Usually, a feature on a project is designed to focus on the truck itself—what’s under the hood, changed on the suspension, or custom-detailed in the body. But sometimes there’s more of an emotion of purpose for the build that just can’t be captured when talking parts and modifications.
So when we went out to capture the essence of the 2017 Ford F350 Crew Cab Short Box built by Brent Willsey, owner of PowerTech Diesel in Idaho Falls, ID, the story expanded from just a truck to why the truck.
For Brent, modifying diesel trucks is something he’s done for more than a decade. It’s not only his lifestyle, but his way of life. It’s his business, his pleasure, his passion. The 2017 F350 is just a chapter in his life.
Brent started driving a diesel truck in about 2004, a ’01 GMC Duramax. Since then he has had more diesel trucks than he can remember. Presently, he owns 10 and uses them for various things … mostly for designing or testing kits that he markets through PowerTech Diesel. Some he stumbled across because they were such a good buy and he could get them at a decent price, improve them and then re-sale them for a profit—making great business sense.
“I’ve had every make and kind. Everything. Ford, Dodge and Chevy, ” he explained. When it comes to new trucks, Brent tends to lean toward the Fords because he really likes their design and the Power Stroke performance.
“I liked when Ford came out with the 6.7L in 2011. I like that platform so we started paying attention to those. I just really liked them. As far as brand-new truck builds, I think the Fords got the best of everything. “
That is one reason Brent purchased a 2017 F350 Crew Cab Short Box.
“I've always liked the Ford Raptors, but they don't come in diesel. So for me it's a deal killer. I just want diesel trucks, so I pretty much built that thing into as good as it can be off road for an F350,” he said. “So it's got the full Carli 4.5-inch kit suspension with the King 2.5 shocks and limiter straps. It's got all the goodies. I think they say this gives it almost 12 inches of travel. And I also installed long-travel air bags for towing. It's awesome. We took it out to the dunes. It was a good time.”
So long story short, Brent started with the diesel F350, installed an awesome suspension under it, and then started making other improvements from there.
“Then we got the Trail Ready Beadlock 20 rims and 37-inch Toyo RTs under it, so it's a perfect combo. I can still use it to pull any trailer. It's awesome. You can smash a speed bump at 50 mph and not even spill your drink.”
For the past few years, Brent has focused a lot of his efforts on building project trucks for the SEMA show. Usually these trucks are loaded with about everything for display purposes. Then after the show he sells them and moves on to the next project build. However, he decided he wanted to build something that he could use to drive around town in … yet still capable to go anywhere in the backcountry when he wants to play.
“I'm always building these trucks and selling them. So one day I just thought, ‘You know what? I'm gonna buy one with the intention of making it exactly how I want it and using it and driving it.’ So this one is the long term keeper,” he said.
Even though he could put all the bells and whistles on his truck, Brent decided to keep this one fairly simple—one that would drive around town like any stock vehicle … or as he refers to it “a little too plain for a SEMA truck.”
But the F350 is 100 percent built to be functional and usable … and very reliable. But it also is an ongoing project.
“There's a lot of stuff I haven't done to it that I've been meaning to … just I don't have time to work on my own stuff,” he said.
That’s the challenge of running your own business. The customer’s vehicles tend to come first in line. And when you do great work, it seems that the line of customer’s vehicles tends to push your own project back to late nights or weekends.
Getting Into Diesel Trucks
Brent started his journey in the diesel truck industry by receiving his training in diesel mechanics at WyoTech in Laramie, WY. He graduated from the program in 2005.
“That kind of turned me on to diesel trucks,” he said. “The Duramax had been out for about three years or so and was a hot new thing--the latest and greatest. Before that we had the VP44 24 Valve Cummins and the 7.3 Power Stroke--both were good trucks but not even on the same playing field as the Duramax. I thought they were the coolest thing ever, so I bought one, chipped it, stacked chips, this and that … all that cazy stuff.”
As he worked as a diesel mechanic at a local dealership, his passion to modify diesel trucks grew. He started looking for new ways to improve the performance of his trucks and the trucks he worked on.
“Then I found this EFI Live software advertisement in a magazine. I'm like ‘Oh, that's cool.’ I could plug in and tune this thing myself and make it do what I want rather than stacking chips,” he said. “With the Duramax only being out a couple years (the EFI Live software) was pretty new. I had to have one. After that, I couldn't ever have a gas truck again.”
Brent started PowerTech Diesel in 2006.
“I was just obsessed with [modifying diesel trucks]. We were chipping trucks and doing a few things at the dealer,” he said. “I got good at knowing what works and what doesn't. Anyway, long story short, I got the EFI software and started tuning trucks for people and next thing you know, I've got people wanting injectors or ‘Hey, let's do this to mine.’”
Soon Brent found that he was working his shift at the dealership, and then working into late hours of the night on his own. He was burning both ends and starting to lose control of his life. After visiting with friends, the advice he received was he needed to “dive in head first” and start his own business so he could regain control of his time.
“If you're waiting for the perfect time, you'll never do it,” he said. “I don't claim to be a business man or accountant or any of that. I've had to work at that kind of stuff. But I feel like I'm good with people, I'm good with customers. I was raised to be honest and straightforward. I think it has worked. I’ve been going at it since then and I still like it. I still get excited about coming to work. We do a lot of repair and performance type stuff.”
Name That Truck
In the diesel world, you tend to find a lot of catchy names given to the project trucks. However, Brent seldom, if ever, names his trucks.
“I've never been good at that. Never,” he admitted.
Although it doesn’t have a catchy name, the 2017 F350 Crew Cab Short Box is still pretty much Brent’s baby. He purchased it for about $64,000 (it was listed at $72,000) and then added close to $15,000 in suspension and parts, not to mention all the hours he’s worked on it … and all the hours he’ll continue to work on it in the future, until something more interesting comes out. Then he’s likely to be off on another project.
Basically, along with the suspension package, Brent has had some paint work and removed the chrome bumpers, done some tuning, added a bed cover—simple stuff. Nothing crazy.
“We didn't do bumpers on it; we paint-matched them,” he said. “We didn't even do a grill, just paint-matched it. I've had all these crazy, over the top SEMA trucks and I just wanted something simple, clean and good looking. Suspension, tuning and paintwork; other than that, it's pretty much stock.”
Of course, when you drill a little deeper into the subject, you find that there is also some performance enhancements going on beneath the surface. “Yeah, it's got our shift-on-the-fly tuning. So the No. 5 stage is 200 horsepower over stock. It works pretty good,” he said.
Brent notes that it’s nice to have the guys at his shop that can help him along with the projects. They do great work and are focused … which is nice for when Brent gets distracted with the little things in life … like trying to run a business.
“Sometimes it's just hard to sit down and burn through a project to get it done,“ he said.
When it comes to building a show truck, Brent admits that his pride kicks in and he likes to go all-out to make something that causes people to stop and look.
“I'm always trying to one up my last one, which gets really hard to do. When you're playing the custom truck game at the SEMA show, it's really tough to come up with original stuff that's relevant,” he said.
“Our stuff's always detail oriented. There's a lot of stuff that's thrown together that might be bigger and cooler from far away. On our last one, the Chevy that’s on our showroom floor, we partnered with Velocity Autobody,” he said. “We cut and reshaped the wheel wells and the firewall on that truck so they're less square. That way we could fit a bigger tire on a smaller lift. The attention to detail on that thing is crazy. We had $10 grand in powder coat alone.”
Brent says he really doesn’t plan long range on building SEMA trucks. They usually represent a lot of work and headaches. But as SEMA draws near, he says he usually gets a last-minute wild idea and the next thing he knows is that his crew is headlong into another project truck. And remarkably, it all works out.
Diesel trucks are not his only passion. Brent has also be messing around in the UTV industry, designing his own roll bar for his Polaris RZR. So far it hasn’t become an emphasis of his business … but who knows? He tends to put a lot of effort in his interests. So we’ll just have to wait to see how this endeavor turns out.
But for now, Brent is content in putting out quality work at PowerTech Diesel.