Market Snapshot


Imagine a fullsize street diesel pickup running a quarter-mile drag race in 10 seconds while achieving speeds of around 130 mph, or pulling a 36,000-pound "sled" on a 300-foot clay dirt track in 13 seconds. Next, imagine the same guy who owns that diesel pickup driving it home and using it for everyday driving. This scenario describes a growing segment of die-hard diesel enthusiasts who are using their diesel-powered pickups for more than just everyday hauling and towing. These diesel owners are taking their everyday work trucks and installing bigger turbochargers, computer tuners and much more and competing in drag races and sled pulls, all in the name of bragging rights—showing a crowd of excited spectators that diesels are actually capable of high performance.

The Diesel Hot Rod Association (DHRA) has been putting on national drag races and sled pulls for years now. The organization first incorporated in 2003 when, according to the DHRA, several diesel drag pickups could not get race time from the NHRA. Since then they have been putting on yearly national events, and each year the number of spectators and competitors who attend these events has grown beyond the DHRA's expectation. As a result of this growth, for the first time ever, the organization brought its event out to Las Vegas this year, in addition to its Indiana and Texas national events. Each of these events are filled with thousands of spectators eagerly watching displays of raw power during the side-by-side drag race, sled pull and dyno competitions.

The images above show diesel pickups in action. These trucks are specifically tuned for drag racing and sled pulling, which often involves using more diesel fuel than necessary in order to obtain the desired horsepower. When on the street, however, these drivers say that they reset their diesels to burn cleaner without the plumes of black smoke.

Why are diesel trucks being used for racing anyhow? The DHRA notes that the large amounts of torque and horsepower attained from these trucks after just a few modifications make them ideal "weekend racers." Typical diesel competitors are young guys who use their trucks for work but have improved the power capabilities by installing custom air intakes, turbochargers, intercoolers, exhausts, handheld computer tuners and much more.

The DHRA says some of these trucks can have $25-$50,000 worth of upgrades installed in order to race in DHRA events, which includes four classes of drag racing and four classes of sled pulls. They say that although both sports have grown in popularity, the DHRA has seen larger growth of participants and spectators of the sled-pull events.

Recently, the DHRA held its national racing event in Indiana, in which 9,592 spectators attended—which they say was the largest crowd to date—as well as 296 race teams and/or individual trucks participated. A listing of all of the drag-race classes and winners of each class is shown in the table below. Although the winning pickups are older diesels, there were several newer Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford diesel pickups in the competitions.

Attendees of DHRA's national events typically range from young adults to families who bring their children along, according to the DHRA. SEMA research staff attended both the Las Vegas event in May and the Indiana event in June to learn more about the types of consumers attending these shows. Both spectators and drivers were surveyed, most of whom own diesel-powered vehicles, in order to find out how this crowd of consumers modifies their diesels, where they buy and how much they have spent over the past year on specialty equipment.

The average age of those surveyed who attended either of the Las Vegas or Indiana events was 27—showing that diesel parts manufactures could be marketing their products to a relatively young crowd of diesel enthusiasts at these events. A total of 92 attendees completed the survey. Those surveyed were primarily male (94%), and when asked whether they have modified their diesel trucks over the past year, 84% responded "yes." On average, those who purchased specialty equipment for their vehicles spent around $3,500 doing so over the past year alone!

When looking at the Las Vegas-Indiana combined results in the tables below, notice that these groups of consumers prefer to modify their diesel pickups with engine performance tuners and exhaust kits most often—probably a result of these products offering noticeable power gains at relatively inexpensive prices. Although most enthusiasts surveyed go to custom shops/installers to buy their parts, shows, such as the DHRA events, represented the second-most popular avenue for these consumers to purchase their parts. The reason: spectators become motivated to make purchases when immersed in the sport while drivers often feel the need to upgrade their diesels prior to racing.

The demand for diesel performance parts has grown over the last few years, and several specialty-equipment companies selling diesel performance parts are growing their sales by becoming involved in diesel competitions put forth by the DHRA. Advanced Flow Engineering (AFE), a manufacturer of performance air filters, was among one of the many manufactures present. Paul Hardley, director of marketing for AFE, indicated that his company has "grown in the past five years primarily because of diesel."

Along with AFE, DiabloSport, a manufacturer of performance engine tuners, has also witnessed growth in its diesel business over the past three years. As of right now, the company's diesel sales are "usually around 40% of [its] total sales," commented Max Wyman, assistant director of marketing for DiabloSport. Exhaust manufacturers are noticing the same effect on their business from the growth of the diesel market. Phil Smith, technical field representative and product specialist for Flowmaster, a manufacturer of performance mufflers and exhaust systems, made the remark that "the diesel market has really taken off, so we have really started to promote our diesel exhaust."

AFE, DiabloSport and Flowmaster were just three of the many SEMA manufacturer members present at the DHRA Indiana national event taking advantage of the growing market for diesel motorsports.

The DHRA drag racing and sled-pull events provide an opportunity for diesel pickup owners to show-off what their diesels were capable of in front of thousands of diesel enthusiasts at events where diesel performance parts manufacturers and jobbers have the opportunity to market products one-on-one with consumers. Events like these not only give manufacturers an opportunity to connect with diesel owners, but pickup owners in general as well, as shown in the parking lot photo above. Although diesel pickups once had the image of pure work trucks or toy haulers, diesel drag racing and sled-pull events are showing consumers that diesels can do much more!

For more information about the Diesel Hot Rod Association, visit

Source: SEMA Research & Information Center