Hardway Sunshine Showdown 2018

The weekend of September 14-15 proved pretty special in the world of diesel drag racing. Amid a heat wave that brought mid-90-degree temps into the Florida panhandle, something even hotter was taking place at Emerald Coast Dragway. Not only was the small town eighth-mile track, located some 30 miles northeast of Pensacola, playing host to its first Outlaw Diesel Super Series race, but it also served as the site where the Pro Mod E.T. record would be broken multiple times in the same weekend. Without a doubt, the 2018 Hardway Sunshine Showdown was one for the history books.

It all went down in the Pro Mod class, arguably one of the most exciting categories to watch this year. First, Ben Shadday’s third-gen Cummins reset the class’s E.T. record with a 4.68 during qualifying (it was 4.71 when the day began). Then the Firepunk Diesel team, which had been progressively shaving time off of its Cummins-powered S10’s E.T.s all season, stepped into the limelight. After besting Shadday’s 4.68 with a 4.64, driver Larson Miller and the little S10 only got quicker, blowing past the 4.60s and eventually even waving goodbye to 4.50s.

But there’s more! Other highlights included a tight Pro Street final, a new best for the Stainless Diesel triple-turbo Dodge, as well as the Cummins-swapped Silverado from Industrial Injection, and the newly-created 5.90 field continued to impress with some of the best index racing we’ve seen on the ODSS circuit.

Raising the Bar (Again and Again)

001-Firepunk-Diesel-Cummins-S10-Pro-Mod-Drag-Race

To say the Hardway Sunshine Showdown was eventful for the Firepunk Diesel team would be an understatement, to say the least. After using most of his lane and even pedaling the truck at one point, driver Larson Miller still piloted the Save the Racks S10 to a 4.64 at 161 mph during qualifying (a new Pro Mod record). Then before eliminations, the crew discovered a broken heim on the four-link, which explained the truck pulling so hard to one side. Upon fixing it, Miller proceeded to go 4.55 (re-setting his own Pro Mod record) and then put up a blazing 4.47 at 167 mph in the final (once again re-setting his own Pro Mod record). While we knew Firepunk’s Pro Mod creation would be a force to be reckoned with in 2018, we didn’t expect to see it go 4.40s—but it’s certainly a welcomed surprise!

4.68 at 150 MPH

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When Ben Shadday’s single turbo’d, nitrous-huffing, 6.8L common-rail Cummins shuffled his ’06 Dodge through the ‘660 in 4.68 seconds during qualifying, it looked like business as usual for the Pro Mod points leader. Unfortunately, a transmission failure put Shadday on the trailer after the first round of eliminations, which caused him to surrender some ground in the points chase. Look for Shadday to come out swinging at the 2018 finale race in North Carolina (Rudy’s Fall Diesel Jam), where the championship will be on the line.

Forward Progress

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The Stainless Diesel crew put together a solid weekend with its Pro Street Dodge, including a new personal best pass of 5.25 at 140 mph for driver Johnny Gilbert. The triple-turbo’d Cummins-powered Ram has been gradually lowering its elapsed times since being converted to a trans-braked TH400 transmission from Wilson Patterson Diesel, complete with a Sun Coast lockup converter. In a close heads-up final, Gilbert gave the always-automatic Dustin Jackson and his Cummins-powered Ford Lightning a run for their money (5.21 vs. 5.26), taking second place on the weekend. On top of that, the Stainless Diesel team pulled out of Florida sitting in second place in the Pro Street points chase.

5.90 Index Winner

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Paul Cato seems to have tamed his break-out issues in his stupid-fast 5.90 Index truck. Utilizing what he calls a “calibrated lift,” Cato decided to leave the second-gen, common-rail Cummins turned up (instead of tuning power out of it) and figure out exactly when to let out of the throttle at the Hardway Sunshine Showdown. It worked. He grabbed the number one qualifier spot and proved unbeatable from there on out.

Playing in Pro Street

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Trekking over from southern Texas, Chris Buhidar mixed it up in the Pro Street class with his triple-turbo, Cummins-powered ’00 Ford. Having run mid 8s in the quarter-mile, 5.40s are all but a sure-thing for this truck in the eighth, which makes his regular cab Super Duty a formidable contender in the class. However, the aforementioned Johnny Gilbert ousted Buhidar in the semifinal.

Carnage Sidelines Industrial Injection

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The fun ended early for Jared Delekta after the Industrial Injection DeMaxed Silverado broke an axle on the starting line during the first round of Pro Street eliminations. The breakage was extremely unfortunate being that Delekta put up a new personal best of 5.2 at 138 mph in qualifying and things looked promising.

Breaking Out

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Rick Fox is one 5.90 Index driver you can always count on seeing in the finals. Things were no different in Florida, as Fox and his well-oiled (common-rail Cummins-powered ’00 Dodge) machine cruised to the last round of action on Saturday night. However, Fox uncharacteristically broke out in the final, running a 5.89 to Paul Cato’s 6.04. While the second place finish wasn’t what he had in mind, Fox still sits comfortably atop the 5.90 class standings heading into the last race of the ODSS season.

A Ford Lands on the Podium

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Taylor Overcash made the Pro Street podium thanks to his ‘tweener Ford. The nitrous-huffing, 6.4L Power Stroke equipped 4x4 Super Duty can be made as light as 4,000 pounds in order to compete in Pro Mod, or weighted up to the 4,500-pound minimum requirement for Pro Street. In Florida, Overcash ran the latter category and ended up third on the weekend.

6.6L Duramax Colorado

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It’s always fun to watch Enrique Gonzalez’s LBZ Duramax-powered ‘06 Chevrolet Colorado mix it up in Pro Street. The tubbed and back-halved former service truck sports a 98mm single turbocharger that’s brought to life via nitrous and is known for its wheels-up launches, big-block-like sound and 5-second elapsed times.

Former Pro Mod Record-Holder

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Outside the ODSS racing circuit, Ryan Milliken’s Cummins-propelled ’66 Nova held the Pro Mod record prior to the Hardway Sunshine Showdown, which stood at 4.55 seconds. What’s crazy is that Larson Miller’s 4.55-second pass matched Milliken’s 4.55 almost verbatim. Both drivers went 3.04 to the 330-foot mark and exactly 4.554 through the ‘660. Of course, Miller now owns the record for both E.T. and mph (4.47 and 167 mph, respectively), but it’s a coincidence we couldn’t overlook.

Photography courtesy of Amy Gilbert and Randy McCuddy

There's no reason not to get into drag racing when you can own a Cummins-powered, 650hp daily-drivable diesel drag truck.

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