Student Team Sets Speed Record In Veggie Oil Truck

As long as there have been automobiles, there have been people trying to go faster and faster. The whole sport of land speed racing is a revolving-door of record breaking, and with renewed interest in alternative fuels, people are finding all sorts of ways of going faster. A team of college students from Boise State University with no prior experience in land speed racing, built a veggie oil-powered Chevy pickup, and smashed the standing record for veggie-oil trucks.

Land Speed Racing 101

The team they formed, called Greenspeed, is made up of students from Boise State’s College of Engineering. Led by Dave Schenker and Patrick Johnston, in the span of a few months Greenspeed was able to pick up over 70 sponsors and acquire over $100,000 in donated parts that would go towards  a 700 horsepower Chevy S-10 that can run on diesel or straight vegetable oil. I spoke with Patrick Johnston, who is the VP of the Greenspeed team, about what it took to put this crew together.

“The idea goes back over two years ago,” says Johnston. “The school wasn’t exactly keen on a bunch of students going after land speed records.” The idea originated with Dave Schenker, who had tinkered with diesels for years. Johnston joined up “because who wouldn’t want to do this?”

Once the school finally acquiesced, Schenker, Johnston, and the rest of the Greenspeed team began work in May of 2011. “Dave got a lot of those sponsors, and all of us contributed to building this car,” says Johnston. “I cannot emphasize enough what a team effort this was.” To get started, each member pitched in $100 to buy a 1998 S-10 pickup. “We wanted something that would be easy to identify over a purpose built streamliner that looks as if it can only be used on the salt and not the every day commute,” says Johnston.

Though Boise State eventually agreed to the student-led land speed racing team, Greenspeed went above and beyond the safety measures required by the sanctioning bodies of land speed racing of their own volition. “For example, to go as fast as we planned on going, we only needed a 4-point rollcage, but we installed a 10-point cage,” explains Johnston. “Instead of a 5-point harness, we use a 7-point harness.”

There is no such thing as too much safety when it comes to land speed racing, especially when you’re sitting behind a 700 horsepower 5.9 liter Cummins engine (yes, the same one that came in 90’s Dodge Rams.) Converting the Cummins to run vegetable oil was a simple matter of installing a P7100 mechanical injection system, a separate tank for the veggie oil, and a heating element to ensure the veggie oil is thin enough to run through the system. The engine itself was heavily upgraded, and capable of running 110 PSI of boost.

Chasing The Dream

But building a land speed racer is neither easy, quick, nor cheap, as Greenspeed was soon to find out. “We wanted to set a record at Speedweek, but on the day we were supposed to leave, the engine still wasn’t in the truck.” This year’s event began on a Saturday, though Greenspeed didn’t end up leaving for the Bonneville Salt Flats until Tuesday.

“We got there, and a lot of people were blown away that we had put together this whole thing in just a few months,” says Johnston. While they got a lot of things right, passing tech inspection is no easy thing, and the team had to make a few alterations. By the time they passed tech inspection, it was the last day of Speedweek. “We managed to make one run and get our Class C license.”

Speedweek behind them, the team had a license, and tried to attend two other land speed racing events, but encountered engine problems during their second run (cracking two cylinders) and the third event was rained out. With the season drawing to a close, they started looking for other venues. “Dave got in touch with SCTA about El Mirage, which is a dry lake bed. The SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) was glad to have us, and so we headed there,” says Johnston.

That was earlier this month. After an initial pass of 139 MPH running veggie oil, Greenspeed’s S-10 pickup made a second run on their blend of cottenseed and sunflower oil. The result was a record-breaking speed of 155.331MPH, blowing away the previous veggie oil record in the diesel truck class. And that’s how a bunch of college kids set a new land speed record, though according to Johnston “Had we been on the salt, where we’d get more traction, we could have gone even faster. There is a lot of power left in that truck.

The Greenspeed Team celebrates after their record-setting run
So what are their future plans? “Well we want to continue promoting the club, and there was talk about doing some drag racing too. The next major milestone though will be beating the standing regular diesel record of 215 MPH,” says Johnston. According to him, the S-10 is more than capable of chasing down that record.

And at the end of the day, that is what land speed racing is all about. Chasing records and chasing dreams. Green is the new fast, and Greenspeed is just the vanguard of an ever-growing movement of environmentally responsible racing. My hat is off to them.

If you’d like to follow Greenspeed’s progress, or just send them a virtual high-five, check out their website and their Facebook page too.
Pictures: Holly Salewski


Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.