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The Top 15 Trendsetters of Diesel Power

Diesels of Our Decade

Jason Sands
Jun 11, 2015
Photographers: Jason Sands
While we’ve seen a lot of trends come and go in the 10 years that’ve passed since the first issue of Diesel Power hit newsstands and the web, there are a few special vehicles that somewhat define our decade. From diesel-motivated rat rods to race trucks that could break 200 mph and 6.4L Fords that dominated Diesel Power Challenge, the last 10 years have been full of excitement.
For this report, we selected five street-legal rides, five competition vehicles, five OEM diesels—and one overall winner—that we feel are some of the most influential diesel-powered machines of this magazine’s first decade, all of which have appeared in Diesel Power. Enjoy the ride!
Street Trucks
Diesel Power’s Most Influential Vehicle of the Decade:
Richard “Mad Dog” Madsen’s Cummins-Powered ’95 Ford F-350
It might seem odd that we’ve selected a truck whose claim to fame actually occurred two years before Diesel Power came to be, as the most influential diesel ride of the decade. But almost everyone we spoke with about the game changers remembers Mad Dog’s Fummins (Cummins-powered Ford) as one of the trucks that started it all—perhaps even helping coin the term “Fummins.”
Photo 2/33   |   1995 Ford F 350 Burnout
In 2003, Richard and his compound-turbocharged 5.9L Cummins-powered Ford showed up at the Las Vegas Midnight Madness drags after driving all the way from Utah. After it tipped the scales at 7,142 pounds, many folks were doubtful of Richard’s intentions of running 12s in the quarter-mile in his hopped-up rig.
What happened next was nothing short of magic. After spotting the RX-7 in the other lane a good half a second head start, the “Big Green School Bus” rocketed to an 11.42-second elapsed time (at 118 mph), absolutely killing the import in the next lane. Despite the weight, 37-inch tires, and 8-inch lift—and although it was half as big as a house— Richard’s Ford planted performance diesels on the map in a single video. Oh yeah, did we mention the whole thing was caught on camera? Word spread, and the video became a hit on Trekkster, a popular car video site of the time. It was later uploaded to YouTube and spread there as well.
Photo 3/33   |   5 9l Cummins Diesel
While there have been faster street-legal trucks for sure, the performance of Richard’s ride was nothing short of amazing considering the time. Richard’s Ford-Cummins set the standard that diesel trucks didn’t need to be lightweight or have drag-only hardware to be fast, as the F-350 was running right on the NHRA’s rollcage mandate—outstanding performance for a truck that could tow 20,000 pounds and haul a family around. Richard’s 11.42-second pass in 2003 would have been the second-quickest time at Diesel Power Challenge 2014.
When we caught up with Richard in 2006, he was still drag racing his truck and hitting dynos all around the West Coast. Eventually, Richard acquired his own dyno, which he would tow to events—sometimes with the hybrid Ford—and most of the time he could even win the contests if he entered.
After several engine rebuilds and turbo upgrades, the truck was outfitted with a much bigger ’charger that required notching the frame for proper fitment. The Fummins made as much as 1,262 hp on the dyno and went as quick as 6.6 seconds in the eighth-mile, which translates to low 10s in the quarter.
The rig appeared in Diesel Power, Off-Road, and even Hot Rod. For what it was and what it accomplished, Richard’s Fummins is the most influential diesel of our first decade.
Erik Clausen’s Diesel Power Challenge–Winning ’08 Ford F-250
Shortly after Ford’s 6.4L Power Stroke engines debuted in 2008, there were rumblings that the Blue Oval contingent finally had what it takes to compete in Diesel Power Challenge.
Photo 4/33   |   2008 Ford F 250
Though the Power Stroke is a longstanding benchmark of all-around performance at DPC, the best position one had ever finished in was Fourth Place, while the podium spots were left for the Duramax- and Cummins-powered rigs. In 2012, there were a lot of strong contenders for the title, along with an underdog alternate entry of Erik Clausen, who had been given just a few days’ notice that he was in the competition. Most people dismissed the truck (an ’08 F-250) as being too big, too tall, too heavy, and completely unproven.
Despite the last-minute invite, Erik went on to prove just what the new Power Stroke was capable of doing—by blasting off 11.80s at the dragstrip despite a race weight of nearly 9,000 pounds, finishing well on the dyno, and winning the sled pull. The truck’s coilover front suspension and huge lift worked well in virtually every event and Erik proved himself to be no slouch at driving, either, winning the trailer obstacle course. While other Fords have done well in DPC before and since Erik’s F-250, it was he who first proved the new 6.4L Power Strokes could hang with the Cummins- and Duramax-powered trucks.
Gale Banks’ Sidewinder ’02 Dodge Dakota
The Gale Banks Engineering Sidewinder is an interesting case, because it was developed and built at the onset of the diesel movement. Gale Banks saw there was a lot left on the table in terms of vehicle performance if pickup truck powerplants were swapped into lighter platforms. Hence, the Sidewinder was born: an ’02 Dodge Dakota with a 5.9L Cummins shoehorned into it. Thanks to that lump, the Sidewinder had enough punch to set an FIA World Record speed of 217 mph at Bonneville.
Photo 5/33   |   Banks Sidewinder 2002 Dodge Dakota
While the Dakota’s speed is impressive, it also ran 12s in the quarter-mile, achieved more than 20 mpg and—just like Gale’s drag truck (also named Sidewinder) did later for the racing community—put diesel performance in the spotlight.
Dmitri Millard’s ’01 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD
We’ve encountered lots of hot street trucks over the past decade, but it’s quite possible none have been as visible or controversial as Dmitri Millard’s ’01 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD, nicknamed Red.
Photo 6/33   |   2001 Chevy Silverado 2500hd
For years, Dmitri could be spotted crisscrossing the country, heading to races and dyno events, or delivering parts to customers. However, things really ramped up after the 2010 Diesel Power Challenge, in which Dmitri and his rig scored First Place overall and set a trailer-tow record (9.96 seconds in the eighth-mile) that still stands.
The Chevy has seen countless engine and turbo combinations and has sparked debates across the nation about dynos and correction factors with pulls of 1,500 to 1,900 rear-wheel horsepower or more on different dynos in different parts of the country. Dmitri was even insane enough to drive Red to Canada, more than 1,000 miles away from his shop in Orem, Utah, where he clicked off what may possibly be the only 9-second pass ever run by a four-door street truck (a 9.99 at 138 mph). After that, he packed up and drove the same 1,000 miles back home. And that’s why Dmitri’s Red is on our Top 15 list.
Photo 7/33   |   2001 Chevy Silverado 2500hd Duramax Diesel
Mike Wood’s Duramax-powered ’04 Ford Mustang
The thought of a big-cubic-inch diesel engine in a light car seems to excite just about everyone, but perhaps the most impressive swap of the decade has been Mike Wood’s Duramax-powered Mustang. When we featured the car in 2008, it was running low 10s in the quarter-mile and achieving more than 30 mpg at Hot Rod magazine’s Drag Week—and that was just the start. Later, a Gear Vendors Overdrive was added to the 4L80E transmission, the engine was hopped up a bit more and given larger doses of nitrous, and the entire combination was fine-tuned. Then Mike went racing.
Photo 8/33   |   2004 Ford Mustang With Duramax Diesel
Although not as publicized as they perhaps should have been, the numbers for Mike’s Duramax-motivated Mustang were astounding. It hit 45.9 mpg in a fuel-economy test (with the transmission in double overdrive), went mid-9s on the dragstrip, and ran 202 mph in the standing mile. Mike’s Mustang also made the cover of Hot Rod on a subsequent Drag Week and is one of few diesels ever to do so.
Mike also proved that GM’s 4L80E automatic transmission can handle a diesel’s torque. While there have been swaps with more color and chrome during the decade, few have ever been more capable than Mike’s Durastang.
Photo 9/33   |   2004 Ford Mustang With Duramax Diesel
Steve’s Darnell’s ’28 Dodge Brothers Rat Rod
One of the most influential rat rods ever—let alone during the 10 years of Diesel Power —was built by Steve Darnell of Las Vegas, Nevada. The ’28 Dodge Brothers sedan is unlike anything most people have seen and, when it debuted in 2008, it sparked an interest in diesel-powered rat rods that continues to this day.
Photo 10/33   |   1928 Dodge Brothers Rat Rod
It’s perhaps one of the most widely known diesel vehicles on the planet, too. A “demotivational” poster someone made featuring a photo of Steve’s rat rod and a disparaging comment toward the Toyota Prius went viral more than once—and has been viewed by who knows how many people.
Another reason why Steve’s rat rod is different than most is its performance. While rat rods are rarely fast, Steve’s ’28 has run in the 12-, 11-, and 10-second elapsed time range with ease, thanks to a compound-turbocharged 5.9L Cummins engine. Steve now has his own television show, Vegas Rat Rods, and he credits his extreme diesel for helping kick-start his TV effort. He has turned down more than $200,000 for the car and continues to drive it.
Competition Diesels
Scheid’s Diesel Dragster
During the last 10 years, the world’s quickest diesel-powered race car in the quarter-mile has been Scheid’s diesel dragster. Back in 2005, Scheid blasted on the scene with a Uyehara chassis and compound-turbocharged Cummins power, clicking off mid-7-second passes. While 7s in the quarter may sound impressive, owner Dan Scheid took it upon himself to break his own record—over and over again. The Scheid dragster was the first in the 6s and the first diesel to go faster than 200 mph in the quarter, and it has had a heavy presence in the NHRA’s Top Dragster Class, going three rounds at one race.
Photo 14/33   |   Scheid Diesel Dragster
Dan’s dragster has suffered numerous broken transmission parts, engine and turbo explosions, and various “pain and suffering” learning curves en route to its current quickest pass of 6.32 seconds at 228 mph with driver Jared Jones at the wheel. While there are just a handful of diesel dragsters out there, Scheid’s rail has wowed fans at diesel events across the country.
Photo 15/33   |   Scheid Diesel Dragster Engine
’05 Audi R10 TDI
Back in 2005, a time when diesel engines were getting the reputation of being powerful but also smoky and dirty, Audi helped change that image with its R10: a dual-turbocharged, aluminum, 5.5L V-12 TDI-powered race car that whooshed around the track in record times—and even won its class at the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Photo 16/33   |   2005 Audi R10 Tdi
Making as much as 1,000 clean horsepower was quite an accomplishment at that time…and it still is today. People who viewed diesel engines as synonymous with big, heavy things suddenly had to reevaluate their prejudices. The Audi’s immediate dominance forced racing sanctions to make rule changes after the 2006 season, in an effort to reestablish parity, and leading companies such as Peugeot to join the ranks with their own diesel-powered racers.
Gale Banks’ Chevrolet S-10 Drag Truck
If there is one vehicle that turned the diesel drag racing world on its head, it’s Gale Banks’ Sidewinder, a Chevrolet S-10 drag truck that hit the scene in 2007. Back then, there were very few drag-specific vehicles that were powered by diesel engines, and they were all fast but smoky. Gale changed all that and proved that with proper tuning, good turbo selection, and a bit of nitrous, extremely fast, smoke-free runs were possible.
Photo 20/33   |   Banks Chevy S10 Drag Truck
The truck was so smokeless on most of its passes that other competitors started to wonder how it was even possible, and rumors that the team was using some sort of special fuel, or that the truck ran on methanol or myriad other things started spreading.
The fact that the drag truck bypassed an extreme amount of exhaust energy and sounded like a big-block Chevy didn’t help, but the truck’s 7-second passes brought new respect to diesels from the (gasoline) drag racing community. The Sidewinder S-10 went 7.72 back in 2008, and the existing Pro Stock truck record (as of March 2015) is just a few tenths quicker, so it just goes to show how far ahead of its time it was.
Wes Kusilek’s Cummins Killer
Sled pulling has been a constant in the diesel-performance scene for the entire decade Diesel Power has been in existence, so it just makes sense that our competition-vehicle category includes two pullers. Years back, there were a number of Duramax-powered rides in the lower Stock or 2.6 pulling classes, but in the classes that required big power and big money to compete in—3.0 and Super Stock—it was Cummins power or nothing.
Photo 24/33   |   Gmc Sierra Sled Pulling Truck
When we first saw Wes Kusilek’s GMC, we thought, Hey that’s neat—a Duramax mixing it up with the big boys…bet it gets stomped. Initially, we were right, as the tilt-body Sierra would usually finish mid-pack at best. Eventually, though, the renamed Cummins Killer (after Trevor Reed’s 2008 article) started finishing First, Second, or Third at some of the top events in the country. For paving the way and showing people that the Duramax engine had what it takes, we give Wes’ sled puller a spot in our Top 15.
Shane Kellogg’s Gotta Have It! Sled Puller
A few years back, sled pullers in the crazy competitive Super Stock Diesel Truck Class were having quite a hard time. Engines were lasting only a few passes before the blocks cracked, and the shops that were helping supply the engines were replacing the broken bullets like, well, ammunition. That all changed when Haisley Machine teamed up with Shane Kellogg and built a filled, deck-plated 6.7L Cummins. The overbuilt engine didn’t break once during the entire 2010 season.
Photo 25/33   |   Shane Kellogs Sled Pulling Dodge Ram
What was special about this is that with Haisley’s engine and Shane’s driving skills, not only did the truck hold up—it won…and it kept winning. Horsepower climbed past 2,000, then past 2,500, all with the same combination. While there have been a lot of impressive performances over the years in the sport of sled pulling, Shane Kellogg and Haisley Machine helped change the scenery and motivate competition to the next level.
OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer)
’89 Dodge Ram Series
By the mid-’80s, America’s Big Three automobile manufacturers (Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors) had some type of diesel program in place, producing everything from fuel-sipping commuter cars to ¾-ton trucks that ran on diesel fuel.
Photo 26/33   |   1989 Dodge Ram
However, despite the impressive production numbers, early diesels had their issues. They were underpowered, slow, and had a short survival rate due to component and design weaknesses.
In 1989, all that changed, however, as Dodge introduced a Cummins engine into its Ram lineup. The 5.9L diesel was rated at 160 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, but it was actually closer to 200 hp and 500 lb-ft in the early ’89 to ’91 non-intercooled trucks, and that could be bumped up even further to about 300 hp and 700 lb-ft—by simply twisting the fuel screw. It didn’t take hot-rodders long to figure out this easy method of increasing power, and it wasn’t too long before Dodge Rams with lightly modified diesels were popping up all over the Midwest and South.
While 300 hp in a basically stock truck (with the fuel turned up) may seem tame by today’s standards, back then it was pretty good power. The performance values are important, but the ’89 Dodge was a true game changer in that it was reliable at that power level and would run for many years without any issues. Being able to achieve and withstand a big power gain without much effort is common for newer diesel trucks, and we like to think it’s the ’89 Dodge that ushered in the modern era of diesel performance.
’01 GM 2500HD/3500HD Series Trucks
While common-rail fuel-injection systems are overwhelmingly popular now, it wasn’t always that way. Engines in most diesel trucks of the ’80s and ’90s were mechanically injected. But tighter emissions regulations and demand for increased performance meant something had to change. In 2001, GM introduced its line of Duramax diesel engines and set the tone for the next 15 years.
Photo 27/33   |   2001 Chevrolet Silverado 3500 HD Duramax
The Duramax engine has a hydraulic pump that sends fuel to dual common injection rails pressurized to around 30,000 psi, and then each injector fires off of multiple injection events at the proper times. This constant pressure and precise injection timing means less smoke, more power, and more overall control over the engine.
Initially rated at 300 hp, the same basic engine design has survived for more than 10 years and now makes nearly 400 hp. While there are several different designations of Duramax engines (LB7, LLY, LBZ, LMM, and LML), the basic platform is still the same. Whether or not you like GM and its trucks, it’s the Duramax that gets credit for bringing us into the modern age of common-rail diesel performance and electronic tuning.
’99 to Present Volkswagen TDI
While truck manufacturers Dodge (Ram), Ford, and Chevrolet/GMC are all on the list of the Top 5 diesel- producing OEMs, they’re joined by just one carmaker: Volkswagen. Why VW? Mainly because of the company’s overwhelming success with its diesel-powered hatchbacks, sedans, and station wagons. Thanks to fuel economy ratings of up to 46 mpg and very affordable price points, TDI sales took off. Factor in cheaper diesel prices than gas, and sales skyrocketed. Ten years later, Volkswagen is still the manufacturer many people turn to when they need a nice, reliable commuter car.
Photo 28/33   |   Vw Tdi Diesel Engine
’14 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel
While we’re suddenly taking a big jump (in years) in our breakdown of the decade’s influential OEM diesels, that doesn’t make this entry—Ram’s EcoDiesel 1500—any less deserving than others we’ve noted.
Photo 29/33   |   2014 Ram Ecodiesel
Since the economic downturn in 2008, truck buyers have been looking for rigs that offered better fuel mileage but still had all the capabilities that came with a truck. While the OEMs had been making noise about a ½-ton diesel truck for years, it was Ram who finally jumped into the category with its 420-lb-ft Ram 1500 EcoDiesel.
Take that in for a moment. That’s a 5,800-pound truck against a 3,000-pound econobox. A truck that can tow 12,000 pounds, versus something that can tow maybe 500 pounds. An entire truck bed’s worth of space, compared to a hatchback that’s cut in half by back seats. While the Ram EcoDiesel 1500 is slightly less capable than gas-fueled V-8 ½-ton pickups in terms of power and performance, it fills an empty spot in the diesel-truck lineup that we’d been anticipating for a while now. If current sales are any indication of the future, the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel isn’t going anywhere.
’11 to ’15 Ford F-Series Super Duty
Ford has had a hard time with its diesel engines in the last decade or so, first with the troublesome 6.0L Power Stroke, and then with the 6.4L. So, for 2011, the company released a game-changing 6.7L powertrain as a better match for the Super Duty’s sturdy frame and body.
Photo 30/33   |   2015 Ford Super Duty
For starters, the engine has a compacted graphite iron (CGI) block, which is stronger and lighter than traditional cast iron. It also has reverse-flow heads, which send exhaust up through the valley, with intakes on the outside of the valve covers. This revolutionary design allows for shorter exhaust headers to light the turbo faster for response and emissions. As for power, the ’15 Super Duty’s second-generation 6.7L is also the first diesel to blast past the 400hp mark in a big way—with a whopping 440 hp—which puts quite a bit of distance on the competition and just may usher in a new horsepower race.