NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


The Struggle Was Real

"I think that most of us can agree that racing was, by and large, a safe haven in 2020. Personally, 2020 never felt more “normal” than when I was at the racetrack. That doesn’t mean that racing wasn’t a struggle in its own right. I know it was for me." -- two-time world champion Luke Bogacki
31 Dec 2020
Luke Bogacki
2020 in retrospect
Luke Bogacki

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.” – Sigmund Freud

To say that 2020 has been a struggle feels like an understatement of massive proportion. Broadly speaking, it’s been a difficult year to be an American. Let’s be honest, it’s been a difficult year to be a human being.  

As racers, many of us find some level of personal identity in competition. For others, the competition is more of a welcome distraction from our personal identity – an escape. Retrospectively, I think that most of us can agree that racing was, by and large, a safe haven in 2020. Personally, 2020 never felt more “normal” than when I was at the racetrack. That doesn’t mean that racing wasn’t a struggle in its own right. I know it was for me. 

2020 was the first season in nearly 25 years where I failed to record an event win. I don’t just mean that I didn’t win a national event or a big dollar bracket race.  

I didn’t win.



I can list off a variety of justifications for my failure to reach the winner’s circle, some self-induced. Like many racers, I did not engage in competition until months into the typical “season.” Once I did hit the track, I was sorting out combinations in not one but two new race cars. Our local track did not open for the season, limiting not only my chances to compete but also to test. On the handful of occasions that I got a chance to sniff victory, I repeatedly came up just short.  

Like many racers, I can pinpoint a handful of pivotal round losses on the season. If a few thousandths of a second swing my way in a couple of those rounds, I probably have a much different perception of my season-long performance. Regardless, my on-track failures aren’t the point of this column. I share them to let you know that if you’ve struggled too, you’re not alone. We’re not alone. I’ve heard similar stories from many members in our ThisIsBracketRacing ELITE community. It’s been hard to get into a rhythm on the racetrack in 2020, for all of the reasons I pinpointed personally, and for the more obvious reasons that I did not.  

We’re living through a global pandemic, for crying out loud. And for months, as Americans, we’ve been divided as a country on how to handle it. We just lived through the most tumultuous election in history. Many of our kids are learning remotely, so many of us as parents have also become teachers (because, you know, we didn’t have enough to worry about!). Several of us have worked or are working from home for the first time.  

It’s just a lot.  

We can say that these factors don’t directly impact our racing or our personal performance. I would argue that all of these new stressors inevitably tend to suck up our mental and emotional bandwidth. It’s hard to find the tip of the arrow right now – that 100% focus. For anything. Including competition. 

Before we completely wallow in our sorrow, let’s take a step back. 2020 has been a struggle. That’s a real statement. In its wake, let’s ask ourselves an honest question: In regard to your racing, how did you feel in December of 2016? Of 2014? That’s the thing. We look back now, retrospectively, whether it’s two years or 20 years, and almost universally think of the “glory days.” It was a different time. Things were simpler. Racing was more fun. But at the time, those days felt like a struggle, too.  

Because they were!  

Time has a way of allowing us to romanticize those past struggles, to see the silver lining. But in the moment, let’s not kid ourselves: It almost always feels hard. 

I don’t say this to minimize 2020. I think it’s safe to say that when we look back two decades from now, we won’t say, “Man, 2020 was the best.” At least I hope not! My point is that we never think about today as the peak of the mountain. We’re always cherishing something more, something better – either in the past or the present. And that’s a problem. 

That’s why one of my common sign-offs within ThisIsBracketRacing ELITE is a reminder to our members that it’s my honor to struggle with you. I do this for two reasons. First, to let my friends know that they’re not alone, that it’s not weird to struggle. It’s not a character flaw. And, more importantly, because the feeling of struggle is perpetual. It’s something to lean into rather than shy away from or work to avoid. 

“Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.” – Mark Manson 

Racing is hard. And yet, we keep signing up for it. Why? Because life is hard. Because on some level, we realize that struggle is unavoidable. Because we realize that the process is the destination. If we’re honest with ourselves, we find peace not through the struggle, but in the struggle. Not only because struggle makes triumph so much sweeter (it does), but because the struggle itself is the reward.  

Our goal shouldn’t be to cease to struggle (which is good, because, news flash … that’s not realistic). Instead, the goal is to simply struggle better.

“Without struggle, there is no progress.”  – Frederick Douglass  

With two NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series championships and a host of major E.T. bracket racing wins, Luke Bogacki’s racing résumé speaks for itself. Bogacki is also a drag racing school instructor and founder of the popular ThisIsBracketRacing.com website, where he shares many of his successful secrets. Bogacki and longtime friend Jared Pennington also team up for the podcast titled The Sportsman Drag Racing podcast with Luke and Jed. He resides in Carterville, Ill., with his wife, Jessica, and their sons, Gary and Jack.