Hello DRR-ites! When I started penning this column nearly a month ago, I had a lot of news and happenings to update you on, but very little on-track action to talk about. As a result, this introductory paragraph basically stated that this would be a short column. Needless to say, the month since has been pretty busy. As I sit in the RV at Bristol Dragway during a rainy day 2 of the K&N Spring Fling, I have my first opportunity to collect my thoughts and finish the column! Our month has been full of racing, and thankfully it’s been full of success as well. As a result, this column probably won’t be short, but it should be fun! Thanks again for reading, without further ado, let’s get down to business…
Most importantly, our little family is doing great! My little man just turned one, which is very hard for me to believe. Parents of young adults often tell me to enjoy this time, they don’t know where it went. I can see that – it feels like yesterday we were leaving the hospital. Now Gary is crawling all over the place, jabbering constantly, and shows us something new every day. We spend at least one day a week together all day (Tuesday’s are Daddy-Gary days), and often times we get another day or 2 where it’s just us. Those are my most fun days of the week. I honestly wish that my schedule and/or our budget would allow me to be a full-time stay at home dad. Of course, “On the couch with Luke & Gary” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “On the Road.” For your sake, I guess I’ll stick to my day job!
Gary’s mom, aka my wife Jessica, is doing great herself. She’s still teaching 6th grade about 40 miles away, she recently received her Master’s degree, and she’s incredible. It’s a juggling act: being everything to Gary and everything to 24 twelve-year-olds, driving nearly 2 hours each day, acting as head coordinator for seemingly every family party (seriously, the woman has thrown a championship party, birthday party, bachelorette party, and bridal shower within the last two months), and being my wife (which brings its own set of challenges). But she manages to do it all. It’s not always fun, and sometimes it makes her feel like a mouse on a wheel, but her persistence is incredible and it’s one of many reasons I love her so much.
Speaking of a mouse on a wheel, I’ve been a pretty busy fella myself. As a total tally for the offseason, we’ve added a fourth race car to our stable, purchased a new (to me) stacker trailer, taken delivery of a new (to me) RV, signed not one but two major marketing contracts for 2014 and beyond, partnered with Dave Szerlag to present the inaugural Motor City Hot Rod & Racing Expo, and got the three returning race cars to our fleet back up and running. While I was at it, I made some upgrades to our bracket trailer, dually trucks, and even did a little (ok, very little) work around the house.
The most fun stuff first… You’ll remember around mid-season 2013 we took delivery of a new American Race Cars dragster for Jessica. I didn’t have an opportunity to put it together until the offseason, but come together it did. I spent most of December and January assembling, wiring, plumbing, and finishing everything just the way we wanted it. I’m really proud of the way it all turned out.
Jessica’s whip is similar to my own American Race Car, except that it’s a 235” wheelbase (mine is 240”), and she wanted a brighter paint scheme. The design is actually identical to my car (pre-wrap that is), but where my car is blue, hers has a bright yellow-orange fade. Todd Zeller and Chris Cadle at Todd’s Extreme Paint did all the work, we just get to enjoy the finished product!
I didn’t want her to go too fast starting out; and I didn’t want to have a ton of maintenance. As a result, I purchased a 468 cid engine from Andy Anderson of Huntsville Engine & Performance. I slapped on an old APD alcohol 1150 that I had sitting on the shelf from my serious bracket racing days, added a NX plate system, and plumbed fuel from an APD belt drive system using Earl’s ANO-Tuff fittings and black hose. Of course Jessica’s car got the same K&N scoop and filter that I run, and we bolted on a set of Hedman Hedders after Nitroplate applied their bright finish coating, then we added a set of the newly mandatory tethers from CollectorTethers.com. Internal engine components include a Crane Cam and lifters, Wiseco Pistons, and a Milodon pan. Cooling will be handled by a Dedenbear remote water pump, crossover tube, and filler neck. Just like all of our cars, Jessica’s features a BTE “Top Dragster” Powerglide and an 8” BTE torque converter.
Wheels and tires are from Mickey Thompson all the way around, and the rear end is a Moser piece inside and out: Moser Engineering housing, complete 3rd member, 40-spline axles, and a Moser Pro-Drag dual brake kit. It’s hung from the chassis by a single Ohlins TTX-36 shock. The few things that I did differently for Jess’s car were all rooted in safety and/or making the perfect bracket car. I added a second battery and an alternator, the NX nitrous setup, and K&R’s new two-sided digital dial board in an effort to make an efficient and competitive 1/8th mile bracket combo. The 2nd brake kit, a set of ISP helmet pads, and a poured seat kit rounded out the package for safety (I can’t have my sweetie getting hurt).
In the driver’s compartment, Jessica controls the major functions with a Pro-Cube delay box, Severe Duty Switch Panel, and digital dial board controller, all from our friends at K&R Performance Engineering. She monitors everything thanks to Auto Meter gauges, namely the new Ultimate DL tach. The Ultimate DL is slick: I also installed one in the Vega. It’s essentially a working man’s data logger. It’s a playback tach with engine and driveshaft channels, g-meters, 02 sensing capability, and one user-defined pressure channel. It plays back on the tach face or you can download it to the same Data Pro software that I’m familiar with from the Stack systems on my NHRA cars. In reality, the Ultimate DL tracks all of the necessary functions of the car for tuning at a price that’s only about 40% of a full-on data recorder. The Ultimate DL sells on JEGS.com for just $799.99. By the time you add the 02 and other sensors, you’ll have around $1,000 in the whole setup (about half the price of a typical data logger).
Like in our other cars, Jessica will use a B&M Pro Bandit shifter, aided by a Dixie Racing Products electric solenoid. We poured in Lucas oil, transmission fluid and rear end grease; outfitted her with a host of K&N filters; wrapped the engine in a J&J Engine Diaper; and filled the tank with 100% pure methanol from Renegade Racing Fuels. Some other knick-knacks and niceties came from ISC Racer’s Tape, California Car Cover, and our friends here at DragRaceResults.com. Of course, the vast majority of these bolt-on components came from JEGS. Once we got the car all done, Chase Huffman of PCD Wraps came to town and applied the vinyl graphics. I’m a little biased, but the finished product turned out great.
I debuted the car at the Huntsville Engine & Performance test session at Montgomery Motorsports Park in late February and was impressed with the results: I rattled off a 5.18 ET at 132 mph! The following weekend, I went back to Montgomery for the Super 7 Series event and promptly spun a rod bearing. So much for that “I won’t have to work on it” idea! Thankfully, I caught it before it did much damage, and after a brief stop at HEPC we were back in business. I raced it again at the $25K Showdowns in Memphis in March, and it showed a lot of promise. Unfortunately, my opponents didn’t allow me to make enough runs in succession to leave really confident that it was as consistent as it appeared… I mean, it varied just .001 between runs the last two days; but I only got to make two runs each day! On Sunday, my two opponent’s combined reaction time was .001. Seriously. I hope that doesn’t become a trend!
After an afternoon spent getting used to everything and learning to do a proper burnout, Jessica made her maiden voyage in the new whip in late April at I-57 Dragstrip. She came in a little intimidated by her new surroundings, and even though I tried to convince her that after running 5.80’s in a Vega this would seem like a walk in the park, she was pretty nervous. Honestly, I thought that if she made a run under full power by the end of the night we’d be doing great. She checked that off the second time she staged, with a 5.17 lap! We’d just purchased a test-n-tune tech card for the night, but on that run she was .527 up front and came back grinning. I asked if she wanted to go ahead and enter the race, which of course she did.
Five rounds later, my sweetheart advanced to the final six cars before she turned on the red light. To say that I was a proud crew chief would be a major understatement! Not only did she adapt to her new wheels, she made some great runs and looked like she’d been driving a dragster for years. A lot of people gave credit to the teacher, but the truth is she’s a quick study! I’m so excited to see how she does with it this season.
The Motor City Hot Rod & Racing Expo:
March 22-23 brought the inaugural Motor City Hot Rod & Racing Expo. The expo was the result of a vision that my partner Dave Szerlag and I have been working on for about 18 months, and the first event really went great. We filled the 65,000 square foot hall of the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, MI with over 140 high performance manufacturers, retailers, and vendors. They hosted a great crowd of motorsports and automotive enthusiasts; from racers to hot rodders to restoration buffs. It was a great weekend of fun, learning, and commerce. What’s unique about our show is that it is open to the public, and attendees can not only learn about products and services and speak directly with industry representatives, they can also purchase products on-site at the expo if they desire. The result was a lot of show specials, and racers walking away with great deals on quality products that they could begin installing that day.
I’m not going to lie, from a promotion standpoint the Motor City Hot Rod & Racing Expo was a huge undertaking. But Dave and I really took a lot of satisfaction from watching the show coming together. On Friday’s move-in, the hall went from a massive empty room to a hot rodders paradise in a matter of hours. Attendees and exhibitors offered a lot of praise, and almost everyone seemed to leave with a smile on their face. That’s a great feeling to be sure.
While we felt like the first expo was a great success, like in any first-time endeavor Dave and I learned a lot and we’re confident that we can make it much better in year two. The 2nd annual Motor City Hot Rod & Racing Expo will return to the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi on March 21-22, 2015. Mark your calendars, and “like” the Motor City Hot Rod & Racing Expo on Facebook to keep up with the latest news and details as it becomes available.
We made the announcement a few months ago so by now it’s old news, but we are thrilled to take the next step forward with K&N Filters, as they will be the major marketing partner on my Super Comp dragster this season. Most of you are familiar with K&N; the company that originally developed the lifetime air filter. In addition to their popular air filters, K&N also offers oil and fuel filters, air intake kits for most OEM vehicles, and several drag race specific items including the carbon fiber hood scoops that we run on all of our cars.
K&N is rooted in racing, and roughly a dozen K&N employees are sportsman drag racers themselves. The company provides as much support to the sport of drag racing, on all levels, as any company within the automotive aftermarket: K&N presents the NHRA Pro Stock Showdown, they sponsor a myriad of sportsman racing teams, and even back bracket events like the popular K&N Spring Fling.
K&N has been a part of my team for nearly a decade, and I’ve used K&N products even longer than that. Each year our alliance has gotten a little bit stronger, and we’ve had a great opportunity to work more closely together. Last season, K&N really stepped up as an Associate partner for our team, which opened the doors to work on some new projects together that really strengthened our relationship. Obviously, the agreement was mutually beneficial, and led to this partnership for the 2014 season.
Chase Huffman at PCD Wraps applied the K&N colors to our dragster at the Expo. In addition, he completely wrapped our new stacker trailer, applied a half-wrap to our 28’ bracket trailer, and designed and applied all the signage for our cars. We also went to PCD for crew shirts, pit flags, renderings and more… Yep, I’ve kept my little buddy Chase pretty busy!
Chase Huffman of PCD Wraps applied the new K&N colors to our dragster at the Motor City Hot Rod & Racing Expo, and I have to admit it looks pretty awesome. I’ve worked my entire career to be in a position to represent a major marketing partner, and I couldn’t have hand-picked a better company to be involved with than K&N. It’s an absolute honor to represent their company, product, and people. I urge each of you to support the K&N brand, as the company does so much to support sportsman racers like me and you. I’ll be happy to help answer any questions about K&N products that you may have, and I am a K&N dealer. We keep a handful of common part numbers in stock, and I can order anything in their catalog. Of course, K&N products are also available at JEGS.com, and at most parts stores.
Like I said before, for my entire racing career the only partners that I’ve represented as major sponsors have been those that I own personally or have a stake in (ThisIsBracketRacing.com, Texas Supercars, Motor City Hot Rod & Racing Expo, etc.). Having the opportunity to represent K&N on the Super Comp machine in 2014 is a huge honor in and of itself. But we weren’t done there, we also inked a 2-year contract with RacingRVs as the title partner on our Super Gas Corvette!
I’ve towed to the race track with a dually and living quarters trailer for the last 7 years. And to be honest, I love the setup: it’s simple, I can fix just about anything I tear up myself, and my Performax Gooseneck trailer was a really nice piece. With the new addition to our family, however, on the occasions when Jess, Gary and myself would all come to the track things got a little cramped. And to be completely honest, I don’t think much about touring the country by myself in a 400,000 mile truck. But when I’ve got my wife and our little guy along for the ride, roadside breakdowns are a little more daunting thought! The time had come for more reliable transportation, and more room. I alluded to this toward the end of last season, but it was time for a motorhome of some sort.
Joe Fisher, a longtime racer who I got to know and befriended years ago, approached me toward the end of last season with an offer to partner with RacingRVs, a company that he and his partner Michael Faulk had formed several years ago. In my experience, there are two huge variables that have to fall into place for any business relationship to work: timing and trust. In this instance, the timing could not have been more perfect. I was in the market for a motorhome, and RacingRVs is a company that specializes in buying and selling truck conversion motorhomes. Trust came easily in this instance too: Joe and I have known each other for years and we share a mutual respect for the way that we present ourselves and conduct business. I met Michael for the first time over lunch near his Connersville, IN car lot, and immediately knew he was someone I could be comfortable working with as well.
Our alliance works like this: RacingRVs provides us with an RV to use throughout the season. Our RV is always for sale; which means that we’ll likely rotate trucks a few times each season. The coach that we use will be open to anyone and everyone at each event we attend. If you’re in the market for a new or used RV, stop by and check it out. If our coach meets your needs, we can make arrangements to make it your coach. If it’s not exactly what you’re looking for, I can put you in touch with Joe and Michael. Odds are, they have the perfect RV for you on the lot. If not, they can find it or order it. Bottom line: if you’re looking to invest in a truck conversion motorhome, let me get you in touch with RacingRVs.
While the company specializes in used totorhomes, they also do several other things. They’re a dealer for Showhauler and Goldrush trailers. They also buy and sell used trailers, and offer occasional consignment and rental programs.
Time to Go Racing!
As I mentioned earlier, I kicked off the season in February with a trip to Montgomery, AL for the HEPC test session. I actually left our bracket trailer at the track and came for a week, then returned south for the first Super 7 event of 2014. There, as I noted earlier, I had the unfortunate engine damage in Jessica’s dragster, but did manage a runner-up finish in Footbrake with the Vega. I lost a (not so) close final to Brad Plourd, whose package was better than my reaction time.
The guy on the right is about to kick the guy on the lefts butt… I wasn’t awful: .031 on the tree. But Brad was .029 package.
That runner-up came on Saturday night. Saturday morning I became aware of a bad storm pushing toward the Midwest. It looked like it would hit home early Sunday morning, and bring with it the potential of ice and snow. Yuck! I told my wife that I drove all the way down here and I wanted to race at least one day. I would race the Saturday event, then high-tail it home to beat the nasty stuff.
Well, after a long day of racing (and pulling an engine), I drove off the track after the final round and into the trailer. I grabbed my winnings, slammed the doors, and promptly set the cruise control on 80, Northbound! I pulled into our driveway safely at 5:40 AM. At 6:05 I heard sleet hitting the roof as I drifted off to sleep. Gotta love a well-designed plan!
With the Motor City Hot Rod & Racing Expo nearing, I didn’t make it back to the track for about a month. My next appearance was at the $25K Showdowns in Memphis. There, I got smacked around in Jessica’s dragster but did manage another nice showing in the Vega, winning No Box in Friday’s event. There were only about 30 cars in No Box, but it was 30 hitters and I was really happy with my driving. I capped a string of .00 reaction times with a perfect .000 in the final round to get the best of Travis Eaton. I drove pretty well the rest of the weekend, but didn’t make the late rounds again after the Friday victory.
After a couple of test sessions, my first NHRA race of the season came in the form of a Division 3 race in Indianapolis. I was pleased to debut the new look hot rods, and even happier that they were both really consistent and competitive. I missed the tree in round 4 of Super Comp, and lost to Josh Gnandt, but I managed to sneak through a very tough Super Gas field to get a win in our first outing with the RacingRvs.com Corvette! I drove pretty well, and the ‘vette was pretty good; but save for a tight race in round 2 with Mia Tedesco (yes- I actually beat Mia Tedesco, for once in my life!), I didn’t have to do much. I raced a number of quality opponents, but they all seemed to make their worst run of the weekend beside me. I guess that makes up for some of the times when I’ve been .00, take .00 for the big ‘L’! The win was my first at the mecca that is Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis, and as far as I can recall it was my first win in the state of Indiana.
One of my goals for 2014 is to register a win in each of our 4 cars. I can check both door cars off the list!
After a brief stop at home, I had the RacingRVs rig back on the road headed to Atlanta Dragway for the NHRA Division 2 double-header the following weekend. In the first event, it seemed like I had to race every stud in the region in an effort to get a victory. Between the two classes I raced Ray Miller III twice, Rusty Cook, Jeremy Jensen, John Labbous, Jr., and Jason Lynch! I managed to make the semi-final round in our K&N Super Comp machine, only to lose to a .009 package from TJ Tindle. In Super Gas, I advanced to the quarterfinals before falling to Ray Ray (who went on to win).
In the second event, I made it to round 4 in Super Comp before losing to Jeremy Jensen by <.001, and made another final round appearance in the RacingRVs.com Corvette. There, I made a solid, but not spectacular run beside Lauren Freer. I was .013, take .013, but lost a double breakout by .002. It was a six round race, so the point spread between winner and runner-up was significant, but when you don’t drive well enough to win, you just don’t drive well enough to win. Huge props to Lauren: the victory was her second of the event (she also won Top Dragster on Friday), and her first in her new Super Gas car.
It’s way too early to start counting points, but with no worse than a fourth round loss over three events between the two cars I have to feel like I have a solid foundation from which to build another strong resume. We’ll see what the future holds!
I returned home from Atlanta Monday morning. Early Wednesday I was headed to my Mom’s house in Northern Alabama. After several years on the market, she found a buyer for her home and is ready to move to Illinois (Yipee!). I took our 28’ trailer down and loaded it full of furniture and boxes to put into storage up here and begin the moving process. I got home Thursday afternoon and promptly unhooked from that trailer and hooked up to our 50’ living quarters trailer. The guys at RacingRVs had found a buyer for it, and I needed to get it to their lot near Dayton, OH for the new owner to pick it up over the weekend. I got back home late Friday night, then loaded the bracket cars and hooked that trailer to the RV for a trip to Sikeston, MO for a $5,000 bracket race Saturday evening.
If you’re keeping track, that’s Atlanta to Carterville… To Gunersville, AL… To Carterville… To Dayton, OH… To Carterville… To Sikeston, MO. With a different truck/trailer combination for each trip. I’ve quoted Ron White before, but I’m serious. Whoever is in charge of my schedule doesn’t own a globe!
Despite a lack of sleep and being admittedly road weary, I had a great night at Sikeston. Bryan Robinson at BTE had sent me a new torque converter to try in the Vega, and being the procrastinator that I am I got it installed early Saturday morning before heading to Sikeston. I called him after the first time trial to say that we obviously went the wrong direction: it was .06 slow to 60’ and wasn’t any fun to drive. I chipped it up to 4600 at the launch and it still wouldn’t jump the front wheels over a can of soda – no fun at all.
But 22 runs later I couldn’t complain about the converter. After a string of 6.22 ET’s in time trials, it picked up to a couple 6.21’s, then landed on 6.20. It was going 6.20 for 14 consecutive runs. Hard to argue with that. I ended up winning the $5K Super Pro race AND the Footbrake category. It’s been a long time since I doubled up, and I think it goes without saying, but that’s a pretty good feeling!
The Vega was absolutely incredible, making the driver look pretty good in Sikeston!
Jessica raced her dragster without much success. She’s harder on herself than I am, but she is making progress. It’s a whole new world for her, and I’m confident she’ll figure it out and have some great success. In the meantime, I hope she lets up on herself enough to have some fun!
Apparel and At-Track Sales:
Lee Norton at RacerTees.com designed and printed these shirts to commemorate our 2013 NHRA Super Comp championship and the new alliance with K&N. They turned out great!
We printed a limited number of these shirts, and they’ve sold like hotcakes, but we’ve still got some available in most sizes. To purchase these ($18 each), or any of our other team shirts, just find me or Jessica at the track. I’m at the Spring Fling in Bristol, and then the NHRA national events in Topeka, Bristol, and Chicago. Jess will make a few of those races with me, but most weekends she’ll be racing with her Dad at I-57.
In addition to apparel sales, we also stock a few lines of product on the trailer (both the NHRA trailer and the bracket rig). We’re an authorized APD dealer, so I stock carburetors (including the new Max Speed throttle stop carb) and fuel system components in the trailer. We also keep a good supply of Flo-Fast pumps and AirTek tire gauges, as well as select K&N Filters on the trailer. If you’re in need of any parts or have questions about these products, stop by anytime. We’ve also got a bunch of literature and product information for just about every component on our cars; so if I can assist you and your racing program in any way, come see me at the track!
Our NHRA season really ramps up in the coming months; we’ve got the national events in Topeka, Bristol, and Chicago as well as LODRS races in Chicago, Columbus, and St. Louis. I’ll make a few big bracket races as well: The K&N Spring Fling, the World Footbrake Challenge, and July 4 Mega Bucks at I-57. The 4th annual JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout is right around the corner too. Our 4th event will return to I-57 Dragstrip July 25-27. I should have the flyer completed early next month, but the structure is the same as last year. Door Cars only. We’ll run for $2500 in the Auto Meter Pregame on Friday, then $7500-to-win Saturday and Sunday. $275 to enter the weekend (Saturday and Sunday), one round of buy backs, no double entries. As always, we’ll give away tons (tons=$30,000+) of prizes in addition to the huge cash purse. It’s a lot of fun. It’s the biggest little door car race in the Midwest! Make plans to join us.
There are times that life just seems like it’s too much. Between racing, running TIBR, putting on events like the Motor City Hot Rod & Racing Expo and the JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout, and raising a family I’m a busy guy just like many of you. But I often try to remind myself how incredibly lucky I am. Growing up, all I ever wanted to do was drive race cars for a living. Here I am, living that dream; and I’ve had more success than I would have ever imagined. It’s pretty incredible when you take a step back and look at it. Thank you to K&N Engineering and RacingRvs.com for helping make my dream such a great reality. Thanks as well to each of our associate marketing partners: C.A.R.S. Protection Plus, Advanced Product Design, Product Development Group (makers of Flo-Fast pumps and AirTek products), JEGS, Watts Auto Diesel Service, PCD Wraps, Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels, and Bill Taylor Enterprises. And thanks to all of the manufacturers whose products we depend on week in and week out in our variety of successful race cars.
Most of all, thanks to each of you for reading, cheering me on, and supporting the marketing partners who help make our success possible. Thanks again, and until next I hope to see you “On the Road.”