First-Gen Folly: 1,000HP Dodges At Firepunk Diesel’s Dyno Day

The general consensus used to be that first-gen Ram trucks (’89 to ’93) were “good trucks,” but they “didn’t make any power.” This stigma was based on the 5.9-liter Cummins engine fitted with a Bosch VE injection pump. As a whole, these early Cummins engines delivered far less fuel than its newer counterpart, the P7100 injection pump found on ’94-’98 trucks.

Fortunately, there are hardcore enthusiasts who modify the Bosch VE pump and push the potential of these 160-horsepower engines further. Boosting the power up to 300 horsepower is a no-brainer, and power to the tune of 800 or 900 horsepower is attainable. Maybe the little VE rotary pumps with their variable timing aren’t so bad after all.

In 2023, the Battle of the VE’s challenge was born. Gavin Huke, an employee at Firepunk Diesel, suggested having a dyno day where VEs from all across the country come together to show what these trucks can do. Individuals who were big in the VE community like Brian Block, Gavin, Evan Ratcliff, and Eric Gilbert would be there, but also companies with VE performance in mind would be represented. There was Ratman Performance, The Hungry Diesel, and of course, Firepunk themselves.

A ton of prizes, cash, and other awards were given out, along with this awesome battle axe to the winner.

There was a prize for the highest overall horsepower, but there were also a bunch of other interesting categories for these first-gen owners. Paul Cato chipped in $200 for the lowest horsepower, Ronnie Nikodym put up $250 for the three closest consecutive pulls, and Ben’s Diesel Performance and Horsetorques Diesel put up a bounty for the first truck to break 1,000 horsepower. Likewise, Valair Diesel Clutches, Fenley Turbo, and Hot Shot’s Secret all helped sponsor the event. Even the local Snap-On guy donated to the challenge. There were more than 20 sponsors in all, and a whopping $5,100 was up for grabs in various categories.

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The parking lot gave a hint at what was to come, with Cummins-powered first gens from all across the country in attendance.


Rather than going chronologically, we’re actually going to tell you about the first-gen VE’s that showed up in terms of horsepower, because yes, there was a lowest horsepower award! The lowest power truck belonged to Austin Kiley. The stock ’89 Dodge, complete with no intercooler and the tamper-proof collars still intact was a great baseline truck. While these Dodges were rated at 160 horsepower at the flywheel, they were actually closer to 200, which falls in line with Austin’s rig, which churned out a respectable 181 horsepower.


It’s always good to have a stock, stock truck on hand just to see what kind of power it makes. This factory ’89 cranked out 181 horsepower, indicating these trucks were a little underrated right from Dodge.

Moving up the first-gen horsepower list, the next vehicle of note was also a non-intercooled truck with nothing more than a couple of light mods. The 50mm HC1 turbo’d truck of Grey Lawrence made an even 304 horsepower and 705 lb-ft of torque, starting at 1,900 rpm. It was clear airflow limited output, but also a very cool example of what you could make with a stock VE truck with some simple tweaks.

First-Gen Tow Rig

Brian Block brought his tow rig, which turned out hotter than many thought. With an old 57 mm turbo and some new-technology injectors, the Cummins cranked out 399 horsepower on its first pull. Each truck owner was given 20 minutes on the dyno, and Brian made the most of his time. He kept tweaking the setup until he left with 433 horsepower. We joked that given more time on the dyno he would have probably hit 500!

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Brian Block was one of the innovators of VE Performance in the late ’90s. He didn’t have his famous compound-turbo’d yellow truck at the event, but he brought his tow rig, which still laid down an impressive 433 horsepower.

First-Gen 4s

There were a number of first-gen trucks with single turbos in the mid-400 horsepower range. Evan Ratcliff topped the 400 horsepower grouping with a 493 horsepower dyno pull, while Nick Baley clocked in at 468 horsepower. Colt Hatridge made 461 horsepower. Torque varied from 845 lb-ft from Nick’s big 69mm turbo truck to 1,062 lb-ft from Evan Ratcliff. Tim Stevenson cracked the 500 horsepower number with 502, after driving all the way from Utah with a camper he bought just for the event.

Tim Stevenson (left) showed up all the way from Utah with his crew cab. A 62mm turbo and 6x16 injectors helped him realize 502 horsepower. Colt Hatridge (right) was middle of the pack with his truck. He made 461 horsepower on fuel, but sprayed it to 703 horsepower with a big hit of nitrous.

Not Everyone Has Perfect Runs

Just like at any event, there were a number of competitors who had trouble with their combinations. The Plowboys-Diesel truck had a fueling issue and only made low-300s. Andrew VanMeveren had issues and only made 378 horsepower. Finally, there was Dominic Libercci who had spooling issues and made 362 horsepower.

Plowboy’s Diesel brought possibly the most unique combination to the event, a 6.7-liter Cummins with a VE pump.

More Boost Means More Power

They say boost is a measure of restriction, but there’s only so much the archaic first-gen Cummins engine can flow. After a while, you just need more boost to make more power, which would explain why the next bunch of trucks all had compound turbo setups pushing more than 60psi of boost. In fact, Koda Walton saw 549 horsepower, Nathan McCann enjoyed 557 horsepower, and Derek Parrott also realized 549 horsepower. Just like with the single turbos, the torque to horsepower was at a near 2:1 ratio, with the compound trucks coming in at around 1,000 to 1,200 lb-ft of torque.

Derrick Parrott (left) had one of the cleanest trucks in attendance, and as it turns out, it made good power too, putting down 549 horsepower with a set of big compound turbos. There was no more visible set of compound turbos than the in-your-face set of twins on Koda Walton's truck (right).

Bottle-Fed First-Gen Powerhouses

It’s no secret that nitrous oxide works extremely well on diesels, especially for making power on a dyno run that might be only 5 or 6 seconds long. A fair amount of competitors brought their own oxygen-in-bottle, and for those who were willing to try, Firepunk had a number of nitrous bottles on hand that they could hook up in just a few minutes, and spray one big shot into the intake. This is where things got exciting. If you’ve never seen a big shot of nitrous on a diesel, it’s quite the spectacle.


One of the most anticipated trucks on the dyno was Zack Brodeur’s D150 shortbed with a Verlin Martin-built 14mm VE pump flowing 410cc and 5×20 injectors.

Zach Brodeur’s bad-to-the-bone D150 shortbed with a Cummins swap was the only 14mm pump truck in attendance, and he put on an impressive showing, making 579 horsepower and 1,077 lb-ft of torque with a single turbo. With a single big 0.136-inch nitrous jet the power skyrocketed to 836 horsepower and 1,381 lb-ft of torque. Zach wasn’t the only one to hit the bottle, however, as Nathan McCann also jugged his truck up to 803 horsepower and a whopping 1,553 lb-ft of torque.

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Another Firepunk truck was the ride owned by Nathan McCann, which used a set of compounds and nitrous to make 803 horsepower on the bottle.

Two Trucks Over 1,000

There were two trucks that everyone already knew could put down good numbers. The first ride was Eric Gilbert of The Hungry Diesel, who has a unique VE-pumped Cummins Ramcharger with a later four-valve head to improve airflow. He had already accomplished 688 horsepower before the event, but he hadn’t dynoed in a long time. He also showed up to the Battle with an untested nitrous system, and this would be his first time using the juice.

Still, after swapping over to Firepunk’s “dyno tires,” he was ready to make some power. After the rollers stopped spinning Eric’s Ramcharger broke its own record at 731 horsepower. There was still the matter of using nitrous though. Eric first used a 0.99-inch and  0.136-inch jet to break 1,000 horsepower. He then switched to two 136s to put down an event-record 1,024 horsepower! However, his record wouldn’t stand long though.


After he had issues and only made mid-300s due to low boost, Dominic Libercci vowed to hit the truck with everything he had on the bottle.

The second truck to deliver over 1,ooo horsepower, and the last truck on the rollers, belonged to Gavin Huke. He dynoed a would-be 717 horsepower record if it hadn’t been for Eric’s run. Still, Gavin had a TON of nitrous in the form of a 0.375-inch “trashcan” solenoid that was hooked up to his engine, and he used every bit that he could without running too lean. The truck literally tried to leap off the dyno as the crowd cheered, and with 1,179 horsepower, a new record was the result. Gavin was the new King of the VE’s.

Boy did Eric Gilbert's Ramcharger (left) fill up the dyno bay. Nobody had tested more before the event than Gavin Huke (right).

Unimaginable Carnage

The official event was over, but Zach Brodeur added a second stage of nitrous to his monster motor and wanted to do an exhibition pull to see if he too could break 1,000 horsepower. Unfortunately, the second stage was hooked up to the first, providing all the nitrous at once, which can result in bad stuff happening.

How bad? The resulting explosion was probably one of the worst we’ve ever seen in person. The engine popped and backfired but also still tried to pull through, resulting in exploding the engine. There were holes in both sides of the block, the cam was in pieces, and you could see connecting rods but no pistons. The engine also sheared the studs and blew the turbo completely off the manifold — it was just hanging by the oil lines. Under the truck, more metal parts and complete pistons. They somehow made their way out of the engine and were lying, mostly intact, on the ground. While Gavin and Eric made the two highest numbers, we’d say Zach definitely gets our full send award.

So there’s bad, and then there’s “pistons on the ground” bad. Unfortunately, the big fuel shortbed was in the latter category, as the 500K mile Cummins windowed the block on both sides!

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Jason Sands

Jason Sands has owned everything from an 8-second Nova to rat rods. His claim to fame is setting the Guinness World Record for the fastest speed towing a trailer at 141.998 mph in a diesel-powered GMC Duramax. He's also known to write on occasion.
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