This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue.
Most kids in the ‘80s could be found downing bowls of Fruity Pebbles in front of the TV while watching Scooby Doo or Thundercats, but that’s not where you’d find 6-year-old Janelle Mueller. She was standing amidst columns of smoke and guttural reverberations with the rest of the Muellers as they excitedly cheered on her dad, Doug, while he competed in truck pulls in the gas 4X4 class.
“When I was young, I always enjoyed being around the pulling scene,” Janelle reminisces. “I guess you can say pulling runs in my blood.”
Though this Richland Center, Wis., girl went to Doug’s competitions all through the ‘80s and ‘90s, she waited to try out pulling for herself until 2011, when Doug taught her how to boost her truck and take off at the track while at the Mueller family farm.
“My dad thought it was a good idea to have me get in an old rusty ‘99 Dodge Cummins stick shift while hooked onto a tractor behind me,” she says.
After hooking the tractor behind her at a slight slant in the driveway, Doug told her what to do and she quickly got the hang of it.
“This was a terrific idea,” Janelle says, “except when we were done the driveway was so covered in black marks that we all laughed hysterically. The rest is history. You haven’t been able to get me out of the driver’s seat since.”
Her Own Path
Underneath the warm afterglow the first truck pull gave her, Janelle knew there was a core of firm determination to fix up and compete in her own truck. She settled on buying a 2002 Chevy Duramax.
“I took a lot of grief from my dad because I was raised in a Mopar household, so he always made sure to rub that in,” she laughs. “Either way, it was all about the love of the sport. That was our focus.”
She picked her Duramax because it was both in her price range and lined up with her personal preference.
“Truthfully I really like both Chevy and Dodge trucks. Hence the Dodge racing stripe down the side of my bed!” she laughs.
The biggest bonus behind picking a lower-priced truck was the flexibility for more upgrades and alterations. As any diesel enthusiast knows, the big mods also come with big price tags attached.
Turning Up The Power
Janelle cracked her knuckles and, with Doug and her fiancé, Tim Ryan, lending extra hands as needed, got to work installing a Batmowheel for her stock turbocharger and a Banks Bighead Wastegate Actuator, which holds the wastegate closed at peak for higher boost pressure, sharp acceleration and more mid-range pulling power.
They also added dual fuelers for added pumping capacity and fuel volume without the drop in rail pressure and horsepower. A FASS Fuel systems lift pump to increase horsepower, torque, fuel economy, and reliable injector life was a must in reaching optimal fuel flow for that greater power they were after.
Janelle took her truck to Cooks Tuning and Performance in Richland Center, Wis., to get EFILive DSP5 tuning done. She also had a Sun Coast built transmission with a 1056 Sun Coast Converter.
“Due to our research modifications, many of those modifications made were some of the first steps to achieving more horsepower,” Janelle explains.
Did this combination of modifications help? Most definitely. The most noticeable and effective modification was the tune itself, as Janelle explains: “We most definitely noticed a change in horsepower and torque on the pulling truck.”
She adds, “I must mention that Tim does most all of the wrench work that is done on my truck, so if it wasn’t for him, none of this would be possible!
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Janelle has encountered mixed reactions whenever people see her finished work—not necessarily because of the mods but because of the name she gave the truck when she was done. The finishing touch was posting a Bitchmax sticker along the curve of her windshield.
“I get a lot of mixed feelings about the decision to name my truck Bitchmax versus a less insulting name,” Janelle explains. “I’m a girl and not all girls are interested in trucks, let alone truck pulling. However, I’m the type of person who doesn’t care what other people think, so I’m very blunt and to the point.”
Janelle says she made the sticker for her windshield, “just so that everyone was aware that it was a woman driving the truck, and I thought it sounded good and suited the driver.”
A lot of people get the “How rude is that?” expression on their faces when they see Janelle’s truck, while on the other hand a lot of people get a kick out of it. As Janelle puts it, “It’s bold and rare, especially in a small town where I’m from.”
Though she’s her own kind of girl, Janelle has one thing in common with a lot of girls out there in really looking up to her dad, especially for the encouragement he gives. And she has a lot to look up to.
“He not only put me behind the wheel of a truck on the pulling track, he also helped me to carry down a family tradition for years to come and got me addicted to the sport I love most,” she says.
Competing for most of his adult life in truck pulls, Doug didn’t have an easy start, but that helped him develop his talent in a refiner’s fire kind of way.
“He started out with a hunk of junk and always did his best to turn it into a gem,” Janelle says. “The trucks may not have always looked the greatest on the outside, but what was under the hood and who was behind the driver’s seat was what really mattered.”
When Doug first started pulling, money was tight for the Muellers, so Janelle remembers times when two guys would be running one truck due to the hard labor and time that was required to get it ready for competitions. Because of this, pulling quickly integrated itself among the family and friends as a sport everyone loved through the years as Doug built a name for himself for being a strong top competitor.
“Now,” Janelle says, “he has one of the top competition 3.0 diesel trucks in the country today.”
So with this dream team continually improving her Duramax, what mods are on the horizon? Aside from installing an upgraded charger, first off is looking into investing in a rear axle and locker kit, because Janelle is notorious for breaking her rear axles.
“If I were to count, I’ve broken approximately five axles, many of which come along with a story to each of their own,” she laughs.
Quintessential to Janelle’s personality, she doesn’t get down at setbacks like these but has a good laugh and gets over it. In fact, Janelle’s personality neatly boils down to the advice she’d give to all the lady drivers out there, and that is: “Stay sassy and drive it like ya stole it!!!”
Photography by Kristi Pine
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