Project Sidewinder Goes to the Salt

Try getting a pickup truck, with the aerodynamics of a brick, to go 222 MPH with a diesel engine. Banks did, and kept it street drivable too.

After day and night thrashing to get ready, Project Sidewinder rolled onto the Salt on October 17, 2002, not on a trailer, but towing its own spare parts trailer, and promptly exceeded the existing diesel pickup Land Speed Record of 159.647 MPH on its first two qualifying runs – and that was just the beginning.

Try getting a pickup truck, with the aerodynamics of a brick, to go 222 MPH with a diesel engine. Banks did, and kept it street drivable too.

If you’ve never extensively modified a vehicle for performance, including a major engine and drivetrain swap, construction of a safety/chassis roll cage, and complete revision and replacement of the suspension, then you can’t imagine the amount of work required. Add a complete engine upgrade program, and all of the special equipment required for a Land Speed Record attempt at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and the task becomes monumental. It takes the resources and knowledge of companies like Cummins Engine Company, New Venture Gear, Wilwood Engineering, the Progress Group, and of course, Gale Banks Engineering to create a vehicle like the Project Sidewinder Dakota. Even so, after a year of preparation, the vehicle wasn’t declared “race ready” until midnight, Oct.16th, at the Banks Race Shop in Azusa, California. The World Finals had already begun earlier that same day at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, some 700 miles away.

In decidedly non-racer-like fashion, the street-drivable Sidewinder arrived on the salt early Thursday afternoon, not on a trailer, but pulling its own spare parts trailer. The crew simply replaced the street wheels and tires with the racing wheels and tires to ready the world’s first diesel sport truck for technical inspection and its qualifying runs. The goal was for the Sidewinder to become not only the world’s fastest diesel pickup, surpassing the existing record of 159.647 MPH, but to also set the Land Speed Record for the world’s fastest pickup, gas or diesel, regardless of class. That would require a two-way average over 205 MPH. In 1990, Banks earned recognition with the Banks/GMC Syclone non-turbocharged V-6 as the first pickup to exceed 200 MPH and as the world’s fastest pickup with a flying mile speed of 210.069 MPH in IMSA speed trials, followed by runs at Bonneville, so this was familiar territory.

Friday dawned clear and cool – ideal weather conditions and the salt was perfect. Driver licensing rules required two runs with speeds between 150 to 200 MPH. Driver Don Alexander cautiously made his first licensing run at 172 MPH. Then, within the hour, Alexander made a second run at 192 MPH. Together, that established an average of 182.613 MPH for a new diesel pickup BNI and FIA International Land Speed Record – not bad for the first day – especially for a streetable truck that drove in off the highway pulling a trailer!

Saturday was another perfect day on the salt. After reviewing the Sidewinder’s on-board data acquisition information from Friday, tuning adjustments were made for additional qualifying runs. In this racing tune, the Cummins 5.9L turbo-diesel was producing over 1300 ft.-lb. of torque. On the first two qualifying runs on the 7-mile FIA course, Alexander went 216.034 MPH and returned at 218.593 MPH to improve the FIA and BNI International record to 217.314 MPH. On the third qualifying run on the BNI National 5-mile course, the official timing clocks malfunctioned, although they did record an exit speed at the end of the course of 220.422 MPH. The clocks did work properly on the fourth qualifying run, recording a measured mile at 217.212 MPH and an exit speed of 222.139 MPH!

Sunday morning, the Banks crew prepared the Sidewinder for yet another run. Part way through that run, the engine’s massive torque overwhelmed the rearend ring and pinion gear set, actually twisting off the pinion gear part way through the run. Even with the gear failure, the Cummins-powered Dakota still coasted through for a 209 MPH clocking. When averaged with the 217 MPH speed from Saturday, another BNI National Land Speed Record of 213.583 MPH was set. These records, which are detailed below, established the Sidewinder as both the World’s Fastest Diesel Pickup and the World’s Fastest Pickup!

Banks and Cummins aren’t through yet. Project Sidewinder will be tested on the drag strip, on road race courses, and on the toughest test track of all, the street. The Sidewinder is well on its way to redefining the perception of diesels and diesel performance. It is the world’s first, and fastest, diesel sport truck!

Check out all the construction and preparation details videos. You’ll be amazed!

Summary of Banks Sidewinder Runs & Records

at the 2002 Bonneville World Finals
Banks Sidewinder: Entry #212
BNI Class: C/Diesel Truck (C/DT)
BNI C/DT Record: 159.647 MPH
BNI Record (Any Pickup): 205.208 MPH
FIA Class: Category B (Production Vehicle)
Group 3 (Diesel, Supercharged)
Class 17 (Engine Size: 5.5 – 6.0L)
FIA Record: Open

 Friday, October 18:
2 Licensing runs on the FIA (7-mile) course
 Run 1 (limited to 175 MPH maximum)172.617278.517
 Run 2 (limited to 200 MPH maximum)192.608192.608
 Records Set: 4
(FIA Mile & Kilo + BNI Int’l. Mile & Kilo)
 Saturday, October 19:
2 runs on the FIA (7-mile) course
 Run 1216.034347.843
 Run 2218.593350.877
 Records Set: 4
(FIA Mile & Kilo + BNI Int’l. Mile & Kilo)
 Saturday, October 19:
2 runs on the BNI National (5-mile) course
 Run 1 (clocks malfunctioned)220.422
 Run 2217.212222.139
 Sunday, October 20:
1 run on the BNI National (5-mile) course
 Run 1 (pinion failure)209.954
 Record Set: 1 (SCTA/BNI Nat’l.)213.583  
 Totals: 7 runs, 9 records   

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