New segments can enhance a racing operation’s sales, and one growing segment to consider these days is diesel performance.
Clearly, there are parts to be sold and profits to be made serving diesel drag racers. So we asked a handful of industry insiders how easily an SI (spark ignition engine) shop can break into the CI (compression ignition) business.
“Almost everything you’re already selling can cross over,” answered Mike Penfield of Sinister Diesel, Roseville, California, “outside of the fuel system and the engine itself. The transmissions are similar, although everything on a diesel is bigger and heavier to handle the torque. But nitrous systems are the same, turbos are the same, as are the chassis, suspension and roll cages.”
“Conventional engine shops as well as racing retailers could easily cater to the diesel racing and performance aftermarket,” added Johnny Gilbert of StainlessDiesel.com, Middlebury, Indiana, “because they are already performance-minded. Engine clearances in a diesel are very similar to their gas counterparts. There are some differences in operating parameters, being that we are dealing with higher partial pressures generated from compound turbo systems, and the higher compression ratios that compression-ignition engines use.
“To successfully break into the market,” he continued, “it would be best to have a diesel shop truck,” that way you can “get your feet wet and become familiar with the diesel industry. Many gas drag racers use diesels to tow their race vehicles. There are some easy modifications to improve mileage and performance in a tow vehicle, and that would be a great way to enter the market.”
Ron Knoch of Diesel Motorsports, d.b.a. the National Association of Diesel Motorsports (NADM) in Kansas City, Missouri, was a bit more discriminating. “Several major WDs now carry performance parts for diesels, so, yes, you can obtain parts from the same outlets that serve the gasoline racing industry. But installing them may require the expertise of a brick-and-mortar diesel shop.”
“Just about all the diesel engine builders we work with build diesels pretty much exclusively,” added Bill McKnight of MAHLE Aftermarket, Farmington Hills, Michigan, “and many specialize further in only Cummins, say, or Duramax, or Ford. It’s tough to be diverse and still be cutting-edge.”
That said, Knoch did offer some encouragement. “The best way to research the diesel market is to come to an event and talk to the competitors in the pit. Some of them are diesel shops racing their own trucks—others are individuals—but both will tell you exactly what they are looking for in parts, service and availability. The parts are somewhat similar, and even though the engines operate differently, the concept is still the same: more power, more torque!”
“The key to success is to truly understand the product you are selling,” agreed Guy Tripp of SoCal Diesel, Valencia, California. “It’s very easy to sell a racer more injector or turbo than their bottom end can withstand. The results can be quick and disastrous. So we spend time with each customer to understand what they really want from their build; and then we educate them on what they really need—not only to make the kind of power they are looking for, but to sustain that power for years to come.”
“There’s a sort of synergy going on,” Sinister’s Andrew Sokol observed. “One of the reasons for the popularity of these trucks is that we’ve been pushing the technology envelope, to deliver more torque and horsepower with reliability, and at the same time keeping many of our parts fairly easy to install. And that has influenced the truck manufacturers to introduce more diesel models, which in turn increases people’s interest. It’s a symbiotic relationship where technology feeds popularity, which drives the aftermarket to product more parts.
“And that keeps the whole thing growing,” he concluded.