Don’t Do This - Top 10 Competitive Mistakes of DPC

What Not To Do At Diesel Power Challenge

The Diesel Power Staff
Sep 19, 2013
Photographers: The Diesel Power Staff
Each year, as the competition at Diesel Power Challenge becomes more and more fierce, we see far too many competitors’ dreams of victory crushed by avoidable errors. While most often these mistakes result in a mechanical failure, they are typically brought on by either a lack of judgment, inexperience, or simply a fierce desire to win. With DPC 2013 now in the books, we decided it was time to sit down and work up a list of the more common things that cost competitors their shot at the cup each year, in hopes that our next group of DPC participants might not make these same mistakes.
Photo 2/8   |   Wrenching On Chevy Duramax
10. The Fuel Economy Challenge
Tested during the Ride and Drive event, fuel economy has been part of the Challenge since its inception. It was originally used as a tiebreaker, and we have seen some ingenious setups employed in an attempt to garner the highest mpg possible. 2010 saw Matt Handwork achieve an astonishing 45.58 mpg by using a CNG system, while Dmitri Millard pulled off an average of 36.55 mpg using his low-pressure nitrous system to keep his turbos spooled and maintain speed on hills. Recently, most competitors have been running on Number 2 only and relying on tuning and driving technique to achieve the best mileage possible.
Complacency had set in by 2012, and competitors had all but disregarded this portion of the contest. So for 2013, the competition was shaken up when it was announced that going forward, the fuel economy portion of DPC would be a scored event. Future competitors are going to once again need to focus on fuel economy, and while the rules state that Number 2 diesel is to be the primary fuel source, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a resurgence of the use of injectables such as CNG and propane. Disregarding this event is no longer an option.
9. Ignoring the Obstacle Course
For 2011, we added an entirely new event: the Trailer Tow Obstacle Course. The concept is simple: Competitors tow a loaded trailer through a series of obstacles that are set up to emulate the Class A commercial driver’s test. Since it is one of the few DPC events that you can practice from home, we’re shocked that most people don’t. It is easy enough to buy, rent, borrow, or steal a trailer and set up a cone pattern in an empty lot. Each year, we seem to have at least one competitor who gets frustrated and loses his cool while backing the trailer through the course or into the finish and either gets hit with a lot of penalties or loses time on repeated attempts.
Photo 3/8   |   Backing Trailer Over Cones
We can’t encourage future competitors enough to hone their trailer backing skills before leaving for the competition. And a little strategy goes a long way. A smooth, moderately paced run will yield the best results, but if you happen to hit a cone, in most instances it is better to take the 5-second penalty than to back up and try to go around it. Since the time starts when the truck moves, boosted launches can shave seconds off a competitor’s time.
8. Tire Choice
Over the years, we have noticed something interesting regarding tire choice. More people have won Diesel Power Challenge on all-terrain tires than any other type. One of the lesser-known rules of DPC is that competitors must run the same tire throughout the entire competition. So while a tire might excel in one event, it could be the entirely wrong choice for another. The all-terrain tire has proved itself to be the best compromise for all seven events. Past competitors have tried all sorts of different tire types—from large mud tires to small street tires—and all have come up short. The closest we have come to an alternative tire victory was in 2010 when Matt Handwork chose to run a set of drag radials with the intent to dominate at the dragstrip and shoot for midpack in the sled pull. His plan was working until a blown turbo took him out of the completion on day two. So while your truck might look better on a set of big mud tires, history has told us the recipe for success is an all-terrain.
7. Cheaters Will Be Caught
Thankfully, this one hasn’t been an issue too frequently. Diesel Power Challenge is the real deal, and sometimes the drive to win at all costs can overcome a competitor’s better judgment. We’ve seen competitors try to overrun the dyno, resulting in catastrophic failure and their withdrawal from the competition. Competitors have tried to add or shave weight for events, even though the Challenge is a run-what-ya-brung event and trucks are required to complete all events in the state they were in for tech inspection. Removing tailgates, trailer hitches, spare tires, and passenger seats are all examples of attempts to shave weight at the dragstrip, and adding tools and spare parts in attempts to increase weight for sled pulling have all been seen.
Photo 4/8   |   Wrenching On Dodge Ram
Diesel Power Challenge is a pretty open event, and we try to not be overbearing at the risk of stifling creativity. With that said, we do keep a close watch on competitors during the course of the competition to ensure full compliance with the few rules DPC does have. And rest assured, if we miss something, the other competitors surely catch it.
6. Lose the Attitude
This might be a tough one for some people to swallow, but leave the attitude at home. We can usually tell who is going to do well during the competition before it even begins. While most people come to compete and have a good time, sometimes teams seem to just show up to party. And while this leads to a great vacation, it usually doesn’t lead to winning.
Photo 5/8   |   Wrenching On Dodge Ram
An arrogant or cocky attitude also leads to failure. While confidence is great, we’ve seen far too many broken parts caused by arrogance. A calm, cool, and collected demeanor typically prevails. Remember, DPC is a weeklong event, and to win, your truck must survive until the end. Smart driving in all events is key.
5. No Hand Shakers
We don’t want to discourage anyone from entering, but a manual transmission has never won Diesel Power Challenge. DPC 2013 had no manual transmission trucks, and 2012 saw only one. While the manual transmissions that come behind modern diesel engines are extremely stout and can handle absurd amounts of power compared to their automatic counterparts, there is something about the repeated, as well as varied, torture DPC dishes out that almost always causes failure. And the ones that don’t have mechanical issues lose ground to the automatics in the speed of their shifting during our two dragstrip events, as well as the obstacle course.
Photo 6/8   |   Changing Transmission
Automatic transmissions are not immune, either. DPC is hard on transmissions—very hard on transmissions. Inevitably, transmission failure will result in at least one competitor bowing out of the competition. And this isn’t limited to any single brand, model, or build of transmission; we’ve seen them all fail in one form or another. To be successful at DPC, a truck needs a transmission that is stout enough to handle the power it’s putting down, along with the truck’s weight. And bring a spare; a quick parking lot swap can be the difference between winning and going home early.
4. Underestimating Altitude
Moving Diesel Power Challenge from Bowling Green, Kentucky (547 feet above sea level), to Salt Lake City, Utah (4,327 feet above sea level), to the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado, made quite an impact on the competition. With Bandimere Speedway residing at 5,800 feet above sea level, the thinner air makes turbo spooling that much more difficult. Every year, we see roughly half the field struggle while the other half has little to no problem building boost. As the quest for power rages on, we’re seeing larger turbochargers than ever before on competitors’ trucks, which tend to work great in their home states. But when brought up to a high altitude, they struggle to do anything at all.
Smart competitors will either test at high altitude (some are fortunate enough to live at altitude), or come prepared to swap in a smaller turbo before the event begins. Others will sit in the parking lot the night before the event is set to begin and pump bottle after bottle of nitrous into their engine in an attempt to get their turbo to spool up. It is the latter scenario that will haunt competitors all week, in nearly every event. It’s been our experience that a truck with a quick-spooling turbo arrangement will finish higher than a more powerful truck with a larger turbo with spooling issues in almost every event. There are exceptions to this, however, as was evidenced during DPC 2013 by Paul Cato, who had no trouble getting his massive Bullseye Power 80mm S400 turbo to light.
3. Nitrous Oxide Education
You don’t need nitrous to win Diesel Power Challenge. That being said, if done right, there is absolutely nothing wrong with running nitrous oxide, so long as you understand the risks. Most competitors use nitrous and don’t have any issue with it. The problems occur when a competitor doesn’t understand how, when, where, why, or how much nitrous to use. Oftentimes, when a potential competitor gets the phone call that he has been chosen to compete, one of the first things he will do to his truck is add nitrous, or increase the amount of nitrous he is currently running.
Photo 7/8   |   Nitrous Bottle
Each year, there is at least one truck that suffers catastrophic failure at the hands of a nitrous backfire. And this is typically brought on by overuse while trying to spool too large of a turbo at altitude. Engine failure is not the only risk associated with relying on nitrous. Nitrous oxide systems add complexity and failure points. We often see trucks with reliable and modest nitrous systems fall victim to solenoid failure, faulty bottle heaters, incorrect nozzle jets, bad controllers, and even sticky bottle valves. During DPC 2013, Banean Woosley put down the quickest quarter-mile pass in the history of the event—a 10.80 at 129 mph—during qualifying. However, during eliminations, Banean got caught at the lights when he couldn’t get his turbos spooled up due in part to a faulty bottle heater causing low nitrous pressure on the 45-degree day. David Heafner also fell victim to a faulty nitrous controller, which kept his solenoids from activating while on the dyno, landing him in last place.
2. Fresh Engines
Competition is fierce, and nobody wants to risk being left in the dust. Competitors are given relatively short notice once they are chosen, and oftentimes this leads to frantic rebuilds in the month leading up to the event. Competitors will show up at the event with the only miles on the engine being those from the shop to the trailer. People will enter with a perfectly good, proven, engine setup only to change it all once they get the phone call. This is one of the worst mistakes a competitor can make.
Photo 8/8   |   Cummins Valve Cover
Diesel Power Challenge is not the place to be breaking in, or test-’n’-tuning a new engine setup. We can almost guarantee that this practice of a full rebuild the night before will lead to nothing but headaches during the competition. Historically, the trucks that have been running reliably in the months leading up to the competition—even if they have significantly lower power—will finish the event much better than the slapped-together potential power monsters. It’s a harsh reality, but it is reality nonetheless. Look at the previous three winners, for example. Dmitri Millard, Rocky Horn, and Erik Clausen all came into the event the first year with running, reliable trucks, and won. The next year, all three made significant changes and finished low in the standings. Not since Michael Tomac won in 2006 and 2007 has a competitor been able to back up a victory. What was his secret? The truck remained relatively unchanged between years, and he spent the time honing his driving skills.
1. Enter To Win
The number one mistake people make is not entering Diesel Power Challenge. It’s that simple. You can’t win if you don’t compete, and you can’t compete if you don’t enter. If you can swing the time off work, gather a crew, and get to Colorado, DPC is quite possibly the most fun a person can have competing with a diesel truck. And as we’ve seen in years past, it doesn’t take a purpose-built race truck to be competitive; a well-built, high-power street truck with a competent driver and good crew can easily take home the top prize. We encourage everyone reading this to turn to page 123 and send in your entry form for Diesel Power Challenge X today!



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