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Dual Duty Denali: GMC 2016 2500HD

The Perfect Mixture of Business and Pleasure

Believe it or not; this mean, clean GMC 2500HD Denali pickup is a working farm truck. Yeah, we weren’t quite sold on believing that as fact right away—not until we heard from its owner, Jake Carlson. He told us all about the hard hours his GMC puts in daily, and we were able to confirm that his story checks out 100%. Not all utility vehicles have to look and feel like a utility vehicle. Jake wanted a truck that could serve a purpose around his family-run farm while still making it a rig that he could beef up and keep clean just like he would with a pickup suited strictly for leisure.

“The No. 1 goal I had for the truck was to build it into something that could be daily driven,” Jake says. “My second goal was to be able to make it quick on the street, followed by making it look custom enough to be able to win at show and shine events YET still be able to report for farm duty.”

It was a tall order to ask, but very much doable. To start, the first modifications that were added to the 2500HD were a Wehrli Custom Fab high flow bundle kit, an AirDog lift pump, and a set of 22-inch American Force wheels. To make it more reliable, Jake let the system breathe better by adding filtration for the failure-prone factory CP4 injection pump. From this point forward, things really started to snowball for the build.

“Within the next year, I had started an Instagram page for my GMC project (@illusion_nali),” Jake adds. “The account was more of a hobby for me to post and follow other build pages so I could ask questions of those I drew inspiration from, as well as answer questions directed toward me whenever they came in about what I was doing with my truck.”

It was during this period that another set of American Force wheels (this time 24s) was swapped in. Traction bars were also added. Since Jake couldn’t afford to pay shops anything at this beginning stage, he did what he could on his own. He bought himself a paint gun so he could start color-matching his own parts, but not having a secondary vehicle to drive while the GMC was blown apart or a climate-controlled shop to work in comfortably during hot days, every project he started had to be completed overnight and be ready to reassemble before the following day of work. Jake would be the first to admit that he is no professional by any stretch, but the results of his efforts turned out pretty good—enough to win an award at his first show during the 2021 Scheid Diesel Extravaganza.

There were a lot of other cosmetic upgrades Jake wanted to proceed with, but he was just too worried for them to get ruined while working around the cornfields. The inevitable rock chips and predictable harsh winter conditions always seemed to pose too big a threat to add any more custom paint or powdercoat work. Instead, Jake adjusted his sights toward keeping his truck as clean as possible for the time being while he worked on increasing his GMC’s horsepower output. He was soon able to pull the trigger on a WC Fab Exergy 10mm CP3 conversion that would make room for bigger injectors down the road.

“After talking with some guys on Instagram, I decided to go for a S400 swap while everything was out, which was done mostly for sound,” Jake admits. “I was also afraid to do compounds on a stock bottom end that I drive daily for work. A TCM tune from PPEI held me over since I couldn’t afford a new transmission at the time, but it did extend the life of the transmission until I am ready to make a move on a new one.”

After many wheel swaps later, a splurge on a round of professional paint and powdercoating from Knockout Kustoms in Jamestown, Indiana, as well as some custom interior work from Distinctive Trim Solutions in Lafayette, Indiana, Jake was well on his way to building quite a large IG following with just over 15K followers.

“It was never my goal to build my truck for likes, but it has been cool seeing people enjoy what I have done with the truck so far,” Jake says about his GMC’s newfound fanbase. “Once harvest time the following year rolled around, I came to the realization that I was no longer accomplishing one of my major goals of upkeeping a reliable truck. My 2500HD had gotten more unique and had a lot more power than when I started but a few things just had to go—starting with the stretched tires on the 14-inch-wide wheels.”

The spring of 2023 brought even more changes to the GMC such as powdercoated leaf springs, sway bars and torsion bars, a retrofitted 2020+ GM LED grille emblem onto the truck’s older style grille, as well as a set of 22×12 Weld Cheyenne wheels from 2005 that saw a ton of work before they could be bolted on.

“This was enough to help me win my second award—the Best Lowered GM at Ultimate Callout Challenge in Indianapolis,” Jake announces proudly. “It was great encouragement that I was going in the right direction after nearly three years of playing around with different ideas.”

Jake’s GMC now has about 120,000 clocked on the odometer, has grown to nearly 30K followers on IG, and is STILL being driven daily. Not a day goes by when the truck doesn’t travel through muddy spring fields or down gravel roads in snow, salt, and ice. Ninety percent of everything that has been done to it has taken place in Jake’s shop with the help of a dedicated group of friends. When it does get taken to a show, it takes half of a day to clean and polish it up properly for the event where it is usually hooked up to a dyno the day of the event to document its power output. The very next day, it is hooked back onto a seed tender to finish planting beans.

“I thoroughly enjoy that this truck has become an all-around everything truck, and that I have accomplished and still hold onto the goals I originally set for it,” Jake comments. “I am nowhere near finished with the truck, as there are many improvements still on my mind. I know I will get there one day thanks to the network of great people I have met throughout this whole experience. That truly has been the best part, and I would do it all over again from the beginning in a heartbeat.”

2016 GMC 2500HD


Jake Carlson


  • Duramax LML 6.6L
  • 744 hp / 1,296 lb-ft torque
  • Exergy 10mm CP3 injection pump w/ Wehrli Custom Fab race conversion and John C Garage low pressure line
  • Borg Warner S467.7/83 .90 turbocharger
  • Wehrli Custom Fab S400 turbo install kit, coolant reservoir, brake cylinder cover, upper radiator pipe, hot and cold side intercooler piping
  • Jamo 5-inch full exhaust
  • John C Garage EGT probe relocation to manifold kit
  • R1 Industries drilled and slotted rotors
  • PPE differential cover
  • BT DieselWorks auto sync torque convertor lockup controller
  • AirDog 4G 165 lift pump plumbed straight to the CP3 (fuel filter delete)


  • Reverse leveled John C Garage 1.4-inch drop shackles
  • Custom ¾-inch bumper spacer
  • Kryptonite upper and lower control arms, Death Grip tie rods, billet center link, pitman and idler arms w/ brace
  • Longhorn Fab Shop Professional Series full 72-inch traction bars
  • Full King 2.5-inch remote reservoir w/ adjustable dampeners
  • 3.5-inch Fabtech spindles


  • 22×12 Original Weld Cheyenne wheels
  • 2-inch Bora hub-centric 8×180-8×6.5 adapters
  • 305/40R22 Nitto NT420S tires
  • Flush-mount valve stems


  • Full color matched exterior by Knockout Kustomz, Jamestown, IN
  • Prismatic Powders Illusion Purple powdercoat on hitch receiver, traction and torsion bars, control arms, sway bar, diff cover, leaf springs, B&W turnover ball hitch and spindles by Knockout Coatings, Jamestown, IN
  • Retrofitted 1500 GMC Sierra Denali taillights
  • OEM headlights w/ Diode Dynamics Switchback LED bulbs and turn signal deletes
  • Recon third brake light and cab lights
  • Morimoto Switchback strips in mirrors, XB LED fog lights
  • 14-piece rock lights
  • Custom fiberglass cowl hood
  • BAKFlip MX4 tonneau cover
  • 2018 Denali grille
  • 2020+ GM LED grille emblem retrofitted
  • AMP PowerSteps for Sierra 1500


  • Black suede headliner w/ 850-piece starlight kit
  • Grab handles and all interior plastics dyed black
  • AZA Auto Wheel custom suede-wrapped steering wheel w/ RPM and redline screen
  • Custom 2-gauge pod switch panel w/ Auto Meter C2 boost and fuel pressure gauges