It all started five years ago. The top-secret Off-Road magazine satellite network started to collect spy images of 8,000-pound, Cummins-powered Dodge Rams flying through the air. Since we hadn't seen many Dodge trucks taking flight since Walker Evans was doing it 20 years ago, we decided to investigate further. What we discovered was Kroeker Off Road Engineering, code name "KORE."
Based in San Diego, this small, elite company has made an international impact on the off-road industry. By taking the heavy-duty Dodge Ram 4x4, a vehicle that had been neglected by the performance aftermarket up to that time, and making it a battle-worthy weapons platform, KORE has not only opened new doors to adventure, KORE has created the very doors themselves.
So what is this desert beast called KORE? Who are these guys who huck huge solid-axle trucks 8 feet in the air and rumble across Baja in black Dodge Rams like a tank battalion storming northern Africa?
In order to gather some intel, we joined the 2006 KORE Invitational Baja 1000 Prerun. Every year it starts with "The Brief," which takes place at the KORE Kompound. In 2006, KORE had three spec-built Stock Full race trucks competing in the transpeninsular Baja 1000 under the KORE corporate flag. These teams consisted of: Worthington Racing out of Palmdale, California; RPM Offroad of Bristol, Tennessee; and High Rollerz Trux from Calgary, Alberta.
These teams had never raced the Baja 1000 before, and most had never even seen a desert! They were inspired to build Dodge race trucks by Kent Kroeker's solo Baja 1000 success in 2004 when he drove the Beast (featured on the cover) to Ensenada, competed in the race, brought the truck to the podium, and then drove home the next day. It was this proof-of-concept that helped launch KORE's high-end suspension systems and position Kroeker as the country's foremost expert in Dodge off-road suspension. Now, building a professional-grade Stock Full race truck is as easy as a phone call to KORE.
The black '03 Dodge Ram 2500 4x4, known affectionately as the Beast, has been a rolling testbed for KORE's suspension components as well as components from other companies that KORE uses in its racing efforts. Dependable high-end companies such as Toyo, Weld, Banks, Baja Designs, and FASS are on board with KORE's race contingency program that basically says, "You get your truck across the finish line of the Baja 1000, and you get your money back." Using proven products that are part of the KORE formula not only makes it easier to build a race truck and make the dream of the Baja a reality, but it gives race teams monetary incentive to do what Kroeker continuously emphasizes and "drive smart."
It was at the KORE Kompound that we got to know Kent Kroeker, the owner of KORE. A former Marine Corps pilot and veteran Baja motorcycle racer, he's ultraprecise, gritty, mean, and intolerant - sort of a cross between Erwin Rommel and Mike Ditka. He doesn't talk with you, he talks at you. When he speaks, he holds up his right hand in the shape of a claw and says things like "you will comply or you will be eliminated..."
During The Brief, Kroeker emphasized safety, situational awareness, and teamwork. Drivers, navigators, chase and pit crews - nobody had immunity from Kroeker's iron fist. He randomly picked crewmembers from guest teams to recite Baja rules from the "KORE Battle Plan." Then, depending on the response, Kroeker's crew (which consists of former Marine Corps combat pilots and infantry officers) would either praise them or mercilessly ridicule them.
"You are not competing against other drivers - you are driving the terrain," Kroeker emphasized. "A Stock Full race truck is not a Trophy Truck that will survive repeated operator error. Stock Full is a driver's class, meaning you can't be imprecise or you will fail. No amount of money can buy you the finish line of the Baja 1000 - it is up to you to drive your truck there."
What followed were thrills, spills, and chills of Baja prerunning at its best. Kroeker and his crew taught over 30 people driving, navigation, communication procedures, chase and pit techniques, hammering home Baja racing concepts like drill instructors at Perris Island. San Diego to La Paz and back - it was seven days of early mornings and late nights during which drivers and crewmembers earned call signs like "Golem," "SHOE" (stupidest human on earth), "Princess," and "Mongo."
After a particularly harrowing day during which the RPM Offroad race truck came within a hairsbreadth of total destruction, Kroeker gathered the teams together. In the Hotel La Pinta parking lot in Loreto at 0200, Kroeker debriefed the competitors: "You do not have the luxury of learning this stuff by repetition. In just a few days you'll be on the starting line, wearing your man-pants, and you'll have to perform. Consider every day you're down here a final exam."
Check out Off-Road magazine next month to find out how the KORE race effort did in Baja!
Silly Racer, Smoke Is For Kidsent Kroeker has all kinds of sayings that revolve around the concepts of absolute reliability and consistency. Sayings like "two is one and one is none" or "grenades are powerful for a little while" are expressions learned the hard way.
So if KORE knows how to turn your basic Dodge utility chassis into a Baja-1000-capable race truck, who knows how to build the powerplant for that kind vehicle?
The answer is Gale Banks.
Gale Banks is more familiar with the 5.9 Cummins - how to make power, how to make it clean, and how to make the engine live - than anyone in the aftermarket, period. The records Banks holds at Bonneville have stood for almost 5 years. No one has come and taken them, though many have tried. Anyone can build dyno-queen motors that make high horsepower figures for a split second, but those motors could never survive a Bonneville run let alone the rigors of a 10-mile Baja silt bed in a 1,000-mile point-to-point race.
So how does Banks build Baja motors for Team KORE? Gale Banks tells how:
"It's very common for most diesel tuners to make HUGE amounts of boost to brute-force the air through the engine. But if you're going to make HUGE amounts of boost, which is necessary when you have a really lousy cylinder head to force the air through the ports, it takes huge amounts of exhaust pressure to drive it. The turbocharger is driven on exhaust pressure. Making huge amounts of exhaust pressure diminishes the power output of the engine. Take some away? That's negative. Plus, it keeps the heat - the exhaust energy - in the engine and causes engine durability issues.
"If you try to force-feed a Cummins motor by increasing boost and fuel without modifying the head flow, you get high temperatures and lots of smoke. There is a limit to how long an engine will live producing copious amounts of smoke and high exhaust temperatures. When a diesel is rich, it produces really high exhaust temperatures and combustion temperatures, which kills the engine. When a gasoline engine is rich, it just lays down and blubbers - it's safe. So, rich is safe with a gasoline engine; rich is dangerous with diesel.
"The key was getting air to the engine without running it rich and producing smoke. You can't port the Cummins head without machining off the intake manifold and then replacing it with one of your own. What's been going on in the aftermarket is guys build sheetmetal intake manifolds. They're square-cornered, they don't flow well, there's no science to them, but they do work better than the integral iron manifold."
Banks decided to go one step further and develop an intake manifold that requires machining the stock one off the head, which is a service provided at Banks.
"It allows you to go in and port the cylinder head. The manifold bolts directly to the cylinder head, and everything in a Dodge Cummins pickup that bolts to the intake manifold on the stock engine bolts to the same position on our manifold. The Banks manifold has a 4-inch inlet on it instead of a much smaller one as would be on the stock engine, and that's to allow no choke point at the inlet into the manifold. It also allows better distribution of the air forward and aft in the manifold. There's also no gasket - it's O-rings to the cylinder head, so there's no gasket to blow. You can run any amount of boost you want and you won't bulge our manifold like a lot of the sheetmetal ones do. The fabricated sheetmetal ones just kind of blow up or puff up.
"The Banks unit is a cast-aluminum heat-treated piece, and you can put 300 pounds of boost into it. So, now we have really good air distribution to all the cylinders and equal air distribution of air to each cylinder. Each cylinder runs the same EGT or very close to it, unlike a stock cylinder head where you're limited by the EGT in the hottest hole. Here, the holes are pretty equal."
So what this means is that by using standard Banks products such as the Big Hoss bundle and modifying the cylinder head to increase airflow, Banks was able to get 535 continuous horsepower through a motor that will never, under any circumstances, show EGTs above 1,300 degrees. And all this was done with no smoke because the airflow was perfectly balanced with the fuel delivery.
That is how to make race-winning power from a diesel engine.