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Feature: Start your engines

BOWMANVILLE, Ont. - The crowd roars thunderous cheers and applause.The noise is enough to shatter your eardrums as the track is lined with more instantaneous power than ever before.The countdown begin...

BOWMANVILLE, Ont. – The crowd roars thunderous cheers and applause.

The noise is enough to shatter your eardrums as the track is lined with more instantaneous power than ever before.

The countdown begins, red, yellow, yellow, yellow, green light … the stands vibrate and the crowd goes wild.

Race enthusiasts around the world tune in – or attend in person – to feel the energy as their favorite cars, trucks, bikes are delicately piloted around hairpin turns at phenomenal speeds, performing as though they were all part of an intricate ballet.

While the trucking industry has always been a huge supporter of all motorsports, last year a group took steps to bring this energy to a circuit of truck racing the likes of which is rarely scene in North America.

The Super Truck Racing Association of North America (STRANA) has one goal: to try and find a way to bring motorsports and the trucking industry together. They looked across the pond and saw the perfect model, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) European Truck Racing Cup, which has been running for approximately 30 years.

“When you look at ways to get the trucking industry involved in motorsports, it was, ‘well, they use trucks to pull the race cars to the racetrack,'” says Brian Till, executive director of STRANA. He insists this simply isn’t enough so then came the idea to start a super truck circuit.

The newest marketing platform for manufacturers, this high-octane sport was initially slated to begin racing this year. However, STRANA decided to further develop the product and educate the industry on how it could take part.

Several demonstrations are being staged this year across North America with a Canadian date still remaining.

Why do truckers race?

Gord Cooper doesn’t race for fame and glory, and he certainly doesn’t do it for the money. The Calgary resident, who owns one of Canada’s only drag racing trucks sums up his passion for the sport in one sentence: “It’s neat to go fast.”

While few race fans are aware of the realm of big rig drag racing and even fewer take the sport seriously, Cooper is on a mission in Western Canada to help make the sport more popular. That’s not a hard thing to do, if given the opportunity to open up his custom-built 1968 Kenworth – affectionately known as the Smokin’ Gun – on a quarter-mile drag strip.

“I’m sure if I can get around to a couple of these tracks and show them how absolutely bananas this thing is, I’m definitely going to impress them,” says Cooper.

One of the biggest challenges of getting the sport some recognition is overcoming the stereotype that only sports cars are meant to go racing.

“Most people are pretty satisfied to have a 13-second car, well, we’re building, hopefully, a 12-second truck,” says Cooper. “It’s quite something to see a 10,000 or 12,000lb truck do a 13-second quarter-mile which is equal to a pretty darn fast corvette.”

For Cooper, the desire to subject the Smokin’ Gun to the rigorous extremes of drag racing is borne from his love of all things trucking.

“There’s no money to be made and it costs lots of money to do, but I’m kind of crazy on the truck end of things,” admits Cooper. “It should be a whole lot of fun once we get everything cranking.”

The Smokin’ Gun made its racing debut last year, when Cooper hauled the street-legal machine to various demonstration events. However, at the time the truck was fitted with an underpowered and overweight Caterpillar engine that prevented Cooper from threatening any speed records.

“I ran it last summer just because I wanted to see if there was a market for it and I just had an absolute blast,” says Cooper.

His best time was an 18-second quarter-mile, but since then Cooper has upgraded the engine to an 8V92 Detroit Diesel boasting nearly 1,200 horsepower, and now he’s confident he’ll be on pace when the Smokin’ Gun debuts its new power plant.

“That wasn’t too bad for street-stock but that CAT was heavier than the engine and transmission combined that we just put in,” he says.

While the Smokin’ Gun is always a crowd pleaser at any of the events it’s featured at, there are only a handful of drag racing trucks in the country, meaning the level of competition isn’t yet where it is in other forms of racing.

But, that’s really not the point in doing this, says Cooper.

“Maybe I’m not competitive enough but I like to think I do it more for the fun and the sport, not necessarily to beat anybody,” says Cooper. “It’s the fellowship of other truckers.”

However, in the long run, Cooper’s goal is to crack the 13-second barrier and recoup some of his investment.

Thanks to sponsors such as Executive Flight Centre, GBM Trailer Service, Jackson of all Trades, Kal Tire/Bandag, Kaydan Transport, Magestic Bison, Martinson Signs, Maser Engine Services, Oggy the Polisher, Senex Engineering, Stampede Crane and Rigging, Wildcat Welding and OCEAN Hauling, Cooper has been able to pursue his passion without breaking the bank.

Bragging rights

So why would manufacturers want to get involved? It’s hard to ignore the appeal of being able to say, ‘Mine’s faster than yours is.’

As well, all manufacturers – whether they build engines, tractors, tires, shocks, brake components, transmissions or rear ends – will be able to say, ‘We test this on the race track before we give it to you guys.’

“It’s track proven. What harder testing ground can you come by?” explains Till.

Kenworth is no stranger to this platform of marketing as a regular competitor at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in Colorado.

Bruce Canepa is the driver of the jazzed-up 1999 Kenworth T2000 truck. The truck runs an 18-liter powerplant with an estimated 1,375 horsepower. The engine is placed under the cab rather than the hood to improve the truck’s balance and cornering. The truck sports a lighter transmission, downsized tandem axles and a slapshifter, allowing Canepa to manually shift the transmission under full power.

Engineering success

For Kenworth this racing experience is a means to evaluate the systems and parts that may eventually become available on production models. Also, the engineers who participate gain hands-on experience.

“They’re sort of pushing the envelope so we get better engineers in return, and hopefully that translates into producing good things for our customers in the future,” says Jeff Parietti, public relations manager for Kenworth.

The exposure is also something most companies would die for. The Pikes Peak Hill Climb is broadcast on ESPN; Kenworth has the video to show at their booth during truck shows, as well as the local and national media coverage.

Parietti says Kenworth’s experience with Pikes Peak has been worthwhile just due to the opportunity to test the equipment alone.

“You’re trying to learn as much as possible about the equipment. What works, what doesn’t, what can be improved,” he says.

Caterpillar Inc. also does more than dabble in the pits with a Winston Cup Car, a Craftman Series Truck, and two Caterpillar TRD Trucks in the European FIA.

Finnish driver Harri Luostarinen and the Caterpillar-TRD team is in the championship points lead with fellow Caterpillar driver Antonio Albacete currently sitting in second.

Team member David Riley tells Truck News, “Like car racing, truck racing pushes components beyond what is normally expected of them. Anybody supplying parts to this sport will have a customer-driven development program that will see them exploring the limits of materials and manufacturing techniques with the lure of success in front of a large appreciative audience.”

Building support

Wolfgang Schmid, director of marketing and communications for the ZF Group, a long time motorsports sponsor, says FIA’s success can be attributed to a stellar job of marketing. He says the key was taking a Marlboro approach.

“They really gave it sort of an American, adventure, freedom kind of touch. If you go to a truck race in Europe, folks are pretty well dressed in chaps, cowboy boots, cowboy hats, so it is a weird environme
nt,” Schmid says.

The fan base overseas is quite remarkable with anywhere from 200,000 to 250,000 people attending in a weekend. For ZF Group, sponsorship has also been a proving ground for its products.

“The marketing value is really win on Sunday and sell on Monday,” says Schmid.

So far, several component manufacturers have agreed in conceptual form to be supporting sponsors of STRANA. Those on board include, ZF Group, Continental Tire North America, Haldex Brake Systems and Alcoa Wheel Products.

This year’s demonstrations will feature trucks used in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.

“They will not be in the final form of what the STRANA rule book calls for, for 2003, but they’ll be similar,” explains Till. “If you can show people in basic form, what it is, I think just the idea of someone seeing a truck going 100 to 120 mph and braking into a corner and sliding coming out and spinning tires and all that, people haven’t seen that before. It is truly remarkable stuff,” he says. He points out the drivers will be highly qualified and experienced racers with all the credentials.

“These are very sophisticated racing machines to be piloted by professional racing drivers.”

STRANA has come up with a standard chassis spec to keep it cost effective as well.

“It hands everybody the same piece of equipment to play with and they can adjust it and maximize it within the rules but gives everybody the same starting platform,” he says.

The European trucks, which enjoy a great deal of manufacturer involvement, could easily cost more than half a million dollars. Till says STRANA realizes those costs cannot be tolerated on this side of the Atlantic with the series still trying to find its feet. Although the final product will not feature the absolute best racing trucks in the world, the chassis design offers a great compromise.

STRANA estimates competitors will run anywhere from 12.5- to 16-litre engines, with vehicle costs expected to land somewhere between US$150,000 and $200,000. While the race series is to be a solid pipeline between the trucking industry and its manufacturers, it will also plug into the general public as well. The industry will also have the opportunity to educate the public on just how important trucking is for the economy, in addition to highlighting outstanding safety advances. For more information about STRANA call 866-880-8782 or visit its Web site at

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