Nestled among the hills of Cannon County, Tennessee, the Beans Diesel Performance shop comes alive each October for their signature Blackout in the Country event. Unseasonably warm weather greeted spectators as they parked and made their way toward the event grounds. Before we finished our morning coffee, the sharp roar of a dyno pull cut through the controlled feathering of a sustained burnout. The action started early this year.
If we had to sum up this year’s event with one word, it would be anticipation. The crowd was heavily speckled with orange and maroon as many anxiously awaited the outcome of the University of Tennessee versus Alabama game. Snippets of radio broadcasts could be heard throughout the parking areas. Those looking for a more detailed account could follow the game live in the dyno room, next to cameras catching the burnout competition and dyno feed. This year, more than most, it would have been hard to ignore that because the event draws motorsports enthusiasts from across the mid-south, and many are also college football fans.
Deciding where to spend your time can be a challenge with so many events overlapping throughout the day. White and black smoke billowed out from alternate sides of the shop, but neither could draw us from the groomed dirt track when practice opened. Recent rain had set up the clay track well. A continuous stream of trucks made their way to the staging lanes to test their setups against the traction. Dirt flew as drivers pushed their trucks. The track closed briefly at about noon for drivers to gather at the announcer’s tent and officially start the dirt drag competition.
When the national anthem faded, KOI Drag Racing kicked things off with first-round pairings of Modified Diesel trucks. Luke Higgs laid down impressive numbers on the dyno, but struggled to translate that power into a win against tough competition. James Benefiel came out strong, looking to leverage his current record of 3.29 to take top honors for the day. It wasn’t enough. When the lights dropped in the final round, reigning champ Wes Cavinder defended his title and took the field. Benefiel followed in Second and Trenton Shepherd Third.
This year’s Two-Wheel Drive/Manual Transmission class was small. A handful of trucks competed through sprinkling rain. Bryan Evans beat Joey Wanner in both the first and final rounds, locking in First place. Wanner slid into Second with Cory York rounding out the top three.
Work Stock’s eight entries brought more variety of trucks than most of the classes. The competition was stiff, with more than one pairing coming down to reaction time. In the end, Shelby Sandlin’s Ford F250 proved strong enough for Third place. The final round paired the Dodges of Emanual Yoder and Ryan DuBois. DuBois took home the win.
Hot Street was the largest class of the day and brought a few surprises. The first round saw one entry disqualified and another a no-show. Ray Rottach suffered a mechanical failure that pulled him out of the competition early and Trenton Shepherd pulled double duty, racing in this class as well as Modified Diesel. With a strong field, there were multiple breakouts and close runs through the finals. Peyton Nightingale piloted his red GMC to the top spot, knocking John Bussenger to Second place. Scotty Frasier’s solid launches and clean runs secured him Third.
Show N Shine
The rain picked up again as the dirt drags wrapped up, pushing many into vendor alley and under cover to get an update on the game. When the shower passed, we made our way back over to the Show N Shine where competitors were working to wipe down their rigs.
On the far end, just past the machine shop entrance, a small fleet of military trucks ended up with a great view of the burnout pad. We stopped by to talk with Benjamin Eby. Eby sold last year’s entry, a 1986 AM General named Juggernaut, and upgraded to a 1991 Harsco M923A2. While the new truck hasn’t earned a name yet, he was excited to see how the 8.3-liter and five-speed Allison transmission would perform in the night’s sled pull.
In a departure from the past few years, this year’s Show N Shine winners were all newer trucks. Blake Fritz took First place with his 2022 Dodge Ram 2500 followed by Joseph Pitts’ 2015 GMC Denali. Will Waman rounded out the top three with his 2020 Dodge Ram.
Dyno lane maintained a steady line throughout the day, giving the Dynocom chassis rollers little downtime between pulls. When the smoke settled for the evening, seven trucks had hit elusive four-digit numbers on the Dyno leaderboard. Daniel Hargrove’s 2006 Dodge topped the Unlimited entries with an impressive 2,004 horsepower while Luke Higgs came out on top in Work-Stock. Higgs surprised many with both his 2017 GMC 2500 and 2003 Chevy 2500 surpassing 1,200 horsepower.
Not all trucks came to set a new personal record. Some, like the 1997 SuperDuty sleeper of father-son duo Mike Weldon Sr. and Jr., made the trip to get a baseline before dialing in their new setup. Once employed as a state truck, they traded an ATV for the project in its original form. The Ford powerplant was replaced with a p-pumped 24-valve Cummins. Despite challenges with the dyno, the new configuration made 572 horsepower on fuel.
Once the rain tapered off, the track was packed and reset for the sled pull. Work Stock kicked off the action with drivers from five states and an interesting mix of entries, including an ambulance. The class started off strong. Tristan Ellington went 310.96-ft at 30.5 mph, but it wasn’t enough to compete with Abe Lonikev’s 341.92-ft pull at 32.9 mph. Daniel Hargrove gave it his best shot but came up third with 285.8-ft at 25 mph.
Travis Karl realized an issue early in “Cole Train” and let out, coasting to 28 feet to open the 2.5/2.6 class. He reset and managed 317.69 feet at 29.8 mph, which set the bar high for the rest of the class. The battle for second came down to Heath Bonnett and Isaac Sandlin. Bonnett piloted his “Blue Goose” to 285.73 feet at 26 mph for the final run of the class. It was good enough to secure Second place, edging out Sandlin’s 1995 Ford F350 by 3 feet.
Ethan Weston lined up next for a test hook in his 6,200-pound Light Limited tractor. He went 294.99 feet at 24.3 mph. He wore a grin in the return lane after the run and said, “Well, it’s fixed. And Tennessee won. We’re good.”
Jimmy Alexander kicked off the 3.0 class with the Newsome Diesel Repair Dodge. He hopped his way to 278.63 feet and secured Second place. Abe Lonikev came out with another impressive run, putting 20 feet on Alexander to take the top spot. Third went to Dakota Stewart’s “Memory Maker” with a 270.46 feet pull at 25.6 mph.
The crew worked hard between pulls to keep the track packed and added weight between classes as needed. Surprisingly, this year’s 3.6 class only saw two entries, with both out of Lawrenceburg Tennessee. Caroline Counce piloted the “Dixie Ram” to a First-Place finish with a 335.3-feet pull at the fastest speed of the night: 34 mph. Jamie Ayers followed with 306.13 feet in “Wasp” at 30.2 mph.
Super Farm tractors kept the excitement high. Ether and a jump pack were used to get a few started, but that didn’t stop them from laying down impressive runs. When the final tractor unhooked, there was less than 25 feet between First and last place making it the tightest class spread of the night. Greg Freeze had a rough ride in Deere Traxx, but took home the win with 321.77-feet and 31 mph. Brad Foster followed, hanging his front end most of the way down the track. It wasn’t enough to crack the top three. Bruce Vandergriff pulled 317.46-ft at 30.4 mph for Second place. Cranford Jennings locked in Third with 312.6-feet at 29.3 mph.
Six entries in the Run What You Brung “RWYB” Open class and fireworks over the track rounded out the night. Shawn Sutphin kicked things off with his 1995 Ford F350, but a mechanical failure ended his pull early. Benjamin Eby’s military truck was the slowest pull of the night at 11.4 mph, but that didn’t dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm. Familiar names took home the top three spots with Abe Lonikev at 337.59 feet at 30.9 mph, Travis Karl in second with 331.29 feet at 30.3 mph, and Heath Bonnett in Third with 307.55 feet at 26 mph.
Blackout in the Country is one of those events that has seen various shifts over the years, like the addition of dirt drags. Ryan Bean has already announced that changes will be coming in 2023. Look for updates that will continue to refine the event, especially around the burnout pad and competition. Regardless of the shifts, we will see, Beans Diesel Performance has designed an event where diesel enthusiasts can connect with vendors, show off their builds, test setups before the end of the season, or simply spectate for a horsepower fix. This is the type of old-school, local event that draws people back year after year.