Com­pe­ti­tion Diesel En­gines

In­no­va­tion Takes Oil-Burn­ing Pow­er­plants to 3,000 hp and Be­yond

Diesel Power - - Contents - Words by JA­SON SANDS + Photos by JA­SON SANDS

In­no­va­tion takes oil-burn­ing pow­er­plants to 3,000 hp and be­yond

IT MAY BE hard to be­lieve, but there was a time when mak­ing 500 hp was un­be­liev­able per­for­mance for diesel en­gines. Fords had 180 hp in the late-’80s and early-’90s, Dodges were at 160 hp, and GMs were lead­ing the pack with 215 horses. Sure, all of those en­gines could be mod­i­fied, but up­grades for im­proved per­for­mance usu­ally yielded only 50 to 70 hp.

The roots of mod­ern diesel per­for­mance are traced back to the ’80s and sled pulling with oil-burn­ing trac­tors. Even back then, trac­tor en­gines were fit­ted with com­pound- tur­bocharger set­ups that made nearly 200 psi of boost and cranked out 1,500 to 2,000 hp. And it wasn’t long be­fore this tech­nol­ogy was adapted to pick­ups.

In the late-’90s and early-’00s, Jeff Prince, Keat­ing Shel­ley, Scott Bentz, Richard Mad­sen, Jeff Gar­mon, and Dan Scheid all tried com­pound-turbo set­ups on diesels, and as boost rose, so did power—from 500 hp to 800 hp, then fi­nally be­yond 1,000 hp. In the West, Gale Banks had his own ideas and was ex­per­i­ment­ing with a Cum­mins-swapped Dodge Dakota land-speed truck that made good power—cleanly—and set an FIA record at 217 mph. Things were start­ing to change. Diesels still had in­cred­i­ble torque, but now they made great horse­power too.

Diesel-pow­ered ve­hi­cles, mostly trucks, are used in three pri­mary cat­e­gories of com­pe­ti­tion: dyno (of­ten dual-pur­pose street trucks), drag rac­ing, and sled pulling. When Diesel Power first hit news­stands in 2005, the en­gines that pow­ered these ve­hi­cles looked a lot dif­fer­ent than they do to­day. At that time, the top dyno com­peti­tors were mak­ing about 1,200 hp with stock blocks, crankshafts, rods, and

pis­tons; 13mm in­jec­tion pumps (me­chan­i­cal) or twin stock pumps (com­mon-rail); and ei­ther medium-sized sin­gle or small com­pound tur­bos. Oh, and about three stages of ni­trous ox­ide, too. Drag rac­ing was small-time, with many driv­ers hav­ing suc­cess be­cause their op­po­nents’ trucks would break or sim­ply be­cause they were able to make a clean pass. Hav­ing the most power did not guar­an­tee vic­tory.

Of the three dis­ci­plines, sled pulling was the most ad­vanced in the early days, as the top pullers were mak­ing 1,500-plus horse­power, us­ing mostly stock parts and Holset tur­bocharg­ers from en­gines in semitrucks and trac­tors mak­ing 100 psi of boost.

Even­tu­ally, ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy brought change to diesel-engine per­for­mance. In­jec­tion pumps grew from 12mm to 13mm and 14mm, and then even a 16mm Sigma pump. CP3 pumps were mod­i­fied to flow more, and us­ing two aug­mented pumps be­came the norm. Tur­bos also got larger. Orig­i­nally, a 57mm and 66mm com­pound-turbo setup was a hot all-around com­bi­na­tion for power and tow­ing, but that evolved into the 66mm ’charger be­com­ing the small turbo in a 66mm/80mm com­pound pack­age. En­gines pro­gressed, too, as filled and sleeved blocks be­came the stan­dard for high horse­power. Af­ter­mar­ket rods be­came avail­able and stronger pis­tons were in­tro­duced.

Richard is one of the trail­blaz­ers in the dyno seg­ment, as he built en­gines that, us­ing fuel only, could match the 1,200 hp of the ni­trous trucks. Scott and Dan pre­pared drag­sters that cov­ered the quar­ter-mile in 7 se­conds, as did Gale with a tube-chas­sis Chevro­let S10 that ran so clean many thought its 6.6L Du­ra­max engine was burn­ing diesel methanol (it wasn’t). Sled pullers eclipsed the 2,000hp mark with engine com­bi­na­tions that were more re­fined and re­li­able, even with larger tur­bocharg­ers.

Which brings us to to­day. If there was a motto for mod­ern diesel en­gines, it would be, “Any­thing is pos­si­ble.” Com­peti­tors in all three styles of com­pe­ti­tion now use af­ter­mar­ket blocks or deck-plate en­gines (pow­er­plants with a steel plate in­cor­po­rated into the top of the engine block, so it doesn’t crack or rip apart). Cylin­der heads flow more than 300 cfm, and blocks are prepped for roller camshafts. En­gines are set up with three, or even four, mod­i­fied CP3 pumps, and 16mm me­chan­i­cal pumps are com­mon­place.

On the chas­sis dyno, mak­ing 1,000 to

“The roots of mod­ern diesel per­for­mance are traced back to the ’80s and sled pulling with oil-burn­ing trac­tors. Even back then, trac­tor en­gines were fit­ted with com­pound-tur­bocharger set­ups that made nearly 200 psi of boost and cranked out 1,500 to 2,000 hp.”

1,200 hp is a thing of the past. The once-un­fath­omed 2,000 hp might now be only in the Top 5 na­tion­wide. Drag rac­ing has pro­gressed both me­chan­i­cally and elec­tron­i­cally to a point where drag­sters are in the 6-se­cond zone, while Out­law Diesel Su­per Series Pro Street and Na­tional Hot Rod Diesel As­so­ci­a­tion Su­per Street trucks make 7- and 8-se­cond passes in the quar­ter-mile. Ac­cord­ing to sled pullers we spoke with, their en­gines’ 3,300 hp is pro­duced with ease. In­ter­est­ingly, we can’t pin­point a com­po­nent or sys­tem in diesel en­gines that has ad­vanced more than oth­ers;

“If there was a motto for mod­ern diesel en­gines, it would be, ‘Any­thing is pos­si­ble.’”

rather it’s been im­prove­ments in all ar­eas that give diesels a high rank on the per­for­mance lad­der. Diesel-engine per­for­mance now ri­vals that of gaso­line-burn­ing pow­er­plants, as af­ter­mar­ket parts are nu­mer­ous and widely avail­able.

Im­prov­ing trac­tion is the new chal­lenge. Trucks are spin­ning their tires on the dyno’s rollers, break­ing parts at the dragstrip, and los­ing trac­tion on the sled-pull track. Putting that in per­spec­tive, a mod­ern 3,000hp puller might be at full power for only 3 or 4 se­conds in the mid­dle of the run, and for the rest

of the trip com­plet­ing a pull truly de­pends on a driver’s skill.

So, what does the fu­ture hold for com­pe­ti­tion en­gines? Pro­gres­sion in all ar­eas is al­most cer­tain, with higher rpm ceil­ings, more power, and stronger en­gines over­all. One thing we haven’t seen yet—and feel is com­ing—is en­gines built specif­i­cally for us­ing co­pi­ous amounts of ni­trous ox­ide (1,000 hp or more), and three-stage turbo sys­tems pro­duc­ing 200 psi or more. As rad­i­cal as they are now, diesel en­gines still have room to im­prove. We can’t wait to see what the fu­ture holds.

Af­ter­mar­ket alu­minum engine blocks are now readily avail­able for Cum­mins en­gines. This block from Scheid Diesel Ser­vice is sleeved and de­signed to han­dle more than 2,500 hp for many sea­sons of sled pulling or drag rac­ing.

Crankshafts, rods, and pis­tons for diesel en­gines have evolved over the years. Forged pis­tons like this Di­a­mond Pis­tons slug are must-have pieces for the most ex­treme race en­gines, re­gard­less of brand.

Wa­gler Com­pe­ti­tion Prod­ucts has stepped way up with its Du­ra­max engine pro­gram, and it now of­fers a 500ci DX500 engine that is ca­pa­ble of more than 3,000 hp.

While Ford’s Power Stroke diesel en­gines aren’t the most poplu­lar pow­er­plants in the sled-pull scene, sev­eral com­peti­tors use P-pumps on 7.3L en­gines built by Hyper­max. Us­ing the Cum­mins in­jec­tion pump is be­lieved to give the Ford engine an ad­van­tage over Cum­mins pow­er­plants, thanks to the block’s two ex­tra cylin­ders and the pump’s ad­di­tional plungers.

Triple tur­bocharg­ers are the new nor­mal for peak per­for­mance in drag rac­ing, sled pulling, and dyno test­ing. The con­cept is sim­ple: Two tur­bos blow into one, which makes boost lev­els of 150-plus psi pos­si­ble, all while re­duc­ing drive pres­sure and in­creas­ing over­all ef­fi­ciency.

Horse­power is ris­ing in vir­tu­ally all ar­eas of diesel per­for­mance. At 2017’s Ul­ti­mate Call­out Chal­lenge, Jesse War­ren’s ’08 Ford F-250 posted an in­sane 1,758 hp on a chas­sis dyno with an HEUI-equipped, 6.0L Power Stroke engine.

One nice thing about com­mon-rail in­jec­tion is that more in­jec­tion pumps can be added when­ever nec­es­sary (rail pres­sure typ­i­cally dic­tates need)! Kyle Michael’s “Cli­max” Su­per Stock puller has a geardriven, 4-CP3 fu­el­ing sys­tem.

Stand­alone ECMs, like this Bosch Mo­tor­sports pro­ces­sor, are be­com­ing more and more pop­u­lar for Cum­mins and Du­ra­max en­gines, thanks to the near-in­fi­nite amount of tun­ing ad­just­ments that can be made with the de­vices.

Af­ter wa­ter-in­jected sled-pull en­gines picked up more than 200 hp with an in­ter­cooler, the de­vice be­came stan­dard fare. Wa­ter-to-air in­ter­cool­ers are ex­cel­lent at re­duc­ing in­take-air tem­per­a­ture and aren’t as sus­cep­ti­ble to am­bi­ent-air tem­per­a­ture changes as air-to-air units are, thanks to large ice-wa­ter tanks.

Scheid Diesel Ser­vice now builds a 16mm in­jec­tion pump for com­peti­tors who want to make in­sane power. The big fu­eler flows more than 1,500 cc and can sup­port more than 3,000 hp. In­jec­tors are built to match and can be up to an enor­mous 5x0.039 inches in size.

Ni­trous ox­ide is still a good power-ad­der. Se­ri­ous ni­trous sys­tems can add an­other 300 to 500 hp to en­gines that al­ready pro­duce 1,500 to 2,000 hp or more.

Com­pe­ti­tion diesel en­gines have all-out oil­ing strate­gies. Large ca­pac­ity, mul­ti­stage dry sumps keep oil clean, cool, and prop­erly pres­sur­ized.

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