Senior Project

A high school grad's lifesaving build

May 2014 Feature Michael Deulley

Take a few minutes to talk to John Papanicolas, and it quickly becomes obvious that this is not an average 18-year-old young man. He currently lives in LaPlata, Md., where his father John makes his living as a tow truck operator. For a time, his father owned a junk yard, and the young John could be found in the yard digging through car parts and repairing them.

“My father has been a major influence on my automotive passion and choice in vehicles,” say John. “For the first few years of my life I can remember being in the junk yard every day, just digging through parts and working on cars.”

Among his early childhood experiences with cars, he also became involved in junior drag racing and motocross. It was clear he had a future in everything auto. But life has a not-so-subtle way of taking a passion and shaping it into something bigger and greater than one would ever expect, and for John, this fact couldn't have been truer. After winning a high school state championship wrestling tournament, he was rewarded with his 2006 Ford F250 Power Stroke. As amazing as the truck already was, he had a little extra performance in mind for the Ford, but admits he never expected to make it more than just a tricked out daily driver. Little did he know that his new performance build would lead to more than just changing tires: it would help change lives.

Diesel Hunger

Because of his mechanical inclination, it wasn't long before John started installing the first of the Power Stroke's numerous upgrades. The truck already sat on a 4-inch Rancho lift with dual steering stabilizers. The lift was also accompanied by a set of 37-inch tires wrapped around 18-inch rims. The truck was sitting tall, but John had far bigger plans for the F250.

Starting with a new set of smoked LED cab lights from Recon, the aggressive build for a custom, one-of-a-kind truck, began. Shortly after the light install, he purchased and wrenched in a 4-inch full straight pipe exhaust from MBRP and an SCT X3 custom tuner with XtremeStreet, XtremeRace and Street tunes from Innovative Diesel Performance. After the Power Stroke was honed in with new tunes, John honed the turbo in with a new BatMoWheel. Afterward, a Recon LED third brake light and an Airaid intake were put in.

Things were looking well on their way for the Power Stroke, but like everything, life has a way of pulling things in a different direction. The truck came down with a case of five bad injectors and immediate replacement was necessary. John, still a student in high school at the time, needed to make a crucial decision in order to afford the truck’s much-needed injectors. So the decision was made to sell the dirt bike that he raced with and a new set of Warren 190cc injectors were installed. Wanting to prolong the life of the injectors, he also put in 6.4 Banjo bolts and a Blue Spring upgrade kit.

Face Lift

After some of the integral performance was installed, John felt the need to give the truck a new look. He took the Power Stroke over to a local wrap company, N8VCOMP, to have the front and back bumper, along with the grille, custom wrapped white to match the color of the truck. He also had N8VCOMP wrap a custom carbon fiber front emblem. After the custom wrap was finished, John removed the running boards and painted the pinch welds black to give the F250 a clean and unique appeal.

When the exterior began to match the beauty under the hood, it was time to do a little work to the interior. A triple pillar gauge pod that John had carbon fiber wrapped, along with EGT, fuel pressure and boost gauges from Glow Shift, were installed. Feeling the desire to have a little more sound, a Pioneer DVD head unit and Kenwood door speakers were put in, giving John the crisp sound he was looking for. After the audio was installed, the build continued forward with a set of Harley Davidson edition headlights. With all of the exterior work done to the truck, John received an award for “Best Looking Vehicle” from his school, which wasn't his original intention, but it never hurts to have all that hard work recognized.

A Lifesaving Build

Everything was coming together nicely when his build came to a sudden halt. John put aside his aggressive project to help others when Hurricane Sandy reached the eastern shores in late October of last year. He and his father offered to do relief work for victims left in the wake of the disastrous storm and the truck was the ultimate tool for the job.

“When the bad storms started to hit the east coast, my dad and I were on call,” says John. “After Sandy hit, we used the truck to carry 10,000-pound generators up the coast and into New York City.”

What started as a passionate build became an emergency response vehicle, which ultimately helped thousands of citizens who were without power at the time as a result of the storms. But Sandy wasn't the only time that John and his father were needed. They also made other trips to help and when bad snow conditions made their way to Connecticut, the truck once again became an assistance vehicle, helping others in dire need of electrical power when unforgiving weather struck. John and his father became unsung heroes and the F250 became a symbol for hope.

Getting Back To Work

Once the storms subsided and the need for their help was over, it was back to the garage for more installs. Like other diesel enthusiasts, John wouldn't be satisfied with his build until it looked and drove exactly the way he wanted it to, and no amount of weather would stop him. In no time at all, he rekindled his build with the installation of 20x12 -44mm offset Fuel Throttle rims, which he wrapped with 35x12.5x20 Toyo Open Country MT tires. To go along with the 4-inch exhaust, a Pypes 7-inch tip was installed, which tied the exhaust system off nicely.

By a stroke of luck and diligent searching, John made his way to a new tailgate, which was taken from a 2012 model that he found in a junkyard. A new set of tow mirrors—which N8VCOMP happily obliged to custom wrap—were put on to add some last-minute finishing touches to the already head-turning Ford.

Installing A Brighter Future

The performance that John installed to date hasn't finished this incredible project truck, but has simply been a means to an even greater end.

“My truck has become not only a vehicle, but an ongoing hobby and passion for me,” says John.

In the not-too-distant future, the diesel savvy 18-year-old has intentions of getting his lifesaving F250 a new set of head studs, setting up a more powerful aftermarket fuel system, installing even larger injectors and even has his eye on a Mad Turbo Werks stage 2 or stage 3 upgrade. Like John, the Ford was built for greater things and the upgraded performance of the truck—combined with the selfless heroism of its driver—can continue to stand as a beacon of hope when disaster strikes. When the bright days of summer heat and the foreboding clouds of disastrous weather roll in, you can bet that John Papanicolas and his black and white F250 will be there amidst the destructive wake of the storm, ready and willing to lend a hand.

To read more about the companies mentioned in this article, go to the Diesel Tech Aftermarket Section.


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