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Takin' On Terrible's Town - Racing a 2006 Ford Super Duty Race Truck

Posted in Events on August 16, 2006
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Photographers: Collette Blumer

Why have you turned against me?" Kreg Donahoe demanded. "I thought we were friends!" Although two other humans were present in the form of codriver Kyle Williams and yours truly, Kreg's inquisition was directed at the 6-liter Power Stroke resting hotly under a raised hood. We were in between pits and checkpoints somewhere between Pahrump, Nevada, and the Amargosa Valley. There was nothing to do but wait under the pounding rays of the Nevada sun.

The day had started well. Donahoe Racing has designed, engineered, and manufactured itself to the forefront of the Super Duty aftermarket with a primo line of suspension kits for Ford's biggest pickup. To prove the worth of the Super Duty and the DR suspension, Donahoe Racing has campaigned an '06 Super Duty in the Stock Full class, debuting the 6,000-pound machine at last year's Baja 1000. Kreg had had the good fortune to draw the first starting position for Class 8100 (aka Stock Full). I filled the third seat in the SuperCab. My third-seat duties were minimal. "You're basically live ballast," Kreg stated before we went into battle.

Kyle Williams has a big job as codriver. Watching the gauges, checking for position on the GPS, and watching the mirrors are all part of the codriver's duties. To the right of the Lowrance GPS is a Banks Engineering PowerPDA. The PDA has a double role as an engine monitor and a tuner for the Banks Big Hoss Bundle that gives the already strong Power Stroke even more zoom factor.

The Terrible's Town 250 is the second stop on the Best In The Desert tour that includes the car and truck classes. BITD founder Casey Folks runs his series each year with races in Nevada and Arizona. Some races, such as the BITD Parker 250, are exclusively for motorcycles and quads, while others include all classes of desert racing vehicles. The TT 250 is a short one, mileage-wise, but it makes up for the minimal miles with maximum brutality. The course traverses sweeping, wide desert valleys, so when viewed from a distance, the course appears smooth. It's not. Rocky whoops alternate with silty whoops that alternate with deep sand washes that alternate with fields of golf-ball-sized rocks interspersed with television-sized rocks. Yes, the TT 250 is a nasty one. Then there's the weather. Late April sees much of the U.S. still fighting snowstorms or at least a fair amount of cold rain. While parts of Nevada do get quite cold during the winter, by the time the TT 250 shows up on the calendar, southern Nevada gets downright toasty during the day.

Eventually, the Power Stroke chilled out enough to let us resume our quest for the next pit, where crewmembers waited with wrenches, diesel fuel, and drinking water. We hoped to get our heating troubles behind us and start racing the course and the competition instead of the emperature gauge. The three of us fastened our five-point harnesses, hooked up our fresh-air hoses to our helmets, and connected our intercoms. We were off.

Kreg guided the 3-ton desert missle using desert racing experience that ranges from stock mini-trucks to four-linked Trophy Trucks. A major part of success in limited classes is an understanding of what the truck can and cannot withstand and driving within those parameters. The live ballast took mental notes and snapped photos where the course was smooth enough to do so. There's no way to really look through a camera's viewfinder with a helmet on, so the photo strategy was to snap as many frames as possible and count on a few to turn out well. Kyle Williams kept an eye on the engine's vitals and relayed the temperature readings out loud. "230... 234... 239... 242... 250..." When the temperature soared, Kreg had no choice but to back off the throttle and limp the truck along. Ford's engine management system actually forced his hand, since the computer goes into a fail-safe mode when the temperature rises to dangerous levels. My brain flashed back to Race Mile 0.

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At last! We took to the starting line just behind the last buggy in the class ahead of us. Paige Donahoe stepped in front of us long enough to snap a frame on her digital camera.

After we'd blitzed the starting line and scorched the first turn, Kreg had gotten into his driving groove, flowing with the terrain and guiding the Super Duty along as fast as possible. Shortly after we'd passed the first road crossing, we coasted to a stop next to the course as the engine suddenly went lifeless. There had been no warning. Kreg, Kyle, and I got out. Kreg and Kyle set about assessing why the SD had died. I snapped as many frames as possible, and then joined the fix-it party as a go-fer. It was time to be more than mere live ballast. We had a fried fuse and a dangling driveshaft. Best In The Desert rules prohibit chase teams from coming out onto the course independently, but parts and assistance can be brought out on the course via BITD officials and their vehicles. A BITD official drove out to us in a bright yellow '05 Super Duty, bearing spare parts. Former Donahoe shop foreman Tim Serviss was on board with the BITD official, and the two helped to get us on the move again. After changing a fuse and swapping in a fresh drive shaft, we were back on course.

BITD president Casey Folks had told us the night before at the driver's meeting to watch the lights, not the people. We anxiously waited for the green.

We set a fast pace -- for about a minute. "It's running horribly!" Kreg proclaimed. The water temperature had shot toward the redline and forced the engine into fail-safe mode. So began our overheating troubles. We were forced to the sidelines several times. The aforementioned nasty course conditions combined with the hot weather made for a combination that tested the best of fans, hoses, and radiators. While a racing engine isn't expected to last several years under the crucible of competition, we also didn't want to fry the Power Stroke in a single day.

Here's a photo that wasn't fun to take. The Donahoe Super Duty sits wounded next to the course, barely 13 miles into the race.

Sitting on the sidelines provides plenty of time to think about what's happening under the hood. We finally made the connection between the dead driveshaft and our overheating problems. It seems that the rear suspension had drooped out far enough to let the driveshaft start separating. When the 'shaft tried to slam itself back together under suspension compression, it shot the rest of the drivetrain forward, the fan severing the wires that control the fan clutch. With the fan clutch wires severed, air wasn't being pulled through the radiator. The problem had been discovered, but not yet solved.There's never a convenient time or place for a breakdown, but having mechanical trouble in a BITD race is only slightly more opportune than breaking down in L.A. rush-hour traffic. BITD rules regarding chase crews and pitting are very restrictive. No chase crews can be out on the course. Pitting can only be done in designated pits, and we were also up against our time limit. We had cleared Pit One and Checkpoint One and were on our way to Pit Two. If the overheating problem could be licked, it would have to be licked at Pit Two in about 10 minutes. Kreg called ahead to the waiting pit crew, explaining the severed wires. Chief engineer Dylan Evans would lead the effort to fix the fan by hard-wiring it so that the fan clutch was engaged any time the ignition was on.

There was nothing to do but watch as Dave Turner and Billy Bunch went by. We weren't too worried at this point since there were still many miles left to go. We figured we'd catch them later.

We pulled the big diesel into Pit Two. Several sets of hands went into action. The fuel cell was topped off. Water and food were given to the driver, codriver, and the live ballast. Nuts, bolts, and other vital fasteners were checked for tightness. Dylan donned a pair of protective sleeves to avoid burns from the hot engine and dove into the wiring problem. Time was running out. There wasn't enough of it to let the wiring be properly repaired, so Dylan did the next best thing: he grabbed a hammer. Dylan tried to stake the fan coupling so it would be locked solid and would turn constantly without being engaged by the fan clutch. As the last available seconds ticked off, Dylan lowered the hood and joined the rest of the crew who were safely clear of the truck, hands raised in the air to indicate "all clear." The Pit Captain gave the signal, and Kreg mashed the accelerator. Would we stay cool?

Kreg radioed our position to the pit crew. They couldn't come out to us, but they were able to get some parts to a BITD official who met us on the course.

It was a long haul to Pit Three, and we'd have to traverse some of the most remote sections of the course en route. The section between Pit Two and Pit Three was a bad place to break. Kyle called out the temperatures as we left Pit Two. "224... 229... 235... 240... 243..." The truck wasn't done overheating. We were out of time and out of luck. It was time to pack it in. Kreg looked for an exit from the racecourse and radioed the crew the dreaded news. "8117 is out of the race... we'll meet you at Fort Amargosa across from Pit Two."

There are only eight bolts that secure the driveshaft, but the number seems to double when you're on a dusty racecourse in the heat and pressed for time. This driveshaft was wasted; the splines were damaged when the driveshaft separated. Also note that the driveshaft safety loop (unseen to the right of the frame) did its job and kept the 'shaft from digging into the ground and pole-vaulting the truck.

The drive home, heading south on Interstate 15, allowed some time to think about the race and about desert racing in general. Desert racing is never easy. The terrain is unpredictable and often remote. The fans might give the thumbs-up, or (in Baja) they might wave you toward the booby trap they've just built. The desert brings out the smallest weaknesses in engines, transmissions, shocks, tires, welds, and human patience. At the same time, there's no feeling quite like the one that's experienced crossing a finish line to the wave of a hard-earned checkered flag. Finishing a desert race means you've built a good truck, done a good prep job, and had a good pit strategy. Finishing a desert race means your driving skills were up to par. Finally, finishing a desert race also means you've been blessed with a visit from Lady Luck.

We were out of the race. There was nothing left to do but sleuth under the hood to make sure this problem would never happen again. There's nothing wrong with 20/20 hindsight as long as the lessons learned are applied in the future.

It had been a tough day in the desert, but quitting isn't part of Donahoe Racing's game plan. Kreg and crew have seen many a checkered flag in the past, and there are many checkered flags in their future. If you're hanging out near a finish line, keep your ears tuned for the sound of a Power Stroke. It means the DR Super Duty will be along shortly.

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Heavy Metal
The DR Super Duty is marked in its class as one of the top trucks to beat. Donahoe Racing began with a substantial base from which to build a Stock Full contender. Dynatrac components strengthen the axles at both ends, which are suspended by a Deaver leaf pack at the rear and specially wound Donahoe springs up front. Each wheel is damped by a monster-sized 4-inch Donahoe bypass shock. For optimum cooling, the shock oil is routed through a double-hosed circuit between the shock body and the remote reservoir. The oil flows through check valves, so it goes in through one hose and out through the other. This keeps the oil cooler and the shock action more consistent. Spares are within easy reach, with a spare radius arm just aft of the Fuel Safe fuel cell, a spare Howe-built steering box in easy reach at the back of the bed beside a spare 39-inch BFG Baja Project T/A. Overall workmanship on the truck ranks among the best. Clean fit-up and expertly laid TIG welds abound. The front of the bed is home to three oil coolers. One is for the engine oil, and two are for the tranny fluid.

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Donahoe Racing
Anaheim, CA 92806

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