Diesel Motorsports: Pulling in Profits or Just Blowing Smoke? - Engine Builder Magazine

Diesel Motorsports: Pulling in Profits or Just Blowing Smoke?

Industrial Injection of Salt Lake City has recently started building complete and long block Duramax diesel engines. They currently produce 15-30 engines per month.

Let’s take a look at the diesel market’s history. A dozen years ago, when the first organized event was held for diesel pickups in Muncie, IN, there were a couple of hundred trucks. And most of  were lucky to hit 500 to 600 horsepower.

Fast-forward to today and you will find close to 40 diesel-only events and more than 900 events nationwide that involve diesel motorsports to some degree. Street trucks today are typically 500 to 700 hp, and the competitor’s vehicles are 1,200-2,000 hp diesel trucks. Quite a difference in such a short amount of time.

This whole scenario reminds me of the muscle car days back in the ’60s. Many of the advances in motorsports today are being made by the diesel performance shops as they put forth the effort to find new ways to get extra horsepower and torque out of these drivetrains.

It started out with the bolt-on performance parts and has now moved directly to the engines.

Performance diesel engine building has become a fine art for many different shops and the advancements being made for strength and durability are unbelievable compared to even a few years ago.

The wants and needs of  diesel competitors are different in all parts of the country; with one thing in common. They all want killer engines! But what they want these engines for is a different story. From Missouri over into Pennsylvania, sled pulling is the predominant form of diesel motorsports. In fact, nationally, sled pulling makes up almost 80 percent of diesel performance in total number of trucks. Drag racing is more popular in the Western states and the West Coast areas along with most Southern states.

Why the differences? It’s basically a geographical and cultural thing. Pulling started a long time ago with the farmers using horses, then tractors and now diesel trucks. Diesel trucks were made for pulling loads and trailers with lots of torque, so what better way to compete than pulling a 30,000- to 40,000-pound sled down a 300-foot dirt or clay track?

Beginning June 1st until the end of August every year, most pullers in any state in the Midwest can find a pull every night of the week and sometimes two to three per day on the weekends. Literally, you’ll find diesel truck sled pulling anywhere you can find a dirt track.

Yes, the sport is that popular, and from major stand-alone diesel events to small local events at county fairgrounds, sled pulling with diesel trucks dominate the countryside in rural areas. Large suburban cities simply do not have the diesel activities like the rural areas or farming communities.

Drag racing is a totally different diesel truck from the pulling trucks, once you get past the street classes. They are geared differently from the pulling trucks, most are automatics instead of a clutch, and most are equipped with nitrous kits. The engines are designed for a longer run time since the track is 1/4 mile compared to 300 feet in pulling.

There are a lot fewer “high end” diesel drag trucks than the Modified/Super Street pulling trucks. But the numbers in drag racing are made up in the street classes in which the typical competitor is able to use his truck during the week for work and then dial it up for the drag strip on the weekend.

Yearly production numbers from the “Big Three” automakers show that Ford produces double the number of diesel trucks than the other two manufacturers – yet those numbers aren’t reflected on the track. Over 70% of the competing trucks are Dodge Ram; Duramax is the next most popular; while very few competitors use Fords. Where you will find the Fords are in the parking lots driven by the fans for their jobs.

The most popular engine for competition in both sled pulling and drag racing is the Cummins, either the 12- or 24-valve 5.9L in the older trucks, or the 6.7L Cummins in the new Rams. The Cummins engine offers the greatest potential percentage of performance improvement of the three engines at almost a 60 percent increase.

The newer Duramax comes close at 48 percent increase in power while the Ford is around 28 percent. This means that the OEM horsepower rating can theoretically be increased by that percentage without altering the internal engine components. In other words, a 350 hp stock Cummins engine can easily be taken to 560 hp (60 percent).

Deciding to go past these percentage levels means that heavier-duty engine components including coated pistons, stronger push rods, valves and springs will be required.

The engine build that is being requested is not an OEM replacement but a stronger, performance engine that can be driven hard off the track and still be used for competition.

Long block crate engines offering 400-600 horsepower are pretty common by today’s standards. From that level, additional horsepower can be added by the use of performance injectors, turbos and other bolt-on performance accessories.

The used diesel truck market has increased almost 24 percent over normal truck sales of three years ago while new truck sales have just now risen back to the level it was three years ago. That means a bunch of used trucks are being driven with 200,000-500,000 miles on them and are still going strong. That is a lot of rebuilds waiting to happen!

How can you get into the diesel engine rebuilding business? Start by visiting your local diesel shops. Most of these shops do not have machining equipment in their shops and are looking for ways to offer engine overhauls to their customers.

Work with them by offering a long or short block version of the engines they service for Ford, Dodge and Duramax. If they want a completed drop-in engine, find out how you can provide that service to them.

Even taking in their blown engine and returning a “crate motor” to them will provide your engine shop with additional work throughout the year. Most of the competitors spend their winters tearing down and rebuilding their trucks while spending the summer months blowing them up on the tracks.

If you develop a relationship with the local diesel performance shops then you can keep up with who needs their engine rebuilt or repaired on a weekly basis.

A key point to remember is that diesel motor sports are popular even in areas where very few engine building shops or machine shops are available. So branching out to other towns and cities for your engine business can be productive in marketing your services.

A Salt Lake Success Story

Right now one of the productive shops and businesses offering rebuilt diesel engines is Industrial Injection, of Salt Lake City, UT. Originally known for their years of providing performance turbos and injectors to the diesel marketplace, they started to branch out by building performance engines two years ago.

Industrial Injection currently produces 15-30 new engines per month, year-around. A common rebuild for them is a 400-1,000 hp engine with stronger enhanced performance components. They say with pride that they haven’t done an OEM replacement build for some time. Instead, they’ve become known for producing strong durable diesel long blocks and crate engines for competition and work.

Before they even get a customer’s core in, Industrial Injection already has the order being built. They keep all parts and components on the shelves, in stock, ready to be used. Short blocks, heads, rods, pistons, valves, springs, girdle kits, gaskets – everything it takes to build a custom rebuild is in stock.

Not only do they have it in stock, it is not uncommon for a customer to call on Monday morning with a blown engine and place an order for another one so he can be competing again by the following weekend. Yes, they can produce a quality performance engine that fast – in Monday morning and out by Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. Prices for their rebuilds range from $14,000 to $30,000 for long blocks; add another $10,000 if you want to add their performance turbos, injectors and other performance parts.

The most common rebuilds right now at Industrial Injection are the Cummins and Duramax. A 2001-2012 Stage 1 Duramax long block is readily available in the 400-1,000 hp range on a weekly basis. Stage 2 long blocks (race or pull engines exceeding 1,000 hp) take a bit longer depending on the custom race or pull engine application.

Like performance gasoline motors, these engines are made with quality parts to enhance diesel performance from manufacturers like MAHLE Clevite, Carillo, Victor Reinz, Ross and many other parts custom machined by Industrial Injection.

Dustin Hembry handles Industrial Injection’s engine division, and says engine builders interested in knowing more details about the 15-30 crate engines they are currently sending out per month, can call him at any time for a direct conversation with an expert.

Over 5 years ago DIESEL Motorsports started with a little over 18 events per year – this year more than six National/Regional events and 60 affiliate events make up the 2012 schedule. We searched for marketing numbers and reports years ago for diesel trucks and found none available, so DIESEL Motorsports made that part of the business by gathering information from the competitors and fans to report to the industry’s manufacturers.

Profits? It looks like things are just getting started.


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