Blast from the Past: 5 Influential Diesel Racers from Yesteryear

Organized diesel drag racing may have less than 20 years of history under its belt, but in that time many talented racers and vehicles have contributed to its already storied past. The five trucks we’ve profiled below might not have pioneered diesel drag racing, but they certainly came to symbolize where things were heading. During their tenures in the sport, the gutted 4x4 vs. back-halved two-wheel drive battle heated up, single, compound and triple-turbo arrangements were all being successfully campaigned and common-rail injection began to infiltrate the top ranks of the sport, going head-to-head against the mechanical 12-valve Cummins.

By taking things to the next level, the following vehicles not only impressed at the track, but they had a profound impact on the diesel industry as a whole. If there was a hall of fame for diesel drag racing, these trucks and their drivers would be in it.

Chris Calkins & Scott Starling: Orange Crush

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Long before the Allison transmission was thought of as race-friendly and in the infancy of EFI Live tuning, the Orange Crush Chevy was tearing up the ‘strip. Co-owned by Chris Calkins and Scott Starling, the all-steel 1970 C10 was back-halved, equipped with a 9-inch fitted with a Strange Engineering spool and 40-spline axle shafts and weighed in at a fairly trim 4,200 pounds. With Calkins at the helm, the truck’s breakneck launches yielded 1.4-second 60-foots and push it into the high 9s. The Orange Crush’s fastest quarter-mile pass to date came in the fall of 2007: a 9.87 at 139 mph.

Untouched LB7

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Surprisingly, a stock long-block LB7 Duramax (graced with ARP head studs and Cometic gaskets) served as the foundation for the truck’s near-800rwhp when it made its 9.87-second pass. Fueling was provided by a set of injectors from Industrial Injection and a pair of Industrial CP3s in conjunction with a PPE Dual Fueler system, a single turbo (also from Industrial) and a water-to-air intercooler took care of airflow and tuning was handled via EFI Live, with a helping hand from Steve Cole at TTS Power Systems. Although shifting issues with the Allison sometimes hampered the team’s drag racing efforts, the vibrant orange C10 still managed the title of being the quickest Duramax-powered truck in the country for a period of time.

Gene Feldhans: Stroked Lightning

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Also referred to as “the Little Red Truck” by its owner, Gene Feldhans, Stroked Lightning not only pushed the envelope for 6.0L Ford owners, but it also sparked a short-bed craze among enthusiasts, with Feldhans himself performing several conversions for friends throughout the diesel industry. Originally purchased as an ’04 F-250 long-bed by Brian Cunningham to be used to promote the Southern California Power Strokes club (SOCAPS), the frame was cut, the driveshaft and brake lines were shortened and a 6.5-foot bed was bolted in place. To help the two-wheel drive Super Duty bite at the track, Feldhans also added a four-link rear suspension. With what many would consider to be fairly minor engine modifications by today’s standards, the 5,500-pound regular cab ran a best quarter-mile of 11.51 at 119 mph all the way back in 2005.

Nitrous-Fed 6.0L

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Back when most folks were worried about their stock 6.0L Power Stroke blowing a head gasket, Feldhans was knee-deep in modifying his. The heads were ported and O-ringed and head studs were added. The factory VGT was scrapped in favor of a Turbonetics T-72 and a two-stage ZEX nitrous system, good for an additional 200hp, was also added to the mix. Although Stroked Lightning is semi-retired and living in a quiet town in Iowa now, Feldhans still takes the trend-setting little red truck to local car shows on occasion.

Buck Spruill: 2003 Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD

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Once a truck many thought would be the first Pro Street rig in the 8s, Buck Spruill’s ’03 Chevy Silverado 2500 HD is all but legendary in diesel drag racing’s history book. Although it was purchased for use on the family farm in 2002, the truck eventually found its way to the track, then into the 11s, followed by 10s… For the better part of a decade, it epitomized what a Duramax was capable of. An east coast-based truck, Spruill’s Silverado spent the majority of its heyday running low 6s in the eighth-mile. However, not long after debuting a triple-turbo arrangement in 2012, the truck ran a best-ever 9.24 at 151 mph through the quarter in the fall of 2013. Whiplash-inducing, 1.3-second 60-foot times were par for the course in getting the 5,900-pound, four-wheel drive Silverado off the line.

GM Engine, Dodge Transmission

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While Spruill was hell bent on giving the Cummins-powered Dodge crowd a run for their money, he decided he’d had enough of the Allison transmission after shelling some 40 different versions (yes, 40). The solution came in the form of Sun Coast Diesel’s full-billet, 47RE-based Duraflite, which he controlled via a Powertrain Control Solutions’ stand-alone transmission controller. A built LB7, comprised of a partially filled block, ARP main studs, TTS rods, low-compression pistons, a custom-ground cam, ported and polished heads and ARP 625 head studs was relied upon to handle triple-digit boost, while the Duraflite had no problem planting 1,400hp to the pavement.

Phil Taylor: 1996 Dodge Ram 2500

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It would be hard to argue that Phil “The Thrill” Taylor isn’t the most consistent drag racer the Pro Street category has seen. Though his ’96 Dodge may not have been the fastest ride in the field, his uncanny ability to nab the better reaction time, along with the truck’s repeatability and reliability, almost always had him competing in the final round of the class. After taking second place at the 2009 Scheid Diesel Extravaganza, Taylor went on to win the Extravaganza the next three years in a row—along with various other victories at different events. Taylor and his second-gen Cummins’ quickest trip through the quarter-mile took 9.47 seconds and was achieved with a trap speed of 141 mph.

12-Valve Power

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At the peak of Taylor’s run in Pro Street, his ¾-ton Ram was powered by a 5.9L 12-valve sporting a ’94 block, Carrillo rods, custom marine pistons from Pro Street Diesel, a ported and polished head with a Keating Machine intake and a Pro Street Diesel cam. A nasty, 13mm P7100 injection pump provided torrents of fuel to a set of International-based injectors while a compound turbo configuration, consisting of an Engineered Diesel S475 over a massive 106mm atmosphere unit, produced 150 psi of boost for the engine to ingest. A Diesel Performance Converters-built 48RE transmission with a 3,000 rpm stall, four-disc converter was tasked with getting as much of the engine’s 1,600 flywheel hp to the track as possible.

Darren Morrison: Pro Mod S10

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After piloting a ‘97 Dodge Ram 2500 named the “Black Mamba” to a Pro Street title, Darren Morrison built this S10 for the growing Pro Mod class in an effort to go ever faster. With a goal of seeing a 4-second eighth-mile and a mid-7 quarter, Morrison eventually piloted the truck to a 4.96 at 141 mph in the ‘660 and 7.79 at 166 mph in the quarter. Using a Todd Bevis-built tube chassis as its foundation, the S10 benefitted from a four-link suspension out back and a strut suspension up front. Bearing the brunt of the high-rpm Cummins’ abuse was a 47RH—built by Morrison with Sun Coast parts—and a Mark Williams rear end.

Cummins Engine, Sigma Pump, Big Compounds

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Sticking with an engine he knows inside and out, Morrison opted for a P-pumped, 5.9L-based Cummins and assembled the engine himself. A big set of compound turbos, spec’d by Keating Machine, fed more than 100 psi into the worked-over 12-valve head, while a 13mm P7100 (later replaced with a Sigma pump) supplied more than enough fuel to overpower most tracks. Once Morrison was able to get the S10 to hook, it was known to pull the driver-side wheel off the ground in the midst of its lightning-quick, 1.1-second 60-foots. For years, Morrison’s S10 dominated the Pro Mod class (also referred to as Pro Stock), and his 7.79-second pass still stands as one of the quickest ever made in this category.

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