Sunday, September 16, 2012

2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD Denali "Story"

OK, so not a racecar post, but I thought I would update on one year of ownership of my truck so far.  As many of you may know from talking to me and many of you might not know, I traded in my old 2005 Ford F350 Lariat in about one year ago.  So a little background there, I bought that truck used despite multiple warnings from people regarding the "6.Blow" engine.  I did not take their advice thinking the truck was still under warranty, and I would just buy an extended warranty in case anything should go wrong.

Well, stuff started going wrong almost immediately.  EGR coolers, Oil coolers, and injectors were the all starting to get replacements on a routine basis.  Lucky for me, all of these failures happened around town.  Being a bit scared, I decided to buy an Allstate RV Roadhelp Roadside Assistance Plan (kind of like AAA but for people who tow).  That came in handy more than a few times.  First time, my HPOP (High Pressure Oil Pump) failed leaving me stranded.  Once that was fixed, more troubles came.  Transmission transfer case switch broke leaving me with no 4WD in a big snowstorm.  Then my turbo was sticking and I was having boost issues.  That was replaced and finally, from the very tow last year to Mid-Ohio Nationals, I was stranded on the side of the road for 4 hours waiting for two tow trucks to come haul the rig and trailer.  Second turbo had blown.  I was still under extended warranty, and my whole plan of having a truck under warranty did not seem so great now that I was sitting on the side of the road.  Did not factor in what would happen if the truck broke while I was far away from home.

So I decided to buy a new truck.  I was considering a Ford since their new trucks were very nice, but then their customer service absolutely turned me off.  At first, Ford sent out investigators before they would approve the warranty work telling me it was routine.  I viewed it as them trying to skirt the repair.  Mind you, the 2nd "new" turbo was JUST put in by on of their other dealers.  Then I had to pay for my transportation 450 miles back home.  I had to call a buddy to take me to Columbus to fly home, paid my own plane ticket and paid for the return trip back out to get my truck.  What if I did not have a buddy in Columbus?  Would I have had to foot a bill for a rental car and hotel room for the 2 weeks it took them to fix the truck?  Ford would have none of it.  They declined to even entertain the thought of reimbursing me anything.  Being that I tow all over the place, I thought the least they could do was extend my warranty some for piece of mind.  No dice.  So F-you Ford!  I started looking around for new trucks and made it a personal mission to not recommend Fords to any of my fellow racers buying new trucks based on my horrific experience.

After lots of research, I ended up trading in the Ford for a 2011 GMC Sierra 3500HD Denali.  Being end of year, I had slim pickings.  Searched almost the entire east coast before finding one from Sharrett GMC (Hagerstown, MD).  Super easy to deal with and got a sweet deal and awesome trade in price for my Ford.

That was about 1 year ago.  Here I am a full year and 12,000+ miles later.  That's almost 12k miles of tow duty and nothing else.  The truck has performed flawlessly.  So in an effort to help those who use these trucks for the sole purpose of hauling, I decided to do short review if you will of my experience thus far.


  • I liked the GM layout better than the gaudy Ford toy looking interior.  Gauges are laid out nicely and all within sight.  I wish the "DIC:Driver Information Center" was a bit more informative to give me more data.  How about telling me when the truck is in regen-mode?  How much boost Im making?  EGT temps?  Im used to racing a car with data for every little thing and all this data should be in a data-bus somewhere.  The Ford wins out here with their color display showing everything.  Granted the GMC is from 2007, it is a bit dated.  Hoping their new truck in 2014 will address this. 
  • The seats are super comfortable.  Heated/Cooled.  On long hauls, your butt stays nice and comfy.  I found the Ford seats to be a bit firmer.  Rear seats are nice and they fold up leaving a nice flat storage area.  I rarely use the rear for seating and mainly for storage and I find it ample.
  • Needs powered, telescoping mirrors.  Yes, I tend to forget, and then have to pull over, and yank them out.  No big deal normally, but when youre towing a 44' trailer, it can get annoying.  
  • Needs way  more interior storage.  The glovebox is tiny and the center console is equally tiny compared to both Ford and Dodge.  Lacks cupholders which comes in handy on long trips when I need multiple energy drinks! 
  • The NAV is typical-GM and is adequate.  I would have loved a better interface with my iPhone for not only music but making calls, etc.  Again, this truck is based off a 2007 design.  Inputting all your own contact lists into the truck is cumbersome and should not be needed.  I should be able to just grab anything I want from my phone via Bluetooth.  When I was looking at the Dodge, the one thing I noticed was the sub-par Garmin-based system they use.  Low resolution and looked like a zoomed in app 2X mode on iPad.  That turned me off on the Dodge.  Granted I rarely use my NAV anyways (I prefer my iPhone), a "truck mode" or "towing mode" would be helpful so I dont get trapped somewhere while towing.
  • Speaking of Dodge, the GM does a nice job of hiding all the random seat rails, bolts, etc.  Cannot say the same about the Dodge I test drove.  The metal seat rails were exposed, the metal seat mounts exposed with bolts, etc.  A $60k MSRP truck should definitely have all minor details addressed. 
  • Heated steering wheel is a nice touch, but it takes too long to warm up.  They should also have tied it into the remote start.
  • When trying to hookup a gooseneck, it seems the rear window is too short?  I cannot see the ball (and Im tall).  Maybe add in a 2nd camera for hooking up a gooseneck or 5th wheel trailer.


  • The truck sits lower than my old Ford did.  Gets you into parking garages, etc. 
  • The high polished wheel option only polishes one side of the wheels which means you can't rotate them without it looking silly.
  • Clearance lights on roof are all LED in a low profile design.  Very nice. 
  • Telescoping Mirrors needed (see above). 
  • The headlights are amazing for a halogen based system.  Very nice horizontal cutoff. 
  • Truck does not sag much despite the weight it is carrying. 
  • The OEM side step rails need to be lower.  They sit way too high so when youre wearing thick boots or shoes, you hit the truck.  
  • The one AWESOME thing about this truck is the hitch receiver adapter.  It has a flared end edge so the adapter doesnt keep sliding into the hitch when trying to line it up.  I don't tow a TAG trailer often, but when I do, it makes hooking up a breeze.  My Ford friends have a huge hassle here when they are trying to slide their receiver balls in.  Unsure about Dodge.
  • This is where the GM shines.  The Duramax/Allison combo is a blast to drive.  The shifts are near seamless despite being almost 26k GCVW.  
  • Ive been getting roughly 10-11MPG towing a 44' enclosed gooseneck.  About 15-16MPG "city" and 18-20MPG highway.
  • Everyone complains about having to fill the DEF (diesel exhaust fluid), but it is a non-issue for me.  Pop the hood and refill.  You can go quite a while before refilling it.  I refill when I get home from a long trip and never worry about it.  The stuff is pretty cheap at truck stops (Pilot, TA, etc) around $2.79/G.  You can also get it at your local parts store for around $10-15 for 2.5G.  
  • Did I mention it is a hoot to drive?  I typically tow across PA to OH a few times a year through the mountains and the truck did not miss a beat.  Granted I usually drive on the side of saving MPGs, I never had any issues.  My Ford would sound like it was about to blow up.  The clatter was loud, the fans blaring and the turbo high pitched.  
  • The engine brake is amazing.  As said, in those mountains, I could just let the thing coast down the grades many times without even touching the brakes.  
  • When tooling around town to grab food and fuel when at the track, the truck rides very nice.  No doubt the independent front suspension aids in this.  The engine is quiet and the steering response is VERY good.  Im used to driving a car with accurate feedback and the steering wheel is not super loose like the Fords I have driven.  
In conclusion, I am super happy with the truck.  Ive been regularly hauling around 26k GCVW which is near CDL levels.  The truck handles it perfect and Im sure it could handle more with ease.  Next update will come after winter.  Hopefully it snows a lot and I get a chance to put a plow on ;) 

And some more pictures of the truck doin' work: 

O yea, and a picture of the HUGE hub: 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

2012 NASA Nationals Wrapped Up

Well that was exciting.  Woke up early to find that my grid position was not all that bad!  10th overall and 3rd in GTS3.  The start was decent as I maintained my position.  We raced under green for a very short time before a GTS4 Porsche driven by Jay Matus flipped over.  Driver is ok.

About this time, my car started acting funny. Felt like a real bad misfire and it would not go away.  I even tried bumping curbs to try to get it to go away, but no dice.  So here I am running on 5 cylinders trying to maintain a podium finish.  We then got a double yellow which was good because it ate up time, but at the same time it was bad because it bunched us up.  I had gotten a decent lead at this point.  I was hoping the race would end on double yellow, but we got some NASCAR green-white-checker action.  I was able to get a good start and maintain somewhat of a gap.  On the last lap, the competition was closing in, but I was lucky to put a slower GTS4 car behind me and then make myself super wide so neither could pass me.  Being boxed in, the next in class car couldnt get by in the only area where I would be hurt real bad w/ 5 cylinders (Thunder Valley).  Once I made it through there, I knew I was good.  Took the checked in 3rd place!  Wish my car was firing on all cylinders so I could try to play with fellow friend and racer, Josh Smith. He ended up w/ a fairly banged up front end from an incident.

We all then proceeded to impound where there was some shuffling of positions.  P1 got DQd and I moved up a spot to 2nd!  That was a nice bonus!  Josh then moved up to Champion status.

Unfortunately I forgot the memory card in my camera, but I did live stream the race!  So this is all I got:

2012 NASA Nationals Update

Day 1:  After turning some personal bests in warm up, things were looking super optimistic.  However, in a rush to grid for qualifying, a helper accidentally pushed my fire button.  I went out with AFFF foam spraying me in the face and qualified somewhere near last.  It did not matter, as the officials would DQ me for not having a fully charged fire bottle out on track.  So in the qualifying race, I would need to make up as many positions as possible.  In a SHORT 8 lap sprint, I made my way from dead last to about 18th.  Not too bad.

Day 2: Again, after some blistering fast warm up times, I was pretty excited for qualifying.  But again, I would have some random issue.  This time, I forgot to remove a wheel spacer, so my tires were rubbing.  A grid worked pointed it out at about 5 min to go and I was able to rush back to the garage to remove one spacer but no time for the other.  I managed to qualify 3rd in GTS3.  The race was pretty darn insane.  A strong, quick moving T-storm provided some interesting driving.  My windows fogged, my glasses fogged.  One of the main competitors in GTS3 gambled and went out on full slicks and came in before the race started which helps m greatly.  Managed to preserve a possible 7th overall finish and 3rd in class.  Will see what grid sheets say tomorrow!

Follow along live with NASA Speedcast:

Or my live in-car broadcasts at:

Official Results:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

NASA MidAtlantic Summer Breeze Recap

GTS racers descended on Summit Point for NASA Mid-Atlantic's Summer
Breeze event.  Weather was perfect this year with some really close
racing in GTS, specifically GTS1 and GTS2.  On Saturday, DJ
Fitzpatrick would go into qualifying telling everyone he only had old
tires and not to expect much.  Was it just some pre-qualifying
strategy to catch his competition off guard?  Perhaps that was the
case, but in a spectacularly rare event, he would qualify with an
identical laptime down to the thousandths with Michael Dayton.  In
cases such as this, the pole goes to the second fastest lap, which was
held by Fitzpatrick.

The race shaped up to be a good one, with very tight battling in the
early laps.  Dayton hounded Fitzpatrick for the top spot and
unfortunately for Fitzpatrick a bobble in T10 provided some
spectacular sideways showmanship for the crowd and the competition
behind.  Paul Alexadre who normally races Spec986, joined GTS2 this
weekend provided the best quote, " is this E36 M3s at Hypefest? That
is a lot of angle!".  Dayton would have to go four off to avoid
contact which slowed him considerably allowing Jim Khoury to take
advantage.  Fitzpatrick would have to retire early as the incident
would result in some nice cords showing on his tires.  Dayton would
challenge Khoury up until the checkered flag but Khoury held off for
the win.  Jeff Emanuelson rounded out the podium in third place.

On Sunday, the T10 activities continued.  In GTS3, Eric Wong led Josh
Smith for a few laps until a C4 Corvette spun in T10.  Nearly coming
to a stop to avoid contact, Wong would cede the top position to Smith.
 Jeff Curtis, who would finish third joked, "I obviously didn't pay
the vette guy enough".  Forty minutes of hard racing kept the two
close.  The gap would widen and shorten depending on traffic which
proves you should never give up.  A fortunate last minute traffic
incident would enable Wong to overtake Smith in the second to last
corner of the last lap and taking the win by 0.129 seconds in a near
photo finish.

In GTS1, the drivers were turning near identical fast lap times with
Matt Marks taking the win.  Big Joe Boschulte was unable to challenge
the win as he decided to do some heavy lifting by having a power
steering failure.  He could only man handle the car for a lap before
his arms tired out.  At least that was the story conveyed from fellow
competitor Dave Gibson when he recalled after the race, "Joe blew a
power steering belt on Sunday which with 275 meat up front even "Big
Joe" couldn't muscle it around."  Gibson would battle hard with Max
Fischer in a rented Bent Splitter Racing GTS1 BMW.  Gibson would
emerge ahead of Fischer and after the race had some thoughts on why,
"Max came up to me after our epic battle saying what a blast it was to
race GTS-1!  He said he is used to GTS-4 hard breaking and gobs of
horsepower and in 1 its easy on the brakes and carrying speed...which
he said is a little scary!"  Fischer would end up finishing fourth
with Rob Carpenter taking the last podium spot.