Pickup trucks didn’t start as the phenomenon they eventually became. They started as workhorses, humble and cheap, doing their jobs and doing them well. These jobs included shuttling Air Force personnel to their planes, helping out around the farm, taking produce to market, hauling tools and building equipment, and many other innumerable and mundane yet absolutely necessary tasks. But the awesome practicality, low cost, and ubiquity of the pickup truck made it, in hindsight, inevitable that the workhorses were destined for more than their mundane daily grind. Slowly, pickups became vehicles not just for work, but also for play.
Off-road variants, trucking through the mud or up and over rocks or literally flying over coastal dunes or through inland deserts, came first. Then, there were muscled-up variants, largely spurred by the choking regulations and insurance costs applied to muscle cars in the mid 70’s. These were, for their time, some powerful machines built to skirt the new regulations, but they were just the tip of an iceberg of earth-shaking horsepower to come. Sports trucks, once an oxymoron, became a reality. And now, in the modern era, it's not that strange to see a pickup at the dragstrip—and winning, no less. Turbo diesel pickups have so much torque and grip, they turn their massive weight from a liability into a boon, enabling the massive workhorses to keep pace with muscle cars on their home turf. But for every dragstrip-upsetting truck, there's another poser just there to cash in on the look.
Trucks, for the most part, aren't meant to be fast, certainly not on a dragstrip.
The original SVT Raptor was designed to be fast—but in the more conventional truck playground of Baja-style driving, blasting across open terrain with little or no road at all.
With a big 6.2-liter V8 pushing over four hundred horsepower to all four wheels, it could get up to quite a clip, and with long-travel heavy-duty suspension, it could maintain that clip over uneven terrain. Despite the power and the drivetrain, however, it's not a dragstrip slayer, partly because of all the weight those heavy-duty off-road parts pack on.G
That said, the original Raptor was quite good at what it was designed for. While not a firebrand on the dragstrip or road course, it could perform like no other production vehicle off-road. Now, Ford has expanded the brand with a Raptor variant of the new Ranger. Unfortunately, this variant isn’t as hardcore offroad as its bigger brother is. With only a detuned version of the 2.3-liter turbo engine from the Focus RS providing grunt to move its well over two-ton heft, this Raptor moves more like a Brachiosaurus in any performance context, including the dragstrip. Slow and steady doesn't win the race at the strip.
Labeling something from the modern-day Toyota “Extreme” is something one would expect to be a massive disappointment. This is exactly that.
A little V6 provides inadequate power, there's too much weight, and it has basic tires.
The things the marketing department claims make the machine extreme include an exhaust that doesn't add power, wheels that aren't lightweight, and a shift knob that's just a shift knob. A normal Toyota Tacoma isn't going to set any dragstrip on fire, and this, despite the badge and the “features” list, isn't going to do that either. But that's all we expected from a car company whose fastest vehicle has about the same power as their family sedan.
Power Wagon is a nameplate that's been synonymous with commercial-grade workhorses. These rigs helped build our country and have a reputation of providing enough power to get the job done. So, it's somewhat cool that the same nameplate applied to those seminal machines was applied to what was basically Dodge’s Raptor competitor. Being a counterpart to the original Raptor, despite having significant power, the Power Wagon isn't a track attacker but more of an off-road killer. Unfortunately, all that power isn't enough to offset the weight of the off-road equipment, so while it's an awesome bit of off-road equipment, the Power Wagon is no dragstrip slayer.
A light truck has significant potential to be an awesome sport pickup or even one that can lay waste to a dragstrip. They're relatively lightweight, have engine options that include larger displacement power plants that are receptive to boost, and possess more than enough room under them for serious amounts of tire to make the whole thing work as a performance vehicle. So, of course, Toyota did none of this when putting out what they called a "sport truck." Barely a glorified body kit in terms of actual performance options, the TRD Sport Tacoma just doesn’t have any of the gusto a performance vehicle does.
Because they make for a wonderful base platform for engineering shenanigans, well-modified sport pickups are almost always capable of blasting down the quarter mile. The 454SS is absolutely one of those trucks. Having a 7.4-liter engine that's begging to be made ridiculously powerful through a cheap set of bolt-on parts is a very good thing indeed.
The problem is that the truck didn’t have much speed from the factory, at least by modern standards.
Nowadays, the mods are even easier to come by. It doesn’t take much to make the original sport pickup fly, but it’s most certainly grounded in stock form.
The Ferrari-beating pickup truck is appropriately the stuff of legend. An early progenitor of the domestic performance renaissance to come, the Syclone and its Typhoon sister were powered by a turbocharged and intercooled V6 sending power to all four wheels. A relatively lightweight chassis made the Syclone capable of tearing up a dragstrip fresh off the showroom floor. That said, many owners immediately cranked up the boost and upgraded the intercooler system, which made the Syclone even more of quarter-mile terror. Heavily modified versions these days can hang with just about any street car not only on the strip but in the canyons as well.
It's not a good idea to base a trim level on a color, yet that's essentially what Ford did with the anemic F-150 Nite from decades ago. Advertised as something of a sporting machine, it wasn’t even a body kit but instead, a sticker set and a paint job.
These days, they're somewhat collectible and are certainly not bad-looking trucks, but they're not fast either.
The big V8s of the period barely produced their sub-200 horsepower numbers, and while their torque was better, it was far insufficient to produce a quarter-mile run short enough to Instagram.
"Maloo" might sound like a silly name to those of us in the States, but once you understand the meaning behind it, both the name and the truck it's affixed to suddenly seem very cool. "Maloo" is the word for "thunder" in an Aboriginal Australian language, which makes a lot of sense when one hears the 550+ horsepower 6.2-liter engine roar to life. HSVs, or Holden Special Vehicles, take what were normal Aussie machines and turn them into thundering devils of awesome power. That's exactly what has happened to this Maloo, which, right off a dealer lot, can cover a dragstrip in smoke.
Deciding whether or not the early 2000s-generation Silverado SS should be considered a good drag-strip pick or not is less simple than it seems.
Sporting a detuned and supercharger-less version of the LS engine that would later wind up in the Maloo, the SS is very easy to build into something very fast indeed.
Bolt-on horsepower can get up into the 400s quite quickly. Pretty much anything performance-wise one can dream up to do with a Silverado, someone has already done it and offers a parts kit that will let you do it as well. But many poser special editions of the truck exist, too.
Twin turbos make for a convincing argument that the current-generation Ford Raptor manages to be both modern and awesome. Lighter built yet tougher than the truck it replaces, the new Raptor can be tuned to produce some truly massive power from an engine that's related to the one in the Ford GT supercar, the one that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans just recently. Off-road equipment doesn’t help the truck’s dragstrip performance, but it produces so much power that even stock, the lady puts up a dang good fight on the straight and narrow battlefield of the dragstrip.
Toyota had a habit of rather petty cash-ins with its Tacoma pickup in the mid-2000s to late in the decade, which makes sense because people bought them all up.
The X-Runner, despite not having much in the way of performance gear, has a serious cult following of people who like trucks but are still tuner nerds.
This is almost entirely centered on how the little truck looks, as nothing about it is actually for the sake of going fast. Even the look is not that remarkable in hindsight, as it's simply a standard mid-2000s tuner body kit—but on a truck instead of a car.
The Lightning is perhaps the truck that popularized the sports truck. Really, though, the Lightning is more of a muscle truck. A supercharged V8 up front, a lighter-weight rear-wheel drive, and a lowered suspension allowed the Lightning to turn exceptionally well, but it was mainly built to win stoplight drag races with lesser trucks and, of course, surprise a few muscle car drivers as well. In stock form, the Lightning was a real contender in its day and could be easily modified to blow the doors off almost anything. These days, they can still take the heat to the strip with very little work.
Dodge has repeatedly showcased that they're the most insane domestic vehicle manufacturer, at least when taking SRT into account. These engineers got their start as hot-rodding bad boys and haven’t changed a bit since. Corporate has largely given up trying to control them, as everything they build seems to sell out anyway. The same minds that put together the Dodge Hellcats and the Demon once worked on an equally insane pickup truck—a pickup truck imbued with the mighty power of a Dodge Viper’s massive 8.4 liter V10. More than a little crazy, this number was liable to swap ends if not handled correctly, but if you managed to get grip, not much could catch you. Ever.
Honda could've saved themselves some time if they had just left “sport” out of the title of this trim package. Then again, Honda could've saved themselves a whole lot of time if they had never made this pile of meh, to begin with.
The point of the Ridgeline was largely to be a truck for people who didn’t normally buy trucks, which, ironically, was something it was rather good at.
Too bad, then, that people who don’t normally buy trucks normally don’t buy trucks—and so, didn’t buy this one either. "Sport" is as meaningless in this title as "Extreme" was in the Tacoma lineup.
Ready to Rock Mustangs have been shown to be as awesome as one would expect, with drifting champion Vaughn Gittin Jr behind many of the resulting products. But while sponsored by Ford, RTR hadn't yet produced parts for the company’s most popular model—until recently. The RTR F-150 combines huge power with cool looks, surprising agility, and the ability to jump stuff into a package that could be described as the ultimate daily driver. This truck can do it all, and all of it will put a smile on the face of anybody who isn’t dead—not bad for a truck you could get serviced at a Ford dealer.
The ideal of the muscle truck was catalyzed by one machine that came about as an attempt to jump through a loophole. In the '60s, muscle cars reigned supreme.
Massive engines, massive power, and tiny quarter-mile times were all part of a culture that only survived because gas was practically free and insurance was ridiculously low.
Not only did those two things change in 1973, but the clean air act threatened to strangle the once-great and incredibly dirty domestic V8. But those regs only applied to passenger cars, so the obvious stopgap for those who still wanted a little actual factory muscle was the muscle truck: the Li’l Red Express.
These days, we have engines that are both easier on the lungs and harder on the pavement. The supercharged V8 under the hood of the 2018 Ford F-150 Shelby Super Snake will pass emissions tests yet make more power more reliably than any muscle car engine from the '60s and the early '70s. The Snake-enabled pickup with the legendary Shelby name also comes in four-wheel drive, making it far easier for it to grab some traction. In any case, this is a pickup that utterly decimates the dragstrip—all while people can stand behind it and not get cancer. Not bad.
When it comes down to it, though, drag racing is such a narrow discipline that specially modified vehicles will always be the fastest, whether those vehicles are cars, motorcycles, or trucks. In the case of trucks, one of the fastest modified strip runners that can still be considered "street-able" is the Farm Truck, a famous street-racing sleeper vehicle. The point of a sleeper is, of course, to look far slower than it actually is, something which can be very useful in no-holds-barred $5,000-bet street races. It also helps to have a big V8 with a crap ton of forced induction.
Sources: USA Today, CarAdvice, Hemmings Motor News, Car and Driver, TopSpeed