Diesel World Spring 2006


Perception and misconceptions

Wheelspin! That’s the everlasting, first impression of diesel forever burned into my personal bio hard drive. I should explain how a once in a lifetime experience, fed with large doses of adrenaline, permanently tweaked my perception. Gearheads possess an innate need to occasionally destroy large quantities of rubber molecules. Smoky burnouts (particularly favored by journalists driving press vehicles) have long been a favorite display of power.

As a racer and test driver, l’ve been fortunate enough to create more than my share of tire smoke, most often under the guise of journalistic duty, and torque monster diesel-powered trucks make smoke better than anything else. But my perception-altering, wheel-spinning diesel experience involved no smoke, from the tires or from the exhaust. lt did involve great rooster tails of salt, though. And wheelspin. Sideways. At over 180 mph. This, in a Dodge Dakota pickup, with a Cummins diesel making over 1,300lb.-ft. of earth-rotating torque.

Most diesel enthusiasts know about the Banks Sidewinder. It’s the world’s fastest pickup with a top speed on the Bonneville Salt Flats of 222.139 mph. We set four international records at over 217 mph and a national record of 213 mph while coasting the last 1/4-mlle of the timed mile due to a torque twisted pinion shaft in the rear end. We still routinely drive the Sidewinder on the street. The only changes from Bonneville being the use of stock injectors (only about 1,000 lb.-ft. torque), different gearing and more ground clearance. Fuel mileage exceeds 21mpg with this setup-try that with a gas engine in your ride. What most people don’t know about the Sidewinder project was Gale Banks’ motivation. He spent several hundred thousand dollars of his own on the Sidewinder. His purpose was to alter perceptions. Most of us who are over 40 years old perceive diesel as smelly, noisy, dirty, and unreliable. For many of us, this perception was influenced, If not created, by the GM diesel debacle of the ’70s. This engine, based on the small-block Chevy, was plagued with piston, valve and head gasket failure. So bad was this engine that it reached a staggering 100 percent failure rate.

Banks knows that stunning performance, like 222 mph in a diesel pickup, alters perceptions. He also knows that modern diesel technology provides the best solution for overcoming the growing energy and environmental crisis facing us today. But the perception of diesel must change. We need to make people forget the slow and dirty garbage truck image, and acquaint them with the fast, clean and fun to drive diesel of the future. Nobody can do it alone. You may not have pockets as deep as Banks does, but you can still do something on your own. If you have already achieved some kind of way to influence perceptions about diesel-big or small-let us know at We’d like to write about it in a future column.

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