Robin Ridgway likes to say she “rescued” her 2001 F350 7.3L Power Stroke. The dealer was, after all, eager to sell the truck sitting in auction row with the big dent in the bedside. Robin got a good deal, but she knew there was a lot of work ahead of her, thanks to the damage it took in the construction business.
Robin and her daughter named her truck Tony—since it’s a one-ton, the name just fit.
“I consider our vehicles part of the family so most have names,” she explains.
Robin has always had a bit of a “motorhead tendency.” Her mother was into mechanics herself in the early ‘80’s, working as a flat rate auto mechanic while Robin was in school. “She was quite a pioneer,” says Robin.
Thanks to her mother’s work, Robin grew up tinkering with cars alongside her at the shop or in the driveway. Together they rebuilt the engine of a 1972 Datsun 1200 for her to drive, complete with racing stripes and an aftermarket rear defroster, “that I am pretty sure would fry an egg.”
Robin later bought her first truck, a 1994 regular cab F250 with a 351 gas engine when she and her husband bought a horse farm in 1995. She used it for pulling her horse trailer and transporting hay and feed.
After she had her daughter, she started casting around for a bigger truck than her F250. Robin was looking for a family-friendly crew cab and a long bed for gooseneck trailers with single rear wheel.
She went to her local dealer, Mike Raisor Ford in Lafayette, Ind., and asked the technicians what Ford engine was as reliable as the 351.
As if synchronized, they all replied, “Seven-three.” Needless to say, she was excited to find the 7.3L sitting in auction row.
After Robin got home from the rescue, she began learning about diesels firsthand. She popped the hood and was in for a big surprise.
“Yikes! Two batteries? Do I have two radiators? What in the heck are those big fat tubes and who stole the spark plug wires? This diesel critter was unlike anything I’d ever seen before,” Robin jokes.
But she wasn’t her mother’s daughter for nothing. She figured she’d better get started.
Chris Rogers, one of the dealer technicians who helped answer her many questions, helped her with the initial repair work on her Power Stroke. They made some minor changes with the exhaust and added a TS 6 position chip, along with EGT, boost and transmission temp gauges. Robin was impressed with the improvement that simple changes brought on for her daily driver.
Sign Me Up
Then one day in June, she joined her family in watching the 2010 National Hot Rod Diesel Association’s truck pull and diesel drag racing in Indianapolis, Ind. She was struck to see street trucks like hers competing in the Sportsman Division. Later that summer she went to Bunker Hill Dragstrip on a test and tune night to try it out herself.
Robin says, “I think I hit a whopping 55 miles per hour by the 1/8th mile, but boy was it fun!”
Robin now races in the NHRA Sportsman Division at Bunker Hill and with the National Hot Rod Diesel Association. It’s as a Bunker Hill spectator told her once: “A bad day on the track always beats a good day in the stands.”
“As an engineer, I love the technical challenge of bracket racing and the fact that I can race the vehicle I use to pull my horse trailer and do farm work,” she enthuses.
Robin has had her share of success, too. She made it to the semifinals in Indianapolis in 2011 with her dad as her crew chief, was runner-up in Phoenix in 2012, and runner-up in Indianapolis in 2013. At the NHRDA World Finals in 2014, Robin made it to the final five.
“My truck is very consistent, running within 0.04 seconds on a quarter mile, which makes it very competitive as long as it doesn’t experience driver problems,” she laughs.
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Pile On The Upgrades
Since Robin’s first time down the track, she’s had a lot more work done to it. After thorough research, she and her dad got to watch John Wood himself install one of his Stage 1 transmissions. Concerned that the high mileage and drag racing might cause the Ford’s PMR engine to throw a rod, in 2014 she had Strictly Diesel swap the PMR engine for a forged rod studded 7.3L engine built by Nate Brekken. He even painted it blue for her.
Robin and her crewing friend Heather Cooper, a noise and vibration engineer with GM’s truck division, had been driving to California to race in Bakersfield, replacing a failed injector in Albuquerque, N.M., on the way, before turning her Ford over to the folks at Strictly Diesel.
“I just want to give them props for all they have done and continue to do for me,” Robin says.
She has also added a Tymar intake, DP tuner, Driven Diesel regulated fuel return and ported compressor housing, a Dieselsite Adrenaline HPOP, and a Spearco intercooler, all monitored by a slew of Isspro gauges. These additions further improve the truck’s performance and reliability.
“It’s probably one of the stoutest stock injector and turbo 7.3s out there,” Robin says. She is quick to note, “All the modifications in the world are worthless without careful maintenance; Mike Raisor Ford Truck Service keeps us on the road.”
The owner continues to find increased diversity in the different ways to use her truck. Frequently combining trips to also participate in NHRDA races, Robin says, “I have hauled horses across the country, then raced in Arizona or California and come home. I pulled my sailboat to South Carolina on vacation last year and raced in Rockingham on the way down.”
During her past two years at NHRDA World Finals in Ennis, Texas, she’s also been able to consecutively haul home rust-free doors and a bed.
“I love that my truck is powerful, reliable, and with a few minor race day changes (a different tune and 4 wheel drive), will head down the drag strip for some racing, then turn around and drive home—sometimes a thousand miles or so,” she says.
Getting started wasn’t without its bumps, of course. One of Robin’s favorite stories is her first time at the test and tune at Bunker Hill. She pulled up to the start and rolled down her window, catching the starter’s attention. He was rather startled. Having no idea how unusual it was to chat, Robin said, “Excuse me, I have never done this before. What do I do?”
The starter kindly pulled his headset off one ear and explained, “When the light turns green, drive straight.” Then he added, “Have fun.”
As far as working and competing in the diesel world, Robin’s formula is simple: If you want to know something, go learn about it.
“Dennis Schroeder of Strictly Diesel is a tireless answerer of questions about my truck and about racing,” Robin says.
Mechanical interest and know-how isn’t only in the reach of men, and if a person makes her feel that way, intentionally or not, she just moves on.
Robin adds, “Surround yourself with honest people who don’t participate in drama. Be professional, respectful, and patient with yourself and others, but don’t be a doormat.” To top it off, Robin ends by advising, “Be willing to risk your ego and, above all, learn to laugh…at yourself if necessary.”
After all, it’s okay to be “the only girl” at the shop or track, but it also helps to find a good support community, like Kat Ray’s Ladies of Diesel, and to cheer for other ladies in the industry.
“We are all moving the ball down the court together,” Robin points out. “Maybe when our daughters grow up and perhaps find themselves interested in the diesel industry, they will no longer be ‘the only girl.’”