What the Heck is Diesel Truck Pulling, and Why is it So Appealing?
A century ago, the strongest horse in the county was determined according to which steed could drag the weighted sled the furthest in the dirt. Today, diesel enthusiasts prove whose truck is the most powerful by hooking to the weight-transfer sled on the same type of surface. Not much has changed. Those involved are fiercely competitive, infinitely proud of their workhorse and remain perpetually addicted to the rush. Of course, die-hard brand loyalists make today’s version of sled pulling all the more entertaining to watch or partake in. This is especially true for diesel pickups trucks, where 500 hp is a cinch to come by and—depending how serious you want to get—more than 3,000 hp can be campaigned.
So what makes diesel truck pulling so enticing? For starters, the cost(s) to get your feet wet in the sport are low and the reward for winning is high—not monetarily but psychologically. Then there is the experience itself, the act of pulling 40,000 pounds as fast and as far as you possibly can through the dirt. In no other motorsport does the term “hooked” better apply. It’s a one-and-done type of competition where everything is put on the line for a shot at glory—and for those addicted to it, it never gets old. Here’s why.
Low Cost Of Entry
Though the headlining acts at most truck and tractor pulls often represent million-dollar machines, the cost of entry in truck pulling is fairly low. All it really entails is showing up with a truck that passes tech (i.e. adheres to the event’s class rules), paying the hook fee (usually $25-$50), running the proper hitch and getting in line. However, make no mistake that truck pulling can get expensive fast if you: 1) get swept up in the horsepower game, or 2) break parts. Every truck built has a weak link or two, which sled pulling has a way of exposing.
You Can Be A Beginner
Similar to drag racing, you don’t need a high-dollar engine or a purpose-built vehicle to hook to the sled. In entry-level, lower horsepower classes, a stock engine, turbo, fuel system and transmission can suffice—and is sometimes even mandated in the rules. You can even iron man it if you want, i.e. drive to the pull you plan to compete at, hook to the sled, and then drive back home. The latter scenario is more rare these days than it’s ever been, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t done.
There’s A Class For Everyone
The fact that everyone has a category they fit into is perhaps the best aspect of truck pulling. From daily driver type classes, where all you need is a tuner in order to be competitive, to the near-4,000hp Super Stock diesel truck class, there is a home for anyone and everyone interested. For beginners and those just starting to move up the ranks, “stock,” “stock turbo” or “daily driven” diesel truck classes are a great option to get some seat time. Beyond that, “Work Stock” (shown) or similarly named classes—usually with a 2.5-inch, stock-appearing or S300 turbo rule—accommodate trucks in the 800 hp to 1,100 hp range.
It May Be The Only Time Your Transfer Case Sees Low Range
What’s important to remember about truck pulling’s appeal is that you’re pulling with everything your vehicle has to offer. That means you’re competing with the transfer case locked in low range in order to utilize every bit of gear reduction you’ve got, but also to be as easy as possible (given the circumstances) on the transmission. For most entry level pulling categories, you’ll want to choose a gear in the transmission that allows you to achieve roughly 25-30 mph. Faster than that and you may risk snuffing the engine. Slower than that and you won’t finish in the money.
Strategy Is Part Of The Fun
Sometimes, planning your hook is the best part. Trust us, there are an endless amount of things to consider, but here’s the short list: Deciding whether or not to run 4-Low or 4-High. Figuring out which gear to run in the transmission. Knowing when to lock the torque converter (if automatic), when to upshift and/or when to downshift at the end of the pull. Deciding how much boost to leave the starting line with. And deciding what tires to compete on, along with how much pressure to run in the front vs. the rear. Each one of those items is vital in making a successful trip down the track—and they should all be answered well in advance.
You Get To Choose Your Own Line
Another big part of truck pull strategy exists in observing the track and (if possible) watching the performance of the trucks that pull before you. If you spot a rut or rough spot in the middle of the track—especially one that appears capable of unsettling a chassis—it pays to take a different line. This is accomplished by moving the traffic cone that’s present near the starting line. Following each hook, the sled operator positions the center of the back of the sled in line with that cone. By moving it to your preferred start point, you could potentially win, as well as avoid possible breakage.
Despite his age, 28-year-old Mitchell Ruder has a boatload of experience hooking to the sled. He often runs his ’04 GMC in the Stock Turbo class, but has been known to bump up to Work Stock for added seat-time. When we asked Mitchell what most attracts him to truck pulling he answered “Adrenaline. That’s 15-20 seconds where nothing else matters. It’s a rush like no other.” As proof that you don’t have to have a built-to-the-hilt truck to compete in sled pulling, Mitchell’s Sierra 2500 HD still sports the factory LB7 Duramax, an engine with 220,000 hard-earned miles on the clock.
On top of the adrenaline rush, truck pulling offers so many unknowns that it can be hard to resist. Hooked to the sled, anything can happen (and often does). For instance, you could bounce, you could break, you could miss a shift or forget to unlock the converter before spinning out. But you could also win! You’ll never know until you try. Like any other sport, the pros had to start somewhere. Nine times out of 10, the drivers of those captivating, 4,000hp, triple-turbo machines didn’t start out at the top. They entered their daily driver or project truck at the local fair and became hooked for life.
It’s An Addicting Experience
Yours truly has hooked to the sled several times in the past and can concur that it’s an adrenaline rush that can’t easily be equaled anywhere else. Just when it feels like you’re going to drag the iron sleigh 100 mph, it gradually drags you to a halt. And as your forward progress begins to slow (when the weight nears full transfer), the sound of the engine changes, boost pressure goes up and exhaust gas temps skyrocket. Then you either spin out, back off the throttle, snuff the engine or (worst case) break something. Increased heart rate and tunnel vision are a significant part of the experience, too.
More From Driving Line
- For the highest level of truck pull competition you’ll find anywhere, check out the Scheid Diesel Extravaganza, held in Indiana each August.