Diesel Drag Racing

Nov 30, 2009

Diesels have carved out a continually growing grassroots niche in the world of drag racing. Watching trucks weighing 6,000 lbs or more hurtling down the track faster than most muscle cars has its own benefits, but this young sport is also supported by competitive brackets and a growing national interest in diesel-powered vehicles.

How’s The Market?

To check in on just how fast this market is moving, we spoke with a few of the industry’s suppliers.

Dan Oddy of Fluidampr, a Springville, N.Y. company, says that, “Since 2004, when Fluidampr entered the performance diesel market, we have seen significant growth every year.”

They’re not the only company doing well with this young sport. Dennis Perry of TS Performance in Bowling Green, Ky., says diesel drag racing has been their number one form of advertisement. “You can get out and talk with people. They have the interests that we do, and you get a lot of one-on-one time with them. You can show them how your products are working on the track, letting them compare it to their truck. Diesel drag racing has been phenomenal for us.”

Clint Cannon of ATS Diesel in Arvada, Colo., says the diesel drag racing market has definitely been good for them as well.

“The market is rapidly expanding,” says Cannon. “Over the last five years, it’s really grown from kind of a backyard sport to a very professional sport at this point.”

Cannon adds that diesel drag racing has made the seasonal swing bigger than it used to be, noting it has a strong pull on the market, beginning in early spring.

Bill Hartzell of Turbo Diesel Electric Systems, in Atlanta, Ga., an authorized Garrett Turbo distributor, adds that they feel very good about the business.

“We’ve had some increases this last year in our turbo diesel electric systems. We also service the computer chips market and also the diesel fuel injection market, which allows us to work on the fuel systems these trucks are using,” says Hartzell.

Commenting specifically on which of the three diesel trucks helped the most with those increases he referred to, Hartzell says the Power Stroke is by far his best performer. That’s a contradiction to most assessments, which usually put Cummins at the top of that list. Although, recently many aftermarket diesel manufacturers have said their Duramax parts sell best.

However, Hartzell works primarily south of the Mason-Dixon Line. “I work out of Atlanta, and I cover pretty much the southeastern United States, and in the Southeast, Ford is gigantic. Cummins is probably right there in second, putting Duramax in third.”

The Southeast is also a strong region of the country for diesel drag racing, as is the Midwest, and many see Texas as a growing area. Of course, those aren’t the only regions where diesel drag racing has caught on.

Harold Johnson of Banks Engineering in Azusa, Calif., points out that the market in Southern California is quite viable. In fact, its home toa few records for diesel drag racing that Banks has set.

“We recently went out to Fontana for a Super Chevy event and captured the best recorded time we’ve ever had, 7.72 seconds at 179.21 mph,” says Johnson.

Black Smoke

Commenting on how that track performance has helped the company, Johnson says, “I think that it helps us prove our statement that you don’t have to make a lot of smoke to make a lot of power. I think people are starting to understand that you can approach diesel drag racing in a way that’s going to be more acceptable to the general population. It makes the industry’s products more acceptable, especially in the eyes of those that are moving along towards the green side of things.”

Diesel drag racing may be on fire, but with Banks’ record-setting truck, there’s no smoke. While you can expect diesel drag racing to become more visible in 2008, black smoke is something fans are sure to see less of.

Cannon notes, “One of the things we’ve seen a lot of over the years is that many of these trucks are using a lot of fuel. A lot of fuel equates to a lot of black smoke, and black smoke is not really the future of the sport. Black smoke comes from over-fueling a vehicle, and that’s just not where the maximum power gains come from. Expect to see the companies that have the wherewithal and the engineering capability make the sport of diesel drag racing, and all diesels, get really clean. I think we’re going to see the power take another leap here in the near future, and as it goes up, I think you’re really going to see really clean diesels that essentially have no smoke. That’s one of the things you can expect to see from ATS Diesel in the future.”

The emphasis on eliminating black smoke surrounding diesels comes at a time when the EPA is taking a close look at aftermarket products for these vehicles. However, that fact hasn’t deterred consumer interest in the vehicles, and it certainly hasn’t kept fans out of the stands at diesel drag races.

Event Attendance

By everyone’s account, this year’s attendance at diesel drag racing events has once again increased over previous years.

Johnson has seen more fans in the crowds, adding, “The entire diesel community is a growing crowd.”

Confirming that, Oddy notes that at the events that Fluidampr has attended, “We have generally seen an increase in spectator attendance.”

Perry explains that as diesel fans who have attended these events over the past few years spread the word about how fast these 6,000-lbs and heavier trucks run, attendance is on the rise.

Oddy adds, “I believe the fans show interest in all of the classes. They can relate to the slower bracket and index classes because they can see these trucks all day long on the road as well as their local dealership. They also cheer for the quicker diesel classes because everyone wants to see how quick these diesel engines can go in a truck or dragster.”

Cannon, whose ATS Diesel puts on an event, Diesels On The Mountain & Truckfest at Bandimere Speedway, concurs, “Drag racing seems to be one of those sports that people who are into motorsports are attracted to. I’ve seen the attendance level increase every since its inception, around 1999. That’s when diesel drag racing started happening, and ever since then, it seems that it doubles in size each year.”

TS Performance also puts on their own event every year, the TS Outlaw Diesel Race and Sled Pull, and while Perry was preparing for this year’s festivities, he said, “It’s ridiculous. Last year, we had 2,100 at the drag strip and 2,500 over at the sled pulls. That’s was attendance. We had 100 trucks and 70 sled pull hooks.”

He expects even more this year, and notes that not only is attendance good, but the attendees and racers have formed a community of diesel motorsports enthusiasts.

“Attendance is good. When we first got started, we didn’t really know each other. But, these events have become a place to get together, run your trucks and catch up with friends. We look forward to going to events to see people we haven’t seen since the last race,” says Perry.

Racer Participation

As the sport has grown, the number of fellow racers for Perry to catch up with has increased as well.

Hartzel agrees that event attendance has increased, but he adds that fan attendance hasn’t increased anywhere near as much as competitor participation. That’s good news for shops selling race-specific products.

“It’s catching on from a participation point of view, and a lot of people are very interested in what’s going on. I feel comfortable saying participation has doubled in the last year,” says Hartzel.

Oddy notes that Fluidampr has seen an increase in participation from the ET bracket class to the Pro classes. “The bracket class and the slower index class usually have the most racer participation based on the relatively small investment that is needed to compete. Anyone with a diesel truck can participate.”

Cannon adds, “It’s beginning to become much more of a draw. Everybody starts with their street trucks. Now, there are a lot of Super Street drag racing trucks and Pro Modified. So, there’s a real level of custom, high-end trucks out there now that are purpose built for the sport. They’re really, really running the numbers.”

With participation on the rise, Perry points out that the sport has experienced a lot of development, which has facilitated that growth.

“One of the neat things about our sport is that everyone’s not really running the same thing. Some people will use their own ideas, and there’s some wild stuff being tried. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. But, it’s neat that people are enthused and willing to try something, because you never know when you’re going to come up with the next big thing,” says Perry.

Despite the increased development of diesel drag racing parts, Hartzel says that right now, there are probably less than 100 purpose-built diesel drag trucks racing. However, “There’s probably double that being built in various garages across the country.”

It’s still evolving, but Perry notes that the sport has already changed from its earliest days. “Now, you can call a place like Scheid Motorsports and buy just about get anything you want (Perry runs a Scheid motor in his truck). When I first started racing, that was not the case. If you wanted something, chances were you’d have to fabricate it yourself. Now, with more people becoming involved, prices have come down. Therefore, it’s a little easier to participate.”

Perry has also seen the competitiveness among different trucks evolve. He tells us that initially, four-wheel drive trucks had an advantage over two-wheel drive trucks. The parts simply weren’t available for the two-wheel drives. Now, the market has made up the difference, and since two-wheel drive trucks are about 1,000 lbs lighter than their four-wheel drive cousins, they have the advantage.

“Two-wheel drive is the way to go, even though we don’t run one. We run against them, but with a four-wheel drive truck, you have to make 200 to 300 more horsepower than a two-wheel drive to be competitive,” says Perry.

Diesel Sales

The fact that diesel drag racing is doing well is great, but how can performance shops get a slice of the pie?

Fluidampr’s Oddy says that he believes the best way is to support as many diesel events locally and nationally as possible.

“They should want every spectator to see their company name as well as be familiar with what they do. It would also help to have a company race truck at these events with their company name on the truck. If they go out and can be competitive and win some events, everyone will want to know how they can get the parts and modifications to run that quick and be competitive,” says Oddy.

“The first thing I’d do is go to a race,” says Perry, concurring. “Talk to them, then research the companies you’re going to use and sell parts for.”

While going to the track will certainly improve knowledge of the sport and drive customers to the shop, Cannon says that when it comes to closing a sale, the number one thing an independent repair shop can do is build a truck.

“They’ve generally already got the customers there in the shop, so that gives them the opportunity to let customers experience diesel performance. Buy a truck, a Ford, Dodge or GM diesel; it doesn’t matter what year. Bolt the performance products on to it, and drive it around. Absolutely nothing closes a sale like taking a customer for a ride in a truck that’s been built up, hands down,” says Cannon.

Cannon adds that won’t necessarily get them into the shop, but he says once they’re there, that absolutely will close the deal.

Hartzel says, “Obviously, you’ve got people that can afford to race. And, that’s what they’re going to do. We particularly want to go market by going to the races and educating people on our products. We want people to touch and feel our turbochargers. We want them to have access to all of the information they need. So, this is what I would recommend for a shop work in our territory. Contact us, and we’d be happy to take our Turbos By Garrett booth to each one of those shows with them and help promote our turbocharger business through their business. We want to be a part of their business, and we’ll bring everything.”

Garrett has five distributors across the country, all of whom offer the same service.

“Attending these events is a great opportunity to pick up the general knowledge, the atmosphere and the feel. You can make great contacts and talk to people. You want to stay in the know,” says Johnson. He adds, “It’s very difficult to try to sell the products without having experienced what the actual event is like. Experience and the knowledge gained from that experience, are your number one sales tools.”

Down The Track

Looking down the track, the future for diesel drag racing seems bright and full of opportunity.

“I believe diesel drag racing will continue to grow for years to come as a result of all the great diesel organizations that are bringing first class events all over the country as well as the sponsors that support these events,” says Oddy.

Be sure to attend the next race in your region. There’s not telling what a few conversations can lead to.