That’s me in the driver seat of Clint Canon’s 6.7L Cummins-powered daily-driven Dodge Ram.
I just got back from our 2012 Diesel Power Challenge in Denver, and as you’ll read about in the September and October issue, the power and capability of these trucks has grown exponentially since we began this test seven years ago. At our first event in 2006, Nick D’Amico from Sacramento, California, drove to Los Angeles in his 7,400-pound ’02 Silverado, and using a stock short-block 6.6L Duramax he laid down 721 hp and 1,369 lb-ft of torque on our chassis dyno. Nick then went on to edge out fellow Duramax owner Doug Lindesy on the dragstrip with a 12.0-second pass (to Doug’s 12.1-second run). Both Nick and Doug finished toward the bottom of the ladder in our sled pull, but Nick ultimately took home the First Place trophy for his effort at the end of our two-day event.
The thing that has always struck me about that first Diesel Power Challenge (and all the Challenges since then) is the drivers won our event in pickup trucks that were originally designed to tow and haul stuff—not drag race, sled pull, dyno, or compete in anything. So how can vehicles that trace their roots back to the farm and jobsite now produce more than 1,500 hp and run at race speeds that require special safety equipment? Simple, they’re diesel powered.
I know the engineers who designed the Ram, Silverado, and Super Duty trucks didn’t spend a dime on developing their vehicles for any competitive sport. So why have enthusiasts been able to do something with these trucks that the people who made them never tried?* Who exactly do we think we are?
The Four Advantages Of Diesel
1. When I meet people that are new to our industry, they often ask me, “Why is diesel performance so popular?” I tell them the secret is in the fuel. While that answer is only a quarter of the story, it gets their attention. Pound for pound, and gallon for gallon, diesel fuel has more energy in it than gasoline. In motorsport competitions they have a term for that; they call it an “unfair advantage.” What this unfair advantage means to diesel owners is that no matter what size engine we have, how many turbos we use, or if nitrous oxide is injected, we have more energy in our fuel to turn into power.
2. The second part of why diesel performance has been so quick to escalate is the direct-injection fuel system. Spraying fuel directly into the combustion chamber at extremely high pressure means more of the fuel gets turned into work (also known as horsepower). It’s true that diesel has had direct injection for years, but as the injection pressures increase (now to more than 30,000 psi), and electronic controls allow us to tweak the combustion event down to the nano-second…indirect-injection gasoline engines are doomed.
3. The third reason we can show you diesel engines every month that make triple or quadruple the power output of their original design is because of the massive strength of the diesel engines’ block and heads. These robust structures can cope with extreme cylinder pressure. And after all, it is the amount of pressure in the cylinder applied over time (engine rpm) that makes power regardless of what fuel an engine runs on—and no production engines were made to handle more cylinder pressure than diesels.
4. The fourth part of diesel’s advantage is that this architecture is old, and its resume reads like a heavyweight champion. Diesel has been to war. It’s built nations, powered underwater submarines, helped launch rockets to the moon, and when there’s any kind of emergency that requires more than one guy in a vehicle to save the day—you know what’s under the hood of the ambulance, fire truck, or military vehicle they send. And because it has always been that way, diesel engines have been breed to take abuse and come back for more.
Need to double the amount of airflow through a diesel? Add a second or third turbo. Need to burn enough fuel to make 2,000 hp? Add a second injection pump. Need to spin the engine to 10,000 rpm to impress your friends? OK, diesels engines aren’t there yet—but bolt on an overdrive transmission to a diesel and you won’t need crazy engine speeds. If that sounds like an excuse, look for a two-stroke diesel engine that offers twice the number of power strokes for a given rpm. See, diesel wins again.
* I am more than willing to be proven wrong here. If any engineers, vehicle development groups, or just some lucky guy who happened to have a camera with him…has a photo of a prototype Ford, Ram, or GM truck on the dragstrip, sled pull track, or chassis dyno—I’d be happy to eat my words.