This article originally appeared in the November 2019 issue.
Building show trucks is big business, requiring help from sponsors and putting out a lot of money and time to make something that generates “show-stopping” interest. But building a show truck can be very different from building a truck that actually serves the purpose of a truck.
Dustin Sterling, owner of Sterling Diesel Performance in New Caney, Texas, is no stranger to show trucks. He’s been around lots of them. He’s seen the big lifted ones with large tires that make trucks stand tall and stand out. They look great. But looks alone won’t pull a heavy load down the highway.
“Very few people in this industry build something that can actually be used,” Sterling explained. So he decided to build a show truck that could do more than look good when it’s all polished up and on display.
“We want to show the world that just because you have bad-ass forged wheels, a fully adjustable hydraulic lift, fancy lights and all the works, that shouldn’t stop you from hooking up to a 30,000-pound loaded trailer and hauling ass across the country,” he said.
So in 2018 Sterling decided to make a work truck that was worthy to display in the Fusion Bumpers booth at SEMA. He was with Aaron Aldrich, owner of Any Level Lift and Dorian Reyna, diesel truck expert and owner of Power Stroke Enginuities, just before the Lone Star Throwdown 2018 event.
“I wanted to be the first dully to have an Any Level lift,” Sterling said. “I told Aaron and Dorian that I was going to order my truck.”
Sterling said Any Level didn’t have a lift that would fit a 2018 Ford F450 Limited. “I told them I didn't care,” Sterling said. “I said I just wanted it done.”
The first thing Sterling did with his F450 was to ship it to Any Level in Ballston Lake, N.Y., so they could figure out how to make the lift work.
Getting A Lift
The crew at Any Level stripped his truck completely down and started building a lift based on it and the Easton King Ranch. Once they figured out how everything needed to fit together, they were ready to make the final designs and put it back together.
“We did Heavy Silver powder-coating on the lift. We did Specialty Forged 24-inch wheels,” he explained. “We didn't go with the Super Single series. We went with the direct bolt-on and we put 38-inch Nitto tires all the way around.”
Then Sterling added 24 Rock lights and Fusion bumpers with Ridged fog lights in the light bar in the front. Next came the custom grilles where Sterling replaced the Ford logo with the Any Level logo. Then he installed custom taillights and custom headlights (painted to match), Recon taillights, Recon third brake light and a custom sound system.
“We also added the Transfer Flow fuel tank,” he said. We did everything, everything we could; every option that was available we did it.”
When it was finally complete Sterling took it out to the 2018 SEMA show in Las Vegas.
“We presented it at the show in the Fusion booth and it kind of took off from there,” he said. “We built the truck to use. We didn't build the truck just to show off and have big monster tires. We didn't care for that. We wanted to show people that just because you have a lifted truck or a truck on hydraulics, it won’t stop you from meeting your daily driver needs.”
Sterling said a lot of builders go to extremes with their lift kits. “You have all these guys and all these shops all over the United States that build these super huge flashy show trucks.” Although impressive, there are those who look at lifted trucks as being impractical for daily use. “You got people who say, ‘Well it's got 40- or 42-inch tires so you can't use it.’ Why build a $100,000 truck you can't use? Well we proved them wrong.”
Time For Work
Once SEMA was over, it was time to put the truck to work.
“We use this truck daily to attend our race events all over the United States,” Sterling said. “We haul two race trucks on a 40-foot gooseneck.” And when he’s not pulling trailers and traveling to race events, Sterling is driving the truck around town as a daily driver. “I use this truck as a rolling billboard for my business and my sponsors,” he said.
Sterling went to John Vo at Pixelwerks in Houston, Texas, to get a wrap that would not only list his sponsors, but also attract attention to his own business. “John Vo’s the man when it comes to a wrap.” Sterling said.
Although the main purpose of the Ford F-450 dully is to pull the heavy load, Sterling still likes to show it off. “We show it off all the time,” he explained. “It's a huge commodity for kids … kids love it. I let them get in it and hit the buttons up and down.”
Although the youngsters may enjoy the ride as the lift elevates the truck, Sterling enjoys the ride as he’s going down the highway. “The ride is insane; you can't beat it. If someone says their truck rides better than an Any Level Lift, put your money where your mouth is.”
Sterling says when he’s pulling his trailer down the road, “You can't tell it's there whatsoever.” The truck not only rides smoothly down the highway, but it handles the road conditions extremely well. It’s the kind of vehicle you just like to be in … and he says he’s planning to be driving it for a lot more miles to come. Although it only has about 8,500 miles on the odometer, he says he doesn’t plan on ever getting rid of it. “I'll drive it until the wheels fall off.”
Paying Its Way
This truck serves a purpose. “This truck is my livelihood,” he explained. “It shows how far I’ve come the past few years as a successful business owner. This truck shows the hard work I and my team have put in.”
Although the initial work on the truck made it ready for SEMA, Sterling said he also was thorough to make certain all the upgrades for emissions were performed.
“We did custom No Limit inner cooling piping,” he said. “We pulled the turbo cover off and Heavy Silver powder-coated everything—all the inner cooler pipes, the No Limit EGR kit. We did a basic 4-inch delete pipe with a resonator on it. The truck sounds 100 percent factory.”
Sterling points out that he’s maintained its factory horsepower. “It's just strictly for non-emissions tune,” he said. “It's been in the OEM horsepower file since the beginning. We never had to increase any type of power or anything like that to make the truck work.”
Sterling has owned close to a dozen diesel trucks over the past eight years.
“I've been a trained mechanic and a fork lift mechanic since I was 16-17 years old,” he explained. “That’s when I really got into the diesel industry. I've always loved to go fast and that's kind of what took me there. I owned a 6.0 F-250—it was my first diesel truck. Then I got hooked up with Dorian (Reyna) and it's just been an itch ever since.”
In 2016 Sterling started his own company. “I started working on other people's cars and realized how good I was,” he explained. “I liked helping people and taking care of people's problems.”
Sterling started Sterling Diesel Performance out of his driveway. Within a short period of time he was able to move it into a small shop. That’s when it started taking off. “I wanted to build a shop that people could trust,” he said. “We're a small town shop so it's easy for us to have a good connection and relationship with our customers. We're not a huge company by any means.”
Sterling recognized the importance of having a valued relationship with his customers. “It seems the bigger people get, they seem to stray away from the whole reason they built their business,” he said.
Sterling Diesel Performance is one of the few shops in the Houston area that specializes in Duramax. “We also can service heavy fleet and 18-wheelers,” he said. “We work on everything.”
Sterling said New Caney used to be a small town but it’s starting to be swallowed up by Houston. “We're 20 minutes north of the center of Houston now and it's just blown up around here,” he explained. “This community is huge. It used to be a real small town where everybody knew everybody.”
Sterling has spent his entire life in New Caney.
Sterling’s love for speed and power is part of what got him involved in the diesel industry. And it’s a hobby he continues to enjoy.
“We drag race,” he explained. “We're currently in an ODSS [Outlaw Diesel Super Series] circuit. I've got a 2006 Chevy single cab LBZ with a 7.1 Stroker motor from SoCal in it.”
But when it comes to racing, Sterling recognizes that he’s still got a lot to learn.
“I'm still new, I'm still learning the ropes, still meeting everybody and learning how things go,” he said. “I feel like my trucks, compared to a lot of others, have a whole lot of potential. Things are just now starting to open up. For what the truck is now, it's pretty dang quick. We're not super mod or anything like that but it's a street-able truck that you can take out on the street and then turn around and race it down the drag strip and run a 6.0 in an eighth mile with no problem.”
Sterling’s short-time involvement in drag racing and the diesel industry is a direct reflection on his youthfulness. He is 25 years old, married and has two kids.
“My wife, Crystal, is my backbone,” he explained. “She's been there from the beginning. She's been there when I had nothing. She supports me every step of the way and she takes care of the kids while I'm here at the shop. She does everything for me.”
Sterling is in the process of rebuilding his 2018 Ford F-450 Limited for the 2019 SEMA show which will be featured in the Road Armor Booth.
“We did get sponsored this year by Road Armor,” he explained. “They sent us some bumpers. The truck is currently on its way back to Any Level. We're going to strip the truck completely down. Then we're going to change up the color of the suspension, add some more lighting underneath, change the bumpers; it's going to get a complete wrap from Pixelwerks.”
Sterling said with the new wrap, new grille, new taillights and everything else, it's going to look like a completely different truck when it rolls into SEMA ’19.
But then, once SEMA is over, the truck heads back to work—pulling trailers and running around town on a daily basis. And he’ll continue to drive this truck for years to come.
“If you think about it, when I bought this truck I bought the baddest F-450,” Sterling said. “It was fully loaded, You can't buy a more expensive option vehicle. It has every single package. So what am I going to do, sell the truck? And then go buy what? You can't buy anything better.”
Photo credited to Victor Vasquez
Any Level Lift
No Limit Fabrication
Power Stroke Enginuities
Recon Truck Accessories
Skoops Marketing Group
Specialty Forged Wheels
Spooligan Diesel Division
Transfer Flow, Inc.