Night Train: A Ragged Edge 7.3L

5,000 rpm, 39 degrees of timing, and a “I don’t think we can push this motor any harder” comment from the owner is probably the best way to sum up Brian Robbins’ OBS Ford. And no, it’s not powered by a P-pumped Cummins.


Rather, his ’97 F-350 represents just about every performance advancement that’s been made on the 7.3L Power Stroke platform over the past decade. In addition to the 20-year-old Blue Oval’s ability to be competitive in 2.6 pulling classes, it also helps promote Brian’s Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, company: Stroked Out Performance.


Built to turn 5,000 rpm, the balanced and blueprinted 7.3L in Brian Robbins’ ’97 F-350 sports a set of Carrillo rods and fly-cut and coated cast-aluminum Mahle pistons. For maximum rigidity, the block was filled and a girdle is used to tie the main caps together. A set of Diesel Shop LLC’s full race heads—equipped with hardened valve seats and competition beehive springs—combine with a Colt Cams Stage 2 camshaft for flawless valvetrain performance at excessive boost and rpm.


An S475-based, 2.6-inch inducer turbo from Engineered Diesel produces more than 70 psi of boost for the engine to ingest. For maximum exhaust flow, a 96mm turbine wheel is employed, along with a 1.10 A/R exhaust housing. A T4 turbo mount from Irate Diesel Performance (complete with 3-inch intercooler piping and intake plenums) allows the BorgWarner charger to be utilized. Robbins has since upgraded to an S480-based charger.


The job of cooling off boosted air is left to a water-to-air intercooler mounted between the grille and radiator, which is literally two Frozen boost units Robbins welded together. Approximately 70 quarts of ice is consumed per pull—reason enough for him to purchase his own ice maker. “That ice machine is one of the best investments I’ve ever made,” he told us.


With 450cc injectors (fitted with 400% over nozzles) to feed, Robbins built a serious fuel supply system. Starting with a fabricated 5-gallon tank mounted in the bed, fuel makes its way in and out of an Aeromotive A1000 pump via ¾-inch line. The rear of each head is fed a steady diet of diesel courtesy of the same ¾-inch line. A Fuelab adjustable fuel pressure regulator keeps supply pressure set to 80 psi, and the oil side of the HEUI system benefits from a Swamp’s Diesel Performance Gen3 highpressure oil pump.


Under the transmission blanket that’s required due to the extreme rpm the 7.3L sees, you’ll  nd a Brian’s Truck Shop (BTS) E4OD. The four-speed automatic benefits from 300M input, intermediate, and output shafts, and a cryogenically treated case. Precision Industries built the triple-disc torque converter, which provides a 3,000-3,200rpm stall speed. In order to manually control converter lockup and shift points, Robbins utilizes a custom shift box built by 7.3L guru Matt Maier.

While building a 7.3L that holds its own in the 2.6 class was extremely rewarding, it didn’t come without sacrifice. There was a learning curve that entailed toasting three forged rod engines before a built 7.3L was pieced together. The current power plant, which effectively brought all breakage to a halt, features a filled block, girdle and ARP main studs, Carrillo connecting rods, fly-cut and coated cast-aluminum pistons, and a Stage 2 camshaft from Colt Cams. Top end improvements include a set of full race cylinder heads from Diesel Shop LLC, as well as Smith Brothers’ chromoly pushrods and ARP head studs.


With a set of Full Force Diesel 450/400 hybrids onboard, the engine makes use of what are essentially the largest injectors available for a 7.3L Power Stroke. The big sticks flow 450cc of fuel, utilize 400% over nozzles, and are controlled via custom tuning les written by Dan Kropinak of SDK Performance. Oil demands are met thanks to a Gen 3 high-pressure oil pump (over a stock displacement HPOP) from Swamp’s Diesel Performance. The big hybrids receive a steady diet of diesel courtesy of an A1000 lift pump forcing fuel through ¾-inch line. An adjustable Fuelab regulator sets supply pressure at 80 psi.


Limited only by air, Robbins knew turbo selection would be key in order for his 7.3L to have a fighting chance in the 2.6 class. For that, an S475-based BorgWarner was sourced from Engineered Diesel. The charger makes use of a 66mm (2.6-inch) compressor wheel inducer, a 96mm turbine wheel, 1.10 A/R exhaust housing, and sits at the rear of the lifter valley thanks to a T4 turbo mounting kit from Irate Diesel Performance. A waterto- air intercooler, comprised of two Frozen Boost units, cools off the boosted air and mounts behind the grille.




Thanks to an ’08 F-450 tow rig riding on 22.5s, Robbins’ 7.3L always arrives in style at the track. Tyrant Diesel tuning, a 5-inch exhaust system, head studs, and a 59/71mm turbo arrangement courtesy of Barder Turbo Service help get loads moving quickly and reliably.


Tuning the truck’s PCM is simplified thanks to the use of a Hydra Chip from Power Hungry Performance. It’s loaded with custom sled pulling files from Dan Kropinak of SDK Performance in Langley, British Columbia. With 39 degrees of timing (beginning at 3,600 rpm) and 4.4 milliseconds of pulse width, some pretty wild numbers are being commanded—but the one-off tunes have made it possible for Robbins to be competitive against 2.6 trucks making twice the power. An Edge Insight CTS2 monitor is used to data log each hook.


After shelling the rear 10.25-inch Sterling some time ago, Robbins installed a Dana 80 out of a Dodge and never looked back. The Dana 80 is fitted with 37-spline axleshafts, a locker, and 4.30 gears. The Dana 60 up front was treated to 35-spline axleshafts, a locker, and uses a 4.10 ring and pinion.


To keep the truck digging, six black-wall BFGoodrich All Terrains measuring 305/65R17 tear through the dirt. A set of 17×9-inch Fuel Throttle D513 wheels retain the truck’s black-on-black (Night Train) theme.



Sticking with the E4OD automatic, Robbins enlisted the experts at BTS to help him get the power to the ground. The four-speed slushbox was treated to 300M shafts, a cryogenically treated transmission case, and a Precision Industries triple-disc torque converter with a 3,000-3,200rpm stall speed. A shift box, designed by industry friend and longtime 7.3L enthusiast Matt Maier, allows Robbins to control lockup via toggle switch.


Brian Robbins will be the first to admit that trying to make a 7.3L Power Stroke competitive in a world dominated by mechanical and common-rail trucks is a tall order. But with several second- and third-place finishes under his belt throughout the 2016 season— against Cummins and Duramax pullers making twice the horsepower, no less—Robbins’ combination of parts is proof that it can still be done. While he knows the odds will never be in his favor, he’s quick to point out that a 7.3L can be made to keep pace with the big boys. “It might not win every day, but it can be competitive,” he told us. And that’s exactly why he continues to show up and shred dirt.