It’s been a few months since I last touched base here On the Road. It’s actually kind of funny, because much of the season, our show hasn’t been on the road a whole lot. Until mid-August, I raced less than I ever have at any point in the last 20 years (it’s actually been a very welcomed break)… But in the last 2 months, I have made up for it (and then some). So let’s get to it:
In terms of my own personal performance, the JEGS Sportsnationals at Bowling Green wouldn’t qualify as a highlight (see “Lowlights” below). But it was a good weekend thanks to the performance of my better half!
In Saturday’s K&N Super Comp Shootout, Jessica and I had a chance to meet in the final round (which would have been the second time; she cracked me the first go-round). She kicked on the win light in front of me in the semi-final round. Unfortunately, I turned it a few thou red opposite Kevin Brannon in the other half of the semi’s. Talk about a swing of fortune: not only are we not racing in an all-Bogacki final, but now Jess has to beat one of the baddest dude’s in the world. Thankfully, it fell her way and my sweetie got her first W of the 2017 season.
In early July, we ventured north to Route 66 Raceway and the NHRA Fallen Patriots Route 66 Nationals presented by K&N Filters. Although we had Jessica’s new car finished (more on that later), she didn’t have enough grade points to enter Chicago, so we rolled in with just my K&N Filters dragster and Racing RV’s Corvette in tow. This was one of those events where things just fell into place. I had a couple really lucky runs, I had several red lights in the opposite lane (a rarity in “Super” class competition), and I did make some really nice laps at very opportune times. Long story short, the next thing I knew I was in the final round in both categories. That’s obviously a great place to be… But I was paired with two of the best in the business: Nick Folk in SC and Mike Sawyer in SG. So getting 1 win was a pretty tall order, much less 2. Super Comp came out first, and it was actually the car that I was much more confident in (my K&N dragster is NASTY). I made a nice lap: .010, 8.910 and was able to hold off Nick. Sweet!
In the Super Comp final, I felt like I did everything right. In Super Gas, on the other hand, I basically did everything wrong; but it still worked out! First off, I had no delay in my Corvette for the last 3-4 rounds. 0.000. I never roll with no delay, but it was a little loose there, and by the time I realized I didn’t need any delay, it was too late to chip it up. So I rolled with it, despite the fact that I had not been better than .008 all weekend. So when cloud cover came over before the final, I figured it could do nothing but help me (after all, there was NO CHANCE of going red).
I was .000.
Worse yet, I didn’t think I could be that good, and I didn’t see that I had a .013 advantage on the tree. So my finish line strategy was undetermined (obviously, had I realized that I had that advantage, I probably take the stripe). My car slowed down quite a bit from what I figured I could run (mistake number 2). So as we neared the stripe, I was ahead but not as far ahead as I figured I needed to be. So I dropped (mistake number 3). Hard. And early (mistake number 4). I rang it up 9.93, but got lucky when Mike went under with a 9.89. Hello double (my first)!
Gary managed to stay awake long enough to watch the final (I got the ‘chute out in Super Gas for him), but the excitement of the winner’s circle festivities is lost on a 4-year-old at nap time!
You longtime readers know better than to think it’s all just been smiles and winner’s circle photos! At those same two events that registered as “highlights,” I had my more typical “Luke” moments.
I could paint this picture of how I was just the man all weekend in Chicago. After all, that’s the way the weekend ended. But you know better. Friday night, the generator in our Racing RV’s coach quit. Jess asked what happened, but I figured I knew the culprit. I ran us out of diesel… On Friday (the second day of a FOUR day event)… Two trips to the local truck stop and one handy Flo-Fast pump later, we were back in business! I’m such a moron.
And the Sports Nats… Our weekend in Bowling Green did not start on a good note. My Racing RV’s Corvette was doing some weird things in terms of oil pressure. As in, once it got hot it didn’t have much of any. After a few runs of that, and a lot of checking, I elected to pull it out and send it back to Huntsville Engine (a cracked main journal on the crankshaft was the culprit: good call on pulling the plug). That kept my 0-for-2017 Super Gas record to that point intact (Yes, as of Memorial Day, I had failed to win a single round in 9.90 competition. Not. One.). After dropping the ball in the semi’s of the shootout and preventing an all-Bogacki final, I did manage to advance to round 3 in the main event. There, I was last to stage, flickered the bulb (as per normal) and apparently couldn’t decide whether or not to set the transbrake button or take another bump. I guess I did both: I bumped the transbrake, so when I went to set it for good the delay box was locked out and I was in high gear. Not a good combination!
A few months later, we made a return trip to Beech Bend (which, coincidentally, is my favorite racing facility in the world) for the NHRA Division 3 LODRS. For four days there, I think all I did was work on race cars. I swapped the third member in Jessica’s car by choice. Then on the first time trial, I broke the planetaries in my Racing RV’s Corvette; so a transmission swap was in order (thanks to Carl Watts for allowing me to use the lift in his trailer, and for helping with the swap). Then, in round 1 of Super Comp, Jessica’s car pulled the rocker stand bolt out of the cylinder head. So I spent my Sunday installing a thread insert and repairing that carnage. Obviously that cost her any chance at winning the round, and my Super Gas losing streak continued (to that point, the only rounds I had won all season were at Joliet: I just happened to string six consecutive wins together there) with an opening round defeat.
Thankfully, I was able to go a few rounds in Super Comp. Just when I thought my Bowling Green luck would continue (I’ve always done well at that place, specifically in this event), Tyler Bohannon strapped a .002 package on me in the quarterfinal round. So much for that!
Fast forward to early September… While it’s hard to classify our Moser Engineering $50,000 Great American Bracket Race as a lowlight, I can find the grey lining… In a vacuum, it was a good weekend. Jessica advanced to the semi-final round of the Female portion of the All-State Challenge, carrying the flag (along with our Bottom Bulb ace Brett Williamson) for the state of Illinois. I made my way to the same round in the $50,000 main event. I earned a handsome payday, and making it down to the final 3 cars out of 350+ is nothing to be disappointed about. I get that. But here comes the kick in the (gut):
At three cars, I square off with eventual winner Chris Bear. There, I’m .010 and .001 under the dial. He’s .010 and .001 under the dial. His win light comes on. Just a good race (that was a lot better from his perspective): and a (minimum) $10,000 swing. Sweet! Best of all, it just confirms the idea that I’m not meant to win a 50-grander (I’m 0-4 in 50k finals, and now have a handful of 50k semi-final losses to my credit as well). In particular, I’m not meant to win this one… In the 9 editions the Moser $50,000 Great American Bracket Race, I have now earned 1 runner-up, 2 semi-finals, and 4 quarterfinal finishes (including one year where I had two entries at 5… and none at 3). And of course, ZERO wins. Good stuff!
Not the ticket you want to see in the semi’s of a $50k.
We didn’t perform as well as we’d hoped in the 2017 All-State Shootout, but I’d go to battle with team Illinois any day of the week!
Putting on my race promoter hat:
For the 7th consecutive season, Jessica and I teamed with Scott & Leigh Anne Bailey of our hometown I-57 Dragstrip to put on the JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout back in July. It didn’t start well.
Thursday night, we were parking the majority of our entrants, with a 10 percent chance of rain. We got over 3 inches of rain in 2 hours. Thankfully, the vast majority of our racers were in and parked (otherwise I’m not sure we could have pulled it off). Unfortunately, our pits were a muddy mess. Thanks to sunny skies, a dry summer, and a really patient and understanding group of racers, we were able to get the entire event in with incredible weather the rest of the way. Congrats to our winners: Bobby Hunter (Ohio Crankshaft Friday), Alix Risse (BRODIX Saturday), Tony Atchison (Moser Sunday), Travis Eaton (ThisIsBracketRacing ELITE King of Illinois), and Greg Dawson (NX Quick 16), and thanks again to everyone in attendance, not only for supporting our event, but for working with us with such enthusiasm. As always, it was a really fun weekend, and we look forward to our 8th go-round in 2018!
Alix Risse was the MVP of this year’s JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout with a win on Saturday and a quarterfinal finish Sunday.
A month later, we teamed up again for the 2nd annual Racing RV’s Exclusive 150. And yet again, we fought some rain (the local farmers should have me on the payroll). Friday was a complete washout. Thankfully, the structure of the Exclusive 150 (150 cars max, 1 round of buybacks) made it pretty feasible to contest two races in one day, which we did on Saturday with both the BRODIX $10,000 kickoff and the APD $25,000 Main Event. Congrats to the winners of each: Jamie Bridge ($10k) and Mark Buttrum ($25k). The weekend finished up with Dave Mascaro knocking out my father-in-law, Jack Camden, Jr. in the Renegade Racing Fuels $10k finale (way to go pops!).
We had racers from all over the continent converge on little I-57 Dragstrip for the biggest purse in track history. I think that big races at little tracks are cool in general; and when it’s “your” little track it’s even better. Best of all, I’m confident that most of those racers traveled back to wherever they came from with a smile, feeling like they were welcome and appreciated, and most importantly that they had a good time. Thanks again to the racers of both the SDCS and the E150: you guys and gals are the best!
Jessica and I scheduled our summer vacation to come between our two events: the JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout and the Racing RV’s Exclusive 150. If you’ve ever dealt with the stress and anxiety of putting on a race, you know that we needed it! This year, we decided to venture to New York City (Jessica’s first time there, and my first in 20 years). Special thanks to Peter, Emily, Saverio and Olivia Biondo for their hospitality: we spent half our trip in Queens at their place, and other half in Manhattan to get the full downtown experience. All three of us had an absolute blast: Gary got to spend time with his buddy Saverio and see the big city. Jess and I got to see the sites and enjoy a lot of laughs with great friends. Good times, no doubt!
NYC was a blast for the kids…
And the adults, too!
The Big GO:
After the Bowling Green division event in late August, I headed straight for Indy. Sort of. I actually left Bowling Green and drove all night to Dayton, as the RV that I was in was sold, and the new owners were set to pick it up Monday morning. I swiftly transferred our belongings into a new unit, hooked it to the trailer, and made my way to Indy for the BIG GO. By the way, if you’re considering a new or used RV for your racing needs, make sure to check out RacingRVs.com. They support sportsman racing on a greater level than any other dealer on the market, including my own race team, so give them a shot!
We went a few rounds in everything at Indy: Jessica broke out by .001 in round 2 opposite eventual winner Ray Connolly. I turned it red in round 3 of Super Gas. And I advanced to the final 7 cars in Super Comp before falling short to Jack Sepanek in a double breakout affair. The highlight of the weekend, without question, came after my loss, when Jessica was awarded the Best Appearing Car award. Her new whip is unbelievable in every sense of the word. Huge thanks to the staff at American Race Cars and Todd’s Extreme Paint for their help with this project; it turned out better than Jessica or myself could have imagined.
Jessica’s new 2017 American Race Cars Dragster is a 240” Swing Arm machine powered by a Huntsville Engine 582 featuring BRODIX Head Hunter Heads and a BRODIX Aluminum blocks. Internal engine components include Manley rods and valve springs, Jesel rockers, Wiseco Pistons, a Dedenbear Cooling System, J&J Engine Diaper, and an APD Max Speed Carb feeding Renegade 116+ Racing Fuel.
The car features Mickey Thompson’s “Little Bubba” tires on Weld Delta-Force bead locks. The M9 rear housing, 40 spline axles, complete center section and brakes all came from Moser. The shock is an Ohlins TTX-36. Jessica controls the whip thanks to an Auto Meter LCD display and data recorder with just about every sensor imaginable, along with a K&R Pro Cube Delay Box and switch panel. K&R covers most of the electrical hookups in their kit, but we also used a few odds and ends from Fastronix Solutions to finish the car out. Gears are changed with a Biondo Pro Outlaw shifter and Dixie electric solenoid. The trans and converter are BTE products. Like we do on all three dragsters, we used a slick CVD Driveshaft from Goethe Enterprises. The scoop is a carbon scoop from our friends at K&N. Name and numbers came from Chase & Rick at Accelerated Graphics.
As you can see in the pictures, EVERY bolt-on component was either chromed or painted by Todd and his staff at Todd’s Extreme Paint. As you might imagine, this was a very time consuming build: lots of parts shipped to Todd, and then shipped back to the manufacturer for assembly before actually being bolted on the car. Lots of calls to JEGS. Lots of shipments to the chrome shop. More calls to JEGS. Lots of tedious attention to detail (hell, every bolt on the car is either stainless steel or titanium). It’s the nicest car we’ve built to date, and we’re really proud of it. It’s pretty special to know that others recognize the craftsmanship and attention to detail, especially with a best appearing award at the biggest race of all!
Nothing escaped Todd Zeller’s paint gun.
Bought the lightest, most expensive wheels available… Then added a lb. of paint to each!
In chronological terms (I’ve jumped around a bit here), the Great American $50k Bracket Race back in early September was our fourth consecutive week of on-track competition. That’s a lot for us (case in point: I think we had attended 7 events all season prior to this run that started in mid-August). Typically, we would be ready for a break.
Instead, I got the bright idea to make a run at the NHRA Super Comp championship (yea, the one that I said I wasn’t going to pursue all season). That pursuit found me back on the road just a few days later, headed for the Texas Motorplex.
When I ran my plan past my wife, she was supportive (I think she wanted me to pursue this more than I did myself), but uninterested – I was on my own for a couple weeks! The trip didn’t start too well in Dallas. I lost a good race in the third round of Super Comp, and missed the dial in the same round of Super Gas. Early Sunday morning, I was headed North. And west. And further north. And further west… To Utah!
Yea, I drove to Salt Lake City. For a divisional event (yea, they still pay about $2500-to-win). Off my rocker? Sure, but if you’ve been reading this column for any length of time you know well that I’ve done dumber stuff.
The Rocky Mountain Raceway event was a double divisional (which is how I justified the trip: I had only attended four divisional events to that point). In race 1, I missed the tree in round 3 of Super Comp. In Super Gas, the class that was a complete afterthought for me, I managed to advance to the final round where I got hammered by Tanner Hiatt.
Race two went better. Although Val Torres strapped one on me early in Super Gas, I was able to advance to the final round of Super Comp before turning it red beside Matt Harvil. Not the ultimate goal, obviously, but a good showing that added some “precious” points to my ledger and kept my slim championship hopes alive.
One of my favorite images from 2017 is this third round matchup from Rocky Mountain Raceway.
I want to give a shout out to both the RMR staff and the NHRA Division 7 staff here, as I think it’s warranted. Those guys fought nasty weather all weekend and worked their tails off. They adjusted the schedule in an effort to finish race 2 on Saturday, as we all knew there was rain on the way. We were into 4th round when the rains hit. Rather than imposing their will on the racers left in competition, D7 director Mike Rice gave us, the racers, the choice of how & when to complete the event. Each class was given the option to finish on Monday or to finish eliminations in Las Vegas, prior to the Division 7 finale in November.
Thankfully for me, the remaining Super Comp entrants voted to complete the event on Monday. Why was that such a big deal? Well… Did I mention I was in Salt Lake City, UT? Did you know that’s 27 hours from where I live? May I also mention that I have no intention of attending the Las Vegas events, which are 24 hours from where I live? While I had to move some flights and the extra day made my journey to the Fall Fling Bristol a little intense, it beat the heck out of driving 51 hours to see if I could seal the deal! Thanks to everyone involved for doing everything possible to accommodate as many racers as possible. Good stuff!
So… about that trip to Bristol.
Following my Monday finish, I rolled out of bed before 4:00 AM Tuesday morning and caught a flight out of Salt Lake City. Connect in Denver. Connect in St. Louis. Land in Marion, IL at about 2:30 in the afternoon. Jess and Gary picked me up at the airport. We ran home, did some laundry, loaded up her two dragsters, hooked them to our dually, and were on the road by 5:00. Arrive in Bristol at 3:00 AM. That’s a travel day folks!
Our on-track results at the ‘Fling weren’t awesome, but as always it was an incredible time with great friends. Pete, Kyle, and their staff do an amazing job, and the Bristol facility is second-to-none. We stayed in the Raceway condos across the street from the track, and after 10 days away from Jessica and Gary, that trip was just what I needed to recharge the batteries. Good stuff!
While we didn’t win much at the Fall Fling, after two weeks on the road spending time with these two was just what the doctor ordered!
From one Thunder Valley (Bristol, TN), to another (Noble, OK)… via Salt Lake City! The Wednesday following Bristol, I caught a plane back to Utah, where Brandon & Paige Lundeen scooped me up at the airport, bought me breakfast, and sent me on my merry way to Noble (at this point, what’s another 1300 miles?). While it was a long ride, it was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken – the scenery through the mountains, especially in the fall, was gorgeous.
Let me set the table for Noble… Coming in, I trailed national points leader John Labbous, Jr. by a little under 4 rounds, but I was improving a third round loss. In order to pass him, I’d need a final round appearance, either at Noble or the following week in Reynolds, GA. Austin Williams was essentially in the same position as I was: he was a half round ahead of me, and was improving a 2nd round loss, with two races remaining.
Austin and I both advanced through round 1, and the ladder set up for a potentially dramatic matchup… Our paths would cross in round 5, with a semi-final bye run hanging in the balance. In essence, if we could both get through the opening 4 rounds, we’d have a one-round runoff for the national championship. That opportunity, that one round… That was the reason for my whole crazy trip. Win or lose, that’s a story I’d tell my grandkids on the porch in 50 years. That’s the stuff I live for, at least in a racing sense.
Austin did his job, and was there waiting in round 5. I feel like I did my job as well, but it wasn’t meant to be, as Jeremy Demers had other plans. In round 2, I was .005 and 8.898 to his .015, 8.900. Austin went on and sealed the deal, winning the race and eliminating me from championship contention (even with a win in Reynolds, I could no longer accumulate enough points to overtake him).
Championship dream ender…
On one hand, that’s obviously a bummer; the purpose of the whole trip was to win the championship. But coming in, I knew that was a long shot. And with the exception of one bad light in Utah, I was really happy with my driving on the entire tour. I gave it my best, it just wasn’t quite good enough this time around. Moreover, if I couldn’t win it, there’s no one I’d rather see take the stage in November than Austin. He’s a great racer and he’s a friend; a champion in every sense of the word. He’s a perennial championship contender, and lost it a year ago in even more dramatic fashion than he won it this year. In short, he’s deserving of this title and I’m genuinely happy for him. WTG AW!
I don’t think it’s “official” just yet, but Austin Williams is your 2017 NHRA Super Comp World Champion!
For the entire trip, my Racing RV’s Corvette and the Super Gas category in general was understandably an afterthought. But I did manage to salvage the weekend in Oklahoma with a Super Gas victory. I drove way better in Super Comp, but things fell into place in Super Gas, and I was able to sneak through a final round opposite Gary Mitchell and take home the Wally. Since I no longer have a shot in Super Comp and likely won’t make the tow to Reynolds, this was almost certainly my last Super Gas race in my Charlie Stewart-built Corvette. So, going out on top is pretty special.
The combination I’ve fought for over a year has finally come together – it was really good at Noble (and at Dallas for that matter). That’s fitting, as now it will be sold! At least the new owner will be getting a very capable machine!
Making Noble even more special was the fact that Charlie was there. He was waiting for me at the E.T. shack, and he got to join me in the winner’s circle. Charlie has spearheaded my Super Gas program for six years. He’s believed in me, supported me, and helped me immensely; and he builds the best damn roadster in the world. We’ve been through some monumental highs (the ’14 world championship) and some unimpressive lows (did I mention that I didn’t win a round in 2017 until July???), but he’s always had my back regardless. Sharing one last moment at the top was pretty cool. Thanks Charlie.
My “last hurrah” in the Racing RV’s Corvette was a successful one!
As you might imagine after the whirlwind that has been the past two months, I’m about ready for a break. This weekend, we’ll race somewhere that I can run the ‘vette wide open (something I haven’t done since April) to make sure it’s ready for the C.A.R.S. Million in Montgomery the following week. The Million will likely be our last outing of the season. After that, some pretty significant changes to our racing program are in order for 2018 and beyond. Stay tuned for a recap of these last two weeks, and more details on what is to come in the next installment of this column. Until then, safe travels & happy racing. I’ll see you On the Road!