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Thunder In Muncie… and Lightning Too! Diesel Racers Drag and Pull at The Place Where It All Began

If you’re a fan of diesel-powered vehicles and events (and we’ll assume you are since you’re reading this magazine) then you probably know that the diesel motorsports movement was born near the Indiana town of Muncie and, more specifically, at iconic Muncie Dragway.  

This year, National Association of Diesel Motorsports (NADM) President Ron Knoch put together a two-day, three-event program for the diesel faithful that included the first-ever EFILive Diesel Motorsports Powertour. This was done before the Thunder In Muncie drag race Friday night at Muncie Dragway. Also planned for the weekend was a truck sled pull/dyno shootout at Lions Club Park in Gaston, Indiana. The two-day affair provided something for every genre of the diesel racing and pulling community.

“This [Muncie Dragway] is where the sport of diesel drags got its start in 2001 when myself and a couple of partners decided to hold a drag race just for diesel-powered vehicles. Up to that point no sanctioning body or track even allowed diesel-powered racing,” Knoch said. “If you’re a serious diesel drag racer then you want to race at Muncie and you want to win it. It’s our equivalent of the NHRA’s U.S. Nationals.”

Dan Holland from Roachdale, Indiana, was one of those who had a purpose-built race truck.
Dan Holland from Roachdale, Indiana, was one of those who had a purpose-built race truck.
Thomas Berg from Highland, Utah, drove Dmitri Millard’s 2003 Chevy to the runner-up spot in the Top Diesel class with a string of seven-second eighth-mile passes. Millard’s truck was one of the very few at the event that used drag slicks on all four corners and that turned out to be an advantage for the team.
Thomas Berg from Highland, Utah, drove Dmitri Millard’s 2003 Chevy to the runner-up spot in the Top Diesel class with a string of seven-second eighth-mile passes. Millard’s truck was one of the very few at the event that used drag slicks on all four corners and that turned out to be an advantage for the team.

DIESEL DRAGS:

Day one started with the Diesel Drags. Despite a weather forecast of gray overcast skies and rain, the owners of nearly 100 diesel-powered trucks and dragsters (and one 1966 Nova with a Cummins diesel under the hood) paid their entry fees and raced.

Two world records were set at last year’s Muncie event− Dmitri Millard’s truck that held the speed record at 149.10 mph and Brett Deutch’s Chevy truck that held the elapsed time record of 9.468 seconds. Both were on hand with the intention of resetting or surpassing these world records. Unfortunately, that didn’t occur because of the rain.

That part of Indiana (northeast of Indianapolis) had suffered monsoon-like weather for several weeks and there was standing water everywhere other than the racing surface itself. So, to be fair, the track was pretty “green.” Despite herculean efforts by the track personnel to give the racers a good hooking track, it just wasn’t happening.

There were originally five classes on the schedule: a bracket class, a 12-second Index Class, Unlimited Heads-Up, Pro Stock and Top Diesel. Time trials began at about 6 p.m. with the slower classes going first.

Doug Brarens brought his Chevy all the way from Mt. Pocono. Pennsylvania. The pristine white truck belches smoke out of the pipe when the fuel starts coming in.
Doug Brarens brought his Chevy all the way from Mt. Pocono. Pennsylvania. The pristine white truck belches smoke out of the pipe when the fuel starts coming in.

Just when it appeared that the track was starting to warm up, the sky opened up and the rain poured down. The track crew rushed to dry the track when it stopped, and the racing continued about an hour later. However, it rained again soon after. In the interest of safety and to get the race moving along, Knoch announced that the racing surface would shorten to an eighth-mile.

THEY CAME BUT THEY DID NOT RUN!

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Ohio diesel racer John Fyffe brought his beautiful turquoise 1963 Chevy II stuffed with a 403-cid 2002 Duramax. John has run in the low 10 seconds and more than 135 mph at National Trails Raceway in Columbus, Ohio, but after a week-long thrash to get the car ready for this race, the team discovered a broken and leaking transmission when they warmed up the engine. Unfortunately, the trans couldn’t be fixed at the track.
Ohio diesel racer John Fyffe brought his beautiful turquoise 1963 Chevy II stuffed with a 403-cid 2002 Duramax. John has run in the low 10 seconds and more than 135 mph at National Trails Raceway in Columbus, Ohio, but after a week-long thrash to get the car ready for this race, the team discovered a broken and leaking transmission when they warmed up the engine. Unfortunately, the trans couldn’t be fixed at the track.

Elimination rounds started at about 9:30 p.m. but due to weather issues, racing wasn’t completed until after 1:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. Only two classes got to finish—ET and Top Diesel.

Mary Kay Bryja from Indianapolis got the ET win over Pat McCreery. Bryja, driving a 2014 Dodge 2500, was dialed at 10.20 and McCreery at 11.15. In the Top Diesel run-off, Johnny Gilbert in his 2001 Dodge Ram 2500 got the win with a 7.718 on a 7.70 index when Thomas Berg from Highland, Utah, driving Millard’s record-holding 2003 Chevy truck, ran a break-out 7.577.

The Unlimited Heads-Up class came down to four competitors. With the late hour and chance for more rain and lightning, the promoter called the race finished and the purse was split among the four finalists: Bruce Block, Johnny Gilbert, Brett Deutsch and Justin Sell.

It should be noted that Knoch didn’t cut the purse or points despite a somewhat disappointing turnout, and he made sure the race was completed so that his racers wouldn’t have to come back on Sunday. While some chose to head home, many stayed to attend and participate in the sled pulls on the second half of this diesel feast weekend in the Hoosier State.

Jim “Lucky Dog” Layden from Glenwood City, Wisconsin, brought his Dodge Ram to the races but did not make the money round.
Jim “Lucky Dog” Layden from Glenwood City, Wisconsin, brought his Dodge Ram to the races but did not make the money round.
Josh Bowers from Somerset, Ohio, made the longest pull and won the 3,000-lb. class.
Josh Bowers from Somerset, Ohio, made the longest pull and won the 3,000-lb. class.

SLED PULLING AT GASTON:

After a long, wet night of drag racing, many of the racers that were at Muncie Dragway made the eight-mile trip to the small town of Gaston, and its Lions Club Park for the sled-pulling portion of the Thunder In Muncie weekend on Saturday.

The weather had improved overnight. The pullers were greeted by a blue sky, a cooling breeze and a park full of whitewashed buildings shaded by giant 100-year-old oaks.

Apparently, sled pulling is more popular than drag racing in this part of Indiana as the pits and the grandstands began filling early in the day. Of course, the better weather helped turnout too. Unlike the drag racing, there were a gaggle of purpose-built semis there just to pull.

Rodney Horton’s long-nosed Peterbilt on its way to a winning the pull in the semi competition.
Rodney Horton’s long-nosed Peterbilt on its way to a winning the pull in the semi competition.
The Gaston Park Lions Club mascot appreciated the diesels’ roar.
The Gaston Park Lions Club mascot appreciated the diesels’ roar.

There were five pulling classes ranging from the humongous semi tractors to the just off the farm Work Stock class. A dyno competition for all comers was also on the grounds. About 65 pulling trucks were on hand, including some trucks that were doing double duty. Their owners both drag raced and sled pulled without visibly changing anything on the trucks, accept the addition of a weight bar.

The 400 ft. or so of prime Indiana dirt was converted from a plowed field at noon to a first-class pulling track by 5 p.m. when the first trucks were hooked to the sled. Then the pulling began. Everything from almost-stock trucks to dedicated sled pullers ran, and even a few semi trucks too.

DAVE’S DIESEL HIGH HP DYNO

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Millard Takes HP Title Too!

At this year’s Thunder In Muncie they offered all comers a chance on a chassis dyno. Dmitri Millard’s Dynomax-powered truck was not only runner-up in the Top Diesel class at the drags, but he participated in the Dyno competition and won with a 930-hp reading. Corey Hendershot was second and Brock Hutchinson was third.

Getting our unofficial award as the most unusual dyno competitor of the day was Jake Bales’ 1980 Volkswagen diesel sedan. Bales has modified the VW to the point that the little 1.9-liter engine produces in excess of 300 hp.

In closing, Thunder In Muncie was an eye-opener for this author, someone who hasn’t been to a diesel-only drag or truck pull before. The Diesel Motorsports organization and crew are extremely competent, professional, and, perhaps more important, very racer and fan friendly. The event was run with as little drama as possible, with the racers and sanctioning body actually cooperating with each other—something you don’t often find in many professional motorsports events.

Perhaps the most significant thing the Diesel Motorsports folks do is keep the price of a ticket affordable for a family. The ticket price at both the drags and the pull was just $15 and the entry fee was just $30. Perhaps that’s the reason I saw more young competitors and fans by percentage than I’ve seen at any other event recently. Affordable entertainment is what today’s fans and competitors want. DW

“Makin’ Bacon” driven by Justin Gearhart making a full pull.
“Makin’ Bacon” driven by Justin Gearhart making a full pull.
Diesel bling!
Diesel bling!
Andrew Perdoke’s gorgeous 1948 Ford F-2 won the trophy for best custom.
Andrew Perdoke’s gorgeous 1948 Ford F-2 won the trophy for best custom.

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results

First Annual EFILive Diesel Motorsports Powertour 2014

This year at Muncie, NDMA ran the first-ever Powertour for the diesel industry. There were stops at South Bend Clutch in South Bend, Indiana; Haisley’s Machine in Fairmount, Indiana, and at the Firestone Industrial Division plant for Ride Rite Air-Bag Suspensions in Fischer, Indiana.

It was fitting that the first Diesel Powertour, occurred along with Thunder In Muncie, the first event for diesel drags. It was sponsored by EFILive, a major tuner manufacturer that services the diesel industry. The tour started with a look at the facilities at South Bend Clutch. Fans were able to see how they manufacture the best clutches for diesel truck sled pulling.

South Bend Clutch served a traditional Polish lunch with sausage and sweet cabbage along with many sides. Visiting with the workers at SBC was enlightening as to the wide range of vehicles they produce clutches for, everything from diesel trucks to tractors to sport compacts.

Firestone/Ride Rite’s Paul Fessel describes the benefits of having an air bag suspension on your diesel truck.
Firestone/Ride Rite’s Paul Fessel describes the benefits of having an air bag suspension on your diesel truck.

The next stop was at Haisley’s Machine in Fairmount, about a three-hour drive. Owners Patty and Van Haisley showed the fans their new shop. Haisley’s Machine produces some of the best winning trucks for sled pulling in the country. More food was on deck, and after burgers and brats, everyone bedded down for the night in Muncie.

A fresh start in the morning meant all were off to the final destination on the tour, the Firestone/Ride Rite plant in Fischer, Indiana. Division President, Paul Fessel, greeted the touring party at the door.

South Bend Clutch’s Greg Wells talks about the construction of the clutches and how they’ve become the standard in sled pulling.
South Bend Clutch’s Greg Wells talks about the construction of the clutches and how they’ve become the standard in sled pulling.

One of the highlights of the Firestone tour was when all were asked to guess the max psi that could be pumped into one of their air bags before it burst. The winner would win a free air bag suspension system for their truck. Most of us guessed in the 200 to 400 range, but one wise soul guessed 930 psi. The bag burst at 948, equal to an unbelievable 20,000 lbs. of weight on the bag.

Firestone served all a great BBQ lunch and then everyone headed off to the Muncie Dragway to start the Flowmaster Series Drag Race for Haisley’s Machine’s Thunder In Muncie diesel drags.

Overall, it was a blast seeing the companies and visiting with the diesel enthusiasts who decided to make the trip. The first EFILive Diesel Motorsports Powertour was a big success.

The next EFILive Powertour stop is scheduled for the East Coast Diesel Nationals. For more information, go to: DieselMotorsports.US

Diesel Motorsports girls Ceili Fitzpatrick and Brooke Selanders in front of South Bend Clutch with the Firestone/Ride Rite truck.
Diesel Motorsports girls Ceili Fitzpatrick and Brooke Selanders in front of South Bend Clutch with the Firestone/Ride Rite truck.
Todd Green of Firestone shows the Ride Rite bag that withstood 948 psi before blowing in a contest of “guessing how much before she blows” and winning a free Ride Rite system.
Todd Green of Firestone shows the Ride Rite bag that withstood 948 psi before blowing in a contest of “guessing how much before she blows” and winning a free Ride Rite system.
Patty Haisley talks about the history of diesel truck sled pulling and how far the sport has come throughout the years.
Patty Haisley talks about the history of diesel truck sled pulling and how far the sport has come throughout the years.

EFILive

EFILive is a tuning company located in New Zealand that produces tuning boxes for the diesel industry. The name refers to Electronic Fuel Injection combined with live-data interaction between EFI systems and software.

Like Diesel Motorsports, EFILive chose to combine words into a single phrase to describe their company and products in the marketplace. EFILive hit the tuning scene a few years ago with tuning that would allow enhancement by local programmers that custom fit the customer’s needs and wants for their trucks.

You can find out more about their products at: EFILive.com

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