Black Smoke and Thunder

November 20th, 2009

0708_dw_editor_01_sBy the time you read this, the diesel drag racing and sled pulling season will be well underway. If you’ve never attended one of these events, you’re missing out.

By the time you read this, the diesel drag racing and sled pulling season will be well underway. If you’ve never attended one of these events, you’re missing out. You won’t find any nitro methane or Funny Cars, but you will find full-size, 8,000-pound trucks running the 10-second bracket. Do the math on how much raw horsepower it takes do move 8,000 pounds 1,320 feet in 10 seconds.

Again, by the time you read this, the Diesel Hot Rod Association (DHRA) will have hosted its first of three national events, with the opener in Las Vegas. As a relative rookie on the diesel competition scene, this event will be my first full-on, black smoke and thunder experience. Actually, I’m getting a taste of things to come two weeks prior at SpeedWorld just north of Phoenix, Ariz., where a handful of diesel hot rodders will be showing the local rice-rocket crowd just how fast an 8,000-pound pickup can go on a Saturday night run-what-you-brung shootout.

My first face-to-face experience with diesels on the 1/4-mile was several years ago when I was editor of another large truck magazine. We had come up with a Gas vs. Diesel shootout idea for a story. By the time the tire smoke and exhaust fumes cleared, I was shocked at the results.

The invitees included the folks from Bully Dog with two of their latest creations: a Duramax Chevy 4×4 and a Ford Power Stroke 4×4, all fitted with the latest in Bully Dog power parts, and even a couple that hadn’t been released yet. Representing the gas-powered contingency was none other than Jim Bell of Kenne Bell supercharger fame who rolled out his supercharged V-10 Excursion for the battle.

First stop, the scales at a local truck stop where everyone weighed in at just over 8,000 pounds. Next stop, Los Angeles County Raceway where the real fun began. Initial passes were conducted and I’m not saying anyone was cheatin’ or sandbaggin’ on the first few rounds, but at that point, things looked pretty equal on the time clock.

For the finals, and all the bragging rights, things got downright dirty. Jim had his tuner onhand who was electronically turning up the wick on the V-10. We already smelled the race gas from the tailpipe on earlier passes (which Jim denies to this day), and his tuner worked feverishly on fuel and timing combos to pick up a few more tenths. With a 40-gallon fuel tank in the Excursion, Jimbo should have drained a few gallons of that home brew to lighten the load.

In the diesel camp, the Bully Dog boys, who admitted they started hot rodding tractors before moving on to trucks, were also turning up the wick. We’re talking big boost, mega exhaust, monster intake, nitrous and some fancy programming of their own. And that was the stuff we could see.

The biggest enemy for the diesels was traction, even with 38-inch monster rubber. So it was decided on the final run that the Duramax would launch locked in four-wheel-drive mode for extra traction. At the hit of the throttle, the Duramax lurched forward and just as fast, headed to the right, straight for the guardrail. Luckily, the driver kept it off the fence. It was then I had witnessed firsthand the power of diesel… the right front upper control arm was ripped from one mount by raw torque. Wow.

So who was faster-gas or diesel? Diesel, by nearly a full second. Surprised me and introduced me to the wild world of diesels on the 1/4-mile. Diesel drag racing events and sled pulling contests will be held all across the country this summer. If you’ve never been to one, go. It will open your eyes to the real raw power diesel can make and provide some good family entertainment in the process.

Contact Kevin Wilson: kevin.wilson@apg-media.com.

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