1994 Dodge Ram 2500 - Stuckey Racing
The Team Behind The Green
The ManEarl Stuckey, a 56-year-old construction company owner from Calvary, Georgia, is the owner of Team Green, the Diesel Hot Rod Association's '06 Pro Street class champion. Team Green set DHRA Pro Street e.t. and speed quarter-mile records of 9.56 seconds and 142 mph, establishing The Green Truck as the nation's quickest street-legal diesel pickup. Recently, Diesel Power caught up with Stuckey to discuss-among other topics-how Team Green came together, its success, and the future of the organization.
Diesel Power: First, let's talk about Team Green. It's a pretty special combination of you, driver Philip Palmer, and crewchief Robert Donalson. How did it form?
Earl Stuckey: I can rattle on for a while. The Green Truck got started when I decided to build a truck, a two-wheel drive when four-wheel drives basically dominated the class. I started building the truck and [driver] Philip (Palmer) came on board after the truck had been built and tested. Philip was doing the machine work. I mentioned to him I needed a driver because I'm 56 years old, and I couldn't punch the buttons that fast. He said, 'I'll be glad to do it.' Philip is a longtime racer. He's been around drag racing basically all of his life. He loved the idea of the challenge of running a diesel instead of gas.
Then my crewchief, Robert Donalson, basically built the injection pump for the truck. He started seeing the truck come together, and he sort of got excited because he loves diesels and anything to do with them. That's his livelihood, and he just loved the challenge of building a truck that could be No. 1. He got on board that way, and we sort of all came together, met up, and became a team in July of 2005. We ran the first race together in Atlanta in August of 2005. We won the race, and that pretty much inspired the whole team. Everything was working great together.
DP: Did you expect things to come together so quickly?ES: We had no idea diesel racing would become what it is today. We had no idea it would grow as fast as it has grown and expand to the magnitude it has. We have been fortunate enough to come together as a team that works good together. When we all did get together, and everything started clicking, we ran from August of 2005 until June 2007-when we had a transmission failure-and we were No. 1 or No. 2 qualifier and No. 1 or No. 2 finisher in every DHRA race in that span. That record stood true until June, when we had a transmission give up on us. We battled a lot of battles with turbos, transmissions, all kinds of pumps, injector problems-all kinds of problems. We were able to overcome them all until June.
DP: You participated in the BorgWarner Shootout earlier this off-season. Talk about that.ES: We got to carry the Green Truck out there and put it in the show. I was really shocked at the people out in California who knew about our little South Georgia race team. It was just tremendous, the people who would walk up and say, 'I've been following you for a year.' That was pretty amazing to me to see this going on.
People on the West Coast like Bill Fletcher [owner of another 9-second diesel truck] calling and talking to me on the telephone. I say, 'Where'd you get my number?' He'd say, 'Oh, I know people who know you.' That lets me know the sport has grown to more of a magnitude than I ever thought it would at this point in the game. Basically, it's about a three- to four-year thing. Three years ago, there was a handful of anything going on. Now, you pick up a Diesel Power magazine and it's full of people building products for diesel. You've got young boys, people all over the country, who are buying diesel pickups now. They wouldn't have been buying diesel pickups if it hadn't been for diesel racing-the performance end. We took the Green Truck to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and ran three 9s, including a 9.85 at 145 mph. We made three 9-second passes in one day. I don't think anyone has ever done that. We hold a national e.t. and a national mph record. People can say they have run a 9.92, but they've only done it once. We did it three times in one weekend. But I'm real excited about the whole end of diesel sports, and I'm just proud to be a part of it out there participating and helping it grow.
DP: Talk about the Green Truck a minute. Where did you get it?ES: The Green Truck we bought from [DHRA driver] Jeff Garmon. It was a long-wheelbase, a '94 Dodge Ram 2500. I think the man who owned it was in the concrete business. It was pretty beat up. I asked Jeff, 'Do you reckon it will make it to South Georgia from Atlanta?' He said, 'Well, I've been driving it for two weeks. I believe it will make it.' I did make it home with it. Once it made it to the Georgia, we stripped everything down, cut it in half, and back-halved the rearend.
When we started building the truck, it was really one of the first two-wheel-drive trucks being built. We really didn't have a clue what we were doing and where we were headed. We put a Dana 60 rearend in it. After five races, and after we had screwed the pinion out of the rearend of the truck twice, we figured out a Dana 60 was not going to hold that kind of power or torque. That's when we were around 800 hp. We finally wound up with a Ford Pro Series 9-inch rearend in it. We went through a lot of transmission and torque-converter problems as horsepower increased from 700 to 800 to 900 to 1,000. Then we hit 1,250 hp, and it has just been a growing experiment. Every time we increased power, we had to increase every other product on the truck.
DP: It has to be fascinating, being on the cutting edge of an industry.ES: That falls back to having a crew like Robert at Shiver Diesel. Those people have 25-30 years of experience in their business. If you didn't have a team like that, you would just battle and beat your head against the wall. People all get together. We've experimented with transmissions. Sun Coast, with Joe Webb-before he died-he loved that Green Truck. He helped us in every way-developing input shafts, torque converters. And as it increased, we figured out this would fail or that would fail. We just had to keep changing.
We're at a point now where we've actually detuned the truck a little bit to get reliability. We had a transmission torque converter we built. It worked fine for two races, and when we tore it down, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. We refreshed everything, put it in, and went to Kentucky, and the first pass, it gives up somewhere around the 30-foot mark. It didn't shift right. Well, with that much power-you go throwing 2,100 or 2,200 lb-ft of torque to something-if it slips in any way, it's burnt up. That's what happened. Something didn't happen absolutely right, whether it was the transmission, the driver, the track, or whatever-it caused a little problem. Everything is so critical that you have to go over every issue. Everything has to be perfect, pretty much, to make it live at that much power.
It's challenging, and you have to go over everything from one end to the other. When I first got it built, before Philip and Robert ever got on board, I was down at my shop. My driveway is probably 20 feet long. I was launching the truck, seeing how the brakes would hold. A bearing plunger hung in the pump. I went out of the driveway, across the state highway, jumped a 20-foot ditch and landed in a cotton field. I just tore it up from one end to the other. I hadn't even raced it yet. We found out what caused the bearing plunger to hang. It was a battle. Brakes were a big issue, stopping 5,500 pounds. Holding at the line when you build boost was an issue.
DP: Are there ever times when you run into something and say, This is it? This one we can't solve?ES: That goes back to being a good team. When you run into a problem, all it does is make you scratch your head a little longer. We don't feel like there's anything we can't accomplish. There are things we've found out that won't work, that are just beyond the design limit of material.
We went through a lot of issues of keeping the head bolted on with that much power. We got into fire-ringing. We got to working with [DHRA driver] Van Haisley at Haisley Machine. They were sled pullers. They had experienced a lot of issues with things. We started getting them to give us some advice on how to keep the head tied to the motor, what they said would basically work. The only problem was sled pulling and drag racing are two different animals. Some of the things sled pullers do won't work for drag racers. We had to divide that up to make little changes in fire-ringing and different changes in materials we used to hold the head on the engine. But sometimes things won't work, so we have to back up and try something different. We have tried probably 10 different combinations in engines to make things live.
Last year, we ran the same engine and only blew one head off the whole year. This year, we're running the same engine all year, and hopefully, we'll never blow a head off. We're finding out old parts sometimes don't work. You get so much fatigue on a piece of metal or so much heat that it's time to replace it.
DP: How did you decide to get into diesel racing?ES: What happened was my son, Matt Stuckey, went off and bought an old four-wheel-drive Dodge truck. He came up driving it one day. I think he paid $5,000 for it. I said, 'What are doing with a ragged Dodge pickup?' He told me, 'I'm going to build a drag truck.' I said, 'You're out of your mind.'
He and one of his friends went off and got to monkeying with the thing. They put some twin turbos on there, and they souped up the motor. I think Robert had built him a pump or he got a pump from Jeff Garmon. They threw that on there. They came back in about a month, after working on this thing day and night. He was all up in this diesel truck. I didn't pay much attention to him. I thought it was silly. He came driving up in that thing one day and said, 'Come on, Pops, let's go for a ride.'
We went out there. He took off in that truck and matted it. When them twin turbos come lit and that fuel went to that Cummins motor, my eyeballs like to have popped out. I said, 'What in the world is going on here?' I would never have dreamed. When I was growing up, a Chevelle SS396 was probably one of the hottest things around in my neighborhood. This thing was eating Corvettes and Vipers-a four-wheel-drive diesel pickup. I said, 'This is pretty awesome.'
DP: Have you ever driven it?ES: I've driven the truck when it was being tested and being built, but when it came time to be competitive, when you're building boost, sitting there and hitting lockup and calling on nitrous to do different things at different times-when you get to be my age, I just feel like if you're going to be competitive, you need a competitive driver. That's the reason I've let Flipper (Philip Palmer) handle those chores, because he's just so good at it.
DP: How many races would you say you've competed in with the Green Truck?ES: I would say probably 25-just as a wild guess.
DP: And until recently, you've had very few problems with it?ES: (Laughing) We've had lots of problems with it. We had an issue where we were blowing up turbos. In Indy, I think they went through six or eight turbos with a whole group of diesel trucks. What it is, we're taking turbos and we're single-charging them. Our trucks have just been running with one charger and nitrous. Having BorgWarner as a sponsor that is actually furnishing us turbos, they're using us for their research and development a lot of times: 'This works and that doesn't.' They get some good out of it. We get some good out of it. That's basically what it is.
When you take the Green Truck and you take transmission and torque converter and you throw that much power to it-a transmission builder, if we run his product, he can take that transmission and pretty much guarantee it for 600-800 hp for pretty much the rest of his life. That's part of what racing does. It builds products they can sell and stand behind.
DP: And as you said, you really are reaching people with this.ES: I bought $600 worth of pictures of the Green Truck that we give to kids over a year or two's time. My wife asked me, 'Why are you wasting this money on these pictures?' We had an outlaw race the first of the year, and I told her, 'You're in charge of these pictures.' She said, 'What do I do with them?' I said, 'You'll see what to do with them.' She's hanging around the trailer and up comes these 5-, 6-, 8-, 10-, 12-year-old kids: 'Could we have one of those pictures? Could we get Philip to sign them? Could we get Mr. Stuckey to sign them?' Before you know it, she's talking to all of these kids and they're asking questions, and at the end of the day, she said, 'That's the best money we spent.'
We had a deal in June where we had a couple of pictures in the hauler truck. We're coming down the road, and there was this guy standing on the corner bumming-wanting you to give him $1 for food. We pulled over to the side of the road and said, 'Come here, buddy. We're going to give you $1, but right behind us is going to be a maroon-looking Peterbilt hooked to a white trailer. When he comes up this ramp, you hold this picture up.' He said, 'No problem.' Well, the guy coming behind us was Jeff Garmon. To see a guy standing on the corner holding up one of our Green Truck pictures just floored him. We do a lot of pranking, and we do a lot of having fun.
DP: How did you, Philip Palmer, and team owner Earl Stuckey get together?RD: Earl actually started this project himself. The truck got started from somebody telling him he couldn't do something. At that time, me and Philip didn't have anything to do with it. After a little while, when things didn't go really well, Earl picked us up. I had done the original injection pump on it. Philip had done some of the machine work. All of a sudden, we came together. Before Philip came along, Earl's son, Matt, was driving the truck. We had a little mishap: a motor blew out, and the truck got sideways on him. Matt kind of said that wasn't his cup of tea. Philip had done the machine work anyway. It just all came together. It's kind of amazing. We'd all known each other but never knew we'd have any kind of stuff like this happening. We're the Three Amigos. We've worked together and overcome a lot.
DP: Did you have any specific goals when you first started this thing?RD: Our goal is to do what they say can't be done. That's how the truck got started. Somebody said, 'You can't do that with a two-wheel-drive pickup truck.' Oh, really? That's something that we all strive for. Really, you can't tell Team Green, 'You can't.' We're not cocky. We're down-to-earth guys like everybody else. We try to have a whole lot of fun, but everything that I do and everything that Philip does is taken very seriously when it comes to that truck. Everybody looks at Earl and says, 'Earl has a bunch of money.' But money's not the thing. Yeah, it does take a little bit of money. But we've defied the odds by doing what we have done with the truck with the amount of money we have spent. It's scary to know what our actual cost is as far as how cheaply it can be achieved. People say, 'How can somebody afford to build a truck like Stuckey's to run like that?' They say that not knowing that we've got less than $4,000 in the motor. That's what scares me. Other people probably have $20,000-$25,000 in a motor. We've kind of defied the odds.
DP: How did you start working on diesel engines?RD: I wanted to be in fuel injection ever since I was a kid. I went to Nashville Auto Diesel College back in 1986 or 1987. I was one of them kids who was tired of English, tired of school. So when I graduated, I said, 'I want to go to Nashville Auto Diesel College.' Like everybody else, people asked me, 'Where are you going to go to work?' I said, 'I don't know. I'm going to try to go to Shiver Diesel Injection in Tifton, Georgia.' Why? It was close to home. It was one of those things I thought was interesting. I had always been around it. I wasn't one of those guys who tore your car apart every weekend. Mine worked, and I didn't mess with it.
A month before I graduated, I went by Shiver Diesel. The owner wasn't there. I talked to a bunch of the guys. I said, 'Well, as soon as I graduate, I'll come back and I'll talk to him.' I graduated. That weekend, we went and played a ball tournament. I got in late Sunday night. There was a note on my bed that said, 'You need to be at Shiver Diesel at 7:30 in the morning.' I said, 'Really?' I went there, had never met [company president] Jerry (Shiver) before. I talked to him. He hooked me up with a place to live, a place for me to rent. I went and took care of all of that. He said, 'Be back to work tomorrow.' Eighteen years later, you know . . . it's just one of those things.
DP: What has been the toughest part of making this truck as quick as it is?RD: Overcoming little things. I mean, we started off with a Dana 60 rearend. We ran it forever, and all of a sudden, we started breaking. We broke it one time and thought maybe it was a coincidence. So we upgraded parts. The next race, we broke it again. We figured out, 'The horsepower range where we're at, this stuff isn't going to go.' The key to where we're at right now is turning weight. The thing people don't understand is, 'Yes, we want to be No. 1.' But everybody thinks if you're going to run these high horsepower, you've got to have a lot of beefy parts. That's true to a certain extent, but what do you give up when you go to those big, heavy-duty parts? It takes horsepower to turn everything. You've got to get the strongest you can with the lightest weight.
DP: How much power does the Green Truck make?RD: It's hard to say. If you really did the calculated figures, like everyone in drag racing does, you're looking at about 1,200 hp to the wheels. Everyone says, 'Well, that's a little far-fetched.' I can't tell you if it is or not. I can tell you our setup does not like a dyno, and I do not like a dyno. If you get up there and you have wheel speed and your truck's not at the peak of performance whenever he calls for the load to hit the tires, you're not going to put out a good number. I've argued this point over and over and over, and you can watch people who have dyno tested once a week or once a month, and they can throw out better numbers than a person who just gets out there and dynos. I understand the dyno apparatus, but I don't know how consistent it is. We dyno'd last February, and we didn't put out but like 900 hp. Maybe that's true, but unless it will carry you down the track, it really doesn't matter-to me, anyway.
DP: There's a story around about the Chunchit Valve. This is sort of your secret weapon, is it not?RD: (Laughing) I don't know if we need to go off the record for this or not. People take this stuff way too seriously. Don't get me wrong, we don't get too relaxed at the track, but you have to have times that you keep people just guessing. When we got to where we thought we were halfway decently fast, rumors got started. Back 15 years ago, I had torn a transmission apart, a 16-speed John Deere. The customer walked into the shop and said, 'Did you find out what was wrong with it?' I hated to tell the man I had $30,000 torn apart that I didn't have no earthly idea what was wrong with. I looked at him, and I don't know where it came from, but I said, 'The Chunchit Valve is bad.' You know what? He turned around and walked off. He was perfectly happy. I'd given him an explanation he wanted to hear. I kept kind of using that term and then the muffler bearing came up. Everybody picked up their little thing. When we started racing, and we got to where we were consistently where we were at, everybody asked us, 'Why are you all so fast? Why are you all doing this? Why are you all changing turbos?' It's all related back to the Chunchit Valve. What's the Chunchit Valve? It's when you don't have no earthly idea. There are one or two racers who think we've carried it a little too far, but I actually have a Chunchit Valve with a pedaling wheel and all in it in the trailer. What is it? It's something someone can look at.
DP: It really sounds like your whole team has a perspective that this is fun.RD: Don't get me wrong. There have been stressful rides back in the truck when we didn't do well. We're not going to point fingers. When we don't get down the track, it doesn't matter who screws up. It's a team effort that put us there, and it's a team effort that brings us home. That's where we get all the fun out of it.
DP: What are the goals now with this thing?RD: We want to be the fastest Pro Street truck ever. The only problem I have goes to the issue of power-adders. Nitrous versus water. Is water a power-adder? Some people say, 'Water isn't a power-adder because it's used for coolant.' I can buy that to a certain amount, but it does create horsepower, because if it didn't, how does a steam engine run? You're throwing water in a hot motor. It basically becomes a steam motor. How much water you can burn depends on how much horsepower can be generated.
Team Green has something coming up in the near future that we're working on right now. It may work or it may not, but our end goal is to be the No. 1 DHRA Pro Street truck in the country. That means a driveable truck. I hate to see people come to the track not being able to drive it to the line. If you go down the track and you break, that's one thing. But this class was built on basically a borderline street-legal pickup truck. If it gets to where you can't drive it, it's not streetable. Team Green has taken the Green Machine through a drive-thru in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. Is that a driveable truck? Yes. Who else is going to say that?
DP: What do you drive on a daily basis?PP: I'm a Ford person by heart, but I have resorted to an '04 Dodge Cummins four-door, black. I've got to have my 5.9L diesel. I eat, sleep, and breathe it. A lot of my gas buddies give me a hard time. But they respect it. People in other areas-even high-echelon gas racing and Outlaw and ORSCA (Outlaw Racing Street Car Association) and ADRL (American Drag Racing League)-we've gotten a lot of exposure. We're almost in the national limelight of ADRL.
DP: How does driving a truck compare with driving a car? You've done both at a high level.PP: There's a big difference because of the torque. Diesels just produce an amazing amount of torque, it seems. It's not comparable to a car in some ways-even the transmissions, the way they lock up. When everything clicks and it hits lockup, it's a feeling like you're in almost warp speed. It's amazing, the amount of torque-the weight versus the torque it has. That's what's really amazing when you realize the difference. You've got to respect what they can do.
DP: Can you describe what it's like to go 150 mph in a diesel truck?PP: It's got a top-end charge that's unreal. It really pulls hard.
DP: What's the scariest part of driving the Green Truck?PP: I guess the scariest part of it is just not making a mistake, not doing well, as far as the competition. As far as a fear of anything like a mechanical failure, I don't really have one, I guess. We're all about safety. We stay up on the cutting edge of any form of safety we can have, from shutoffs to 'cages to all SFI-approved stuff. We're real touchy with that. If it comes down to safety of someone or myself, we'll forfeit a pass in a heartbeat for safety.
DP: Did you anticipate this sort of success when you first started with Team Green?PP: When we first formed the team, we didn't know we were going to gel like we did and become as close as we've become. We've become real good friends, and not just acquaintances or business associates. We're every day-or at least two or three times a week-friends, and we've joined other friends from other states and other teams. That's part of it-the friendships and relationships between other teams and other businesses and other sponsors. That has been probably the biggest highlight, even over winning the championship. It has been good because you meet people. We like to meet people, and we like to help people. That's part of it, and I think that has been part of our success. We've been blessed because we don't mind helping somebody else.
There have been times we've been caught up under somebody else's truck helping them when we could be over there taking care of our own. As far as our original goal, we just wanted to see this truck live. Earl had invested a lot of time and effort in it. If we came across a shortcoming, we'd fix it and go again. We'd find another problem, fix it and keep going. If we ever hit a wall, we'd try to get over the wall, keep going and we'd never let it get us down, even through some of the hard times. That's what has paid off-the perseverance and sticking together and staying fresh and listening to each other's ideas and working together, trying things and being open to suggestions. That's what has got us to where we are.
When we went in 2005 from No. 11 to No. 2 in (DHRA Pro Street) points, we were like, 'Guys, we've got a shot at this thing.' The next year, we just had a remarkable year and won the points championship. We were like, 'This is cool, you know?'
DP: So you never imagined at first that you'd be driving the quickest diesel truck in the country. PP: I never did. You definitely don't want to set a goal too short, but in the amount of time that has happened, everything has progressed rapidly. We're getting a lot of exposure and a lot of sponsors. It has been great. It really has.
The CrewchiefRobert Donalson, a fuel-injection technician for Shiver Diesel in Tifton, Georgia, is the crewchief for Team Green.