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  • Four Wheel Drive Diesel Sled Pulling - 80 Years Of Sled Pulling

Four Wheel Drive Diesel Sled Pulling - 80 Years Of Sled Pulling

The Movers And Shakers In Diesel's Most Captivating Sport

Mike McGlothlin
Jan 1, 2009
Photographers: Courtesy of Bosch, Mike McGlothlin
Photo 2/11   |   four Wheel Drive Diesel Sled Pulling big Bad Dodge
The sport of sled pulling has come a long way since being introduced in Vaughnsville, Ohio, and Bowling Green, Missouri, in 1929. Competitive sled pulling began with conventional farm tractors. For decades, tractor pulling enthusiasts crafted performance parts and developed driving techniques to out-pull their rivals. After years of research and practice with high-horsepower tractors, gas-powered pickups entered the game in the '70s and were well received. The same couldn't be said for diesel trucks, which were initially looked down on by the majority of competitors. But in time, proven setups, relentless innovations, and dedicated fans all led to the explosive emergence of today's four-wheel-drive diesel sled pulling scene.
Those that were able to forecast the four-wheel-drive diesel explosion, both on the pavement and in the dirt, have also been the most successful in the diesel aftermarket. Some of the biggest names in sled pulling today helped ignite the diesel-pickup fire just a decade ago.
Humble Beginnings
It would be hard to say who first thought of hooking to the sled with their 6.2L Chevy or 6.9L Ford diesels. Van Haisley of Haisley Machine claims that, long before the Cummins arrived, the first diesel pickup down the track was an '83 Ford F-250 in 1983. By 1984, Haisley followed suit, piloting a '75 Chevy powered by a 6.2L, and equipped with a Gale Banks turbo. As you can imagine, diesel victories were not common in these early days, as any diesel owner wanting to compete had to do so against highly modified gas-powered vehicles. Gene Mohney, a former competitor and current official for the National Association of Diesel Motorsports, agrees that the gas guys were a tough crowd to pull with, even in the mid '90s. Competing with a diesel-powered truck usually meant you would be waiting long after nightfall to get your chance to go down the track.
Dave Mitchell, owner of Enterprise Engine Performance (EEP), vividly remembers those early days, where diesel trucks were still considered outsiders in the sport. "They threw us in the run-what-you-brung class, we always pulled last, and sometimes not until early in the morning. But, you had to start somewhere, and fans would hang right in there just to watch it."
Innovative Ideas
One of the single most defining moments for diesel pickups and their involvement in sled pulling surfaced when the '94 12-valve Cummins came equipped with P7100 injection pumps. Dan Scheid of Scheid Diesel simply called it an "eye opener," as the tractor technology that had existed for years, and provided the potential to make serious power, was now standard equipment on a diesel truck.
In 1994, Mitchell set up a local customer for sled pulling from EEP's then small shop in Thornville, Ohio. Soon after this, he began to realize the endless possibilities that existed for the P-pumped Cummins. In the blink of an eye, he was considered the go-to-guy if you wanted a competitive P-pumped Dodge. By 1997, potent engines were being put together left and right, but one major problem existed-clutches weren't holding. In mid 1997, Robert Holmes built Mitchell a clutch that proved reliable. It was a massive single-disc unit with an obscene amount of springs. Looking back on the primitive design, Mitchell told us "that was one stiff clutch." It's hard to imagine, but at the time, anything that would let a truck get off the line was worth running. The following year, Holmes built a dual-disc clutch, and Mitchell joined the Haisleys in state-to-state truck pull competitions throughout the Midwest.The diesel truck pulling scene began picking up speed in the late '90s, and diesels were soon going head-to-head with the gas guys. By 2002, Scheid began its first major buildup to compete with Haisley Machine and EEP. It was at this time that Mitchell had done enough R&D on his engines to release another first for the sport-the first twin-turbo setup on a four-wheel-drive diesel sled puller. Comprised of an HX35 and an HT3B turbo, Mitchell's early setups made around 500 hp. Jeff Prince and Gene Mohney were among some of the first to use Mitchell's twin setup, and, over time, this combo was able to put out 800 hp.
Shifting Toward Mainstream
As diesel sled pulling trucks became more popular, the public's interest in them began to grow. In 2004, Dave Radzierez gave them what they wanted-the first center-drive Pro-Modified truck with a full tilt-body called How Do You Like Me Now? It proved to be a big hit, even though the truck was considered underpowered in its class. Radzierez told us "it did not matter how I placed, it was the fact that the public could see the truck from top to bottom. The tilt-body was definitely a step in the right direction."
Another leap toward mainstreaming diesel trucks was taken by Eric McBride, president of the Diesel Hot Rod Association. In 2005, he was able to get exhibition sled pulls from Canfield, Ohio, and Springfield, Missouri, showcased on The Outdoor Channel's World of Trucks program.
Today, Scheid's Diesel Extravaganza, the TS Performance Outlaw Drag Race and Sled Pull, and North American Diesel Performance's August Blackout are considered must-attend events in the diesel world, although hundreds of others exist, and new events are created every year. As an addition to the Indianapolis 4x4 Jamboree held every year, in 2008 NADM put together an invitational event made up of some of the country's top trucks. Displayed in front of a packed grandstand, this event proved that weather permitting-diesel truck sled pulling has a permanent place in motorsports.
Unbelievably Competitive
Throughout the years, most diesel shops have grown up alongside the very sport they were fueling. For most, being a consistent force in sled pulling is a job in itself, not to mention trying to run a business full-time as well. This was the case with Dave Mitchell, who in 2004, had to make a tough decision-work or play. He told us "every year the bar kept going higher and higher, and the shop got busier and busier."
Van Haisley couldn't agree more. In the top ranks of today's pulling classes, time is money. It is definitely a fine balance to be able to get everything accomplished at his shop during the week, then be several hundred miles away all weekend at a pull. Not to mention if repairs and improvements need to be made to the truck after returning home.
Just as the old tractor adage "pull on Sunday, plow on Monday" disappeared when tractors began to receive wild modifications in the early 1970s, diesel trucks have gone the same route. According to Erik Stacey, owner and driver of Pro-Modified truck Smokinya, successful trucks owe a lot to the tractor crowd. "Anybody that's successful in our division has a connection with the tractor guys, that's where all the technology is coming from." And thanks to the ever-improving technology, the competition has gotten downright serious. "It's not a summer sport for us anymore. You have to come with something better every year because guys aren't just sitting around in the winter."We couldn't agree with Stacey more. The sport's competitiveness has grown to massive proportions, and continues to expand each year. At Scheid's Diesel Extravaganza this past August, 89 trucks ran in the Work Stock class alone. And, with some die-hards pumping as much as $20,000 to $30,000 into some of these 2.6-inch-diameter inducer class engines, we'd say there are no signs of letting up.
Anatomy of a Pro-Modified Puller
(These are the heavyweights in diesel truck pulling)
* Engines must have air and fuel shut-offs
* Engine size cannot exceed 460 ci*
* Engines are typically hand-throttled for optimum control
* Two turbocharger limit
* Water injection is permitted, but propane, nitrous, and alcohol injection are not allowed
* Typically, transmissions are one-speed (reversers and drop boxes allowed) with a clutch
* 3/4-ton or 1-ton pickup body--fiberglass or steel
* Tube chassis or factory reinforced frame
* Maximum wheelbase cannot exceed 158 inches*
* Rigid suspension is allowed*
* Maximum tire height is 35 inches, but tires can be cut or sharpened*
* Weights cannot hang in excess of 60 inches from the center of the front axle*
* Exhaust must exit straight up*
* Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League Rules (PPL)
How Pulling Classes Are Dictated
2.6 or Work Stock: Single 2.6-inch-diameter inducer turbo allowed
2.8 or Work Stock: Single 2.8-inch-diameter inducer turbo allowed
3.0 or Pro Street: Single 3.0-inch-diameter inducer turbo allowed
Pro Modified or Super Stock: Two turbo limit, no restriction on turbo size