001 races that could go either way against Michael Pennington. Obviously if I had to pick one to win and one to lose, I’d go with the way it played out; but I say that to demonstrate just how fickle our sport can be. I’m not a world beater who outdrove everyone all day. I was solid, but I was fortunate. The result was the single event win that I’m probably most proud of (Indy is really close), and the biggest financial windfall of my career (by a wide margin).
Beyond the money, beyond the glory, there were 2 things that really made it special for me. Number one: I got to share the moment with Jessica and Gary. The Spring Fling Staff arranged for the winner to get two nights in a plush suite at the Cosmopolitan. At first, I didn’t really like the idea of leaving the track: I wanted to soak it all in. In retrospect, I’ll never forget the memories made away from the facility, with the people who matter the most. We felt like we owned the town for a night: and we didn’t care that people around us must have been wondering what we were doing with a black-kneed 3-year-old in a ritzy steakhouse after midnight. We were just enjoying our moment as a family. It was awesome.
The second thing that stood out, and what I think really makes it special is the realization of just how many people were paying attention, and how many people were genuinely happy to see us get that win. It seemed like I was responding to text messages at every free moment, and it was days later before I got my text “inbox” below 100. It just didn’t stop. My wife was trying to record a video on my phone as I drove back up the return road for the victory celebration. She couldn’t even tap record because there were constant Facebook, Twitter, and text notifications popping up nonstop. There was a time, early in my career where I really fed off of recognition; I was always a pretty insecure kid, so a part of me needed to hear other people recognize me for success. I’m happy to say that I’m much more at ease these days, and that stuff isn’t nearly as important to me as it used to be. But it’s still really special to be so overwhelmed by friends and acquaintances that are truly happy for you and what you’ve accomplished. It’s an incredible feeling that I’m extremely grateful for.
After the long ride home from Las Vegas, we settled in for a couple weeks off to recover and regroup. Shortly after we got home, my son Gary turned 4 (is that possible? It seems like yesterday we were in the delivery room). My wife and I (more her than me) threw him an awesome Cat in the Hat themed birthday party here at home, and we were joined by a huge crowd of friends and family to wish him a happy birthday. As has become tradition, we took him the St. Louis Zoo to celebrate, along with his cousin Avery and his Grandma Ellen.
Atlanta, NHRA Southern Nationals:
I didn’t race on Saturday in Las Vegas (the day after the million), so the next time that I staged up was in Atlanta for the NHRA Southern Nationals. There, my Super Gas shutout continued with a -.001 in round 1. I’m currently 0-for 2017 in the 9.90 category. The red light bug also bit Jessica in round 1. But my incredible roll in the K&N Filters hot rod continued.
After six rounds of competition spread out over the course of the weekend, I got to hoist a Wally for the first time in over a year. I made a couple of excellent runs at critical times (one being the final opposite the always tough Tony Helms), but I also got away with a couple of major mistakes that would typically end the weekend. As Alan Reinhart likes to say, it’s a “right place, right time” kind of sport, and it’s funny how momentum works. We all know that when it’s going bad, you just can’t seem to buy a round, no matter what you do. But when it’s going good, it can be hard to lose. That’s the blissful state that I’m living in at the moment: everything just keeps falling my way.
In the midst of our racing, travel, and good times we are in the middle of a couple of major projects. As many of you know, my faithful vega has the 2017 season off, as it’s undergoing a major transformation that I’ve titled Project Vega Resurrection. I’m blogging about it on ThisIsBracketRacing.com, and I just added an update. Check it out: http://thisisbracketracing.com/blog.cfm
In addition, we picked up Jessica’s new dragster and I’ve slowly begun the assembly process. This car is going to be awesome; the nicest car that we’ve ever owned. Like every dragster we’ve had for the last 10+ years, it’s an American Race Cars chassis. Similar to my K&N Filters dragster, Todd Zeller and his crew at Todd’s Extreme Paint went ballistic on the body panels and basically every bolt-on part. Jess picked out the colors (they match the colors of her Grandfather’s Vega that she started racing in years ago), and we both absolutely love the scheme. The attention to detail is incredible, and it’s an attention that I intend to maintain throughout the assembly process. Everything that isn’t painted is chromed. Every bolt on the car is stainless. Every bolt-on item matches. It’s going to be badass. I had originally hoped for Jess to debut the car at the JEGS Sports Nationals in Bowling Green, but that’s going to be a stretch and I don’t want to rush anything. Here are some sneak peaks. Keep up with the build on the Luke Bogacki Motorsports Facebook page, and look for the car to debut sometime within the next month.
Our next major event will be the JEGS Sports Nationals in Bowling Green on Memorial Day weekend. Our June should be pretty slow, with the only definite stop being the second DRR Ultimate Series event of the season in Huntsville, followed by the NHRA Chicagoland Nationals in Joliet in early July. While we won’t be racing every weekend, we’ll keep plenty busy. We’ve got Jessica’s new whip to finish up, and the ongoing Vega Resurrection, plus our continued work within ThisIsBracketRacing ELITE, a membership community within ThisIsBracketRacing.com. We’re also preparing for the 7th annual JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout, an event that we co-promote with our home track, I-57 Dragstrip. We’re accepting pre-entries for the “Biggest Little Door Car Race in the Midwest” now.
I’m going to do my best to update On the Road more regularly in 2017 (I’m shooting for every other month). But if you’d like to keep up with our racing exploits (and all the other stuff we’ve got going on) more regularly, there are plenty of great ways to do it:
· Listen to our weekly podcast, The Sportsman Drag Racing Podcast w/ Luke & Jed: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sportsman-drag-racing-podcast/id1180988317
· Subscribe to my weekly 1/8th mile e-mail: https://app.convertkit.com/landing_pages/161897?v=6
· Follow me on Facebook and twitter
Facebook follow: https://www.facebook.com/lukebogackimotorsports
Twitter Follow: https://twitter.com/LukeBogacki