This article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue.
Now here’s a story we definitely don’t come across on a regular basis. It consists of a lady who owns and operates not one, but TWO Duramax diesel trucks, and both of them are GMCs. Holly Neal, the owner of these rigs, lives in Franklin, Tenn., a southern suburb of Nashville, and she’s a die-hard diesel lover with plenty of experience around diesel pickups.
“My husband got me into diesels in 2013; he taught me how to drive a manual and I bought a 2000 white regular cab Ford F250 7.3L Power Stroke six-speed from him; from then on I’ve been hooked,” she says. “But I sold that truck back to him because of knee issues and my family is really into GM trucks.”
Her black truck today is a 2005 2500HD LLY named Ellie with roughly 297,000 miles, purchased in May 2020, while her white one is a 2006 2500HD LBZ named Brizee with about 258,000 miles, acquired in September 2020.
“I bought these almost completely stock,” Holly says. Some may find the color pairing of both trucks to be a little cliché, but it still makes for a great combination. Holly is definitely partial to neutral colors instead of playful ones when it comes to vehicle ownership.
“I love a clean black truck,” the Duramax owner adds. “I’m not the biggest fan of white because you see a lot of white work trucks, but when you’re trying to find these trucks 95 percent stock and clean, I couldn’t be real picky on color. I really wanted a grey stone metallic one, but just couldn’t pass up on my white one when I saw it.”
While owning two trucks might seem like a lot to handle for some, Holly has some good reasons to do so when you think about it. If you like working on diesels and building them up, it’s not an uncommon feeling to want more from them when you finish a build.
“When you have older high-mileage trucks, it’s peace of mind to have at least two for when one is in the shop, and I’d much rather have two, three, four older pre-DEF/DPF diesels than one newer one,” Holly says. “I love buying Duramaxes and fixing them the way I want them. Out of all the diesels I’ve used, I’m by far the happiest with my Duramaxes. Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against Power Stroke or Cummins; I’ve owned both, but they just don’t do for me what these Duramaxes do. I can’t explain the feeling. In my opinion, you just can’t beat that Duramax and Allison transmission quickness.”
There’s not a doubt the Allison transmission has always made for a great powertrain for the GM trucks. Both of Holly’s trucks are her daily drivers. She loves daily driving diesels, regardless of extra costs.
“I flip flop them every other day,” she laughs. “On the weekends I pull my horse in a gooseneck trailer to barrel races with Ellie. I drive from 1 to 2 hours within Tennessee almost every weekend. I love being behind the wheel of either one of them, no matter where I'm going.”
Although she doesn’t really tow with Brizee, she does plan on adding a B&W hitch for that truck soon. The only time her trucks go off road is down a driveway or parking at a horse show, as she is meticulous about keeping them clean as much as she can. Southern Shine in Brentwood details both of her trucks.
“They do an amazing job,” she says. “My black truck was pretty rough before they detailed it, but then it looked like a totally different truck afterwards.”
Holly also spends her time attending diesel truck pulls with her husband. While she doesn’t participate in the shows, she does hope to participate in vehicle show n’ shines in the future.
“I just don't feel the trucks are worthy of that quite yet,” she says. “I have thought about buying a LB7 to sled pull or maybe even drag racing mine, but as of right now, it’s just a thought.”
Ellie’s engine has been rebuilt with new MAHLE bearings, new grade C head gaskets, ARP head studs, a pinned crank and a new water pump. Building onto the newly rebuilt engine is an LBZ intake mouthpiece, 3-inch down pipe, LB7 up-pipe and a positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) reroute. The engine also has EFILive tuning from Danville Performance.
“This was all done by a mechanic named Dustin McCandless,” she says. “I bought the truck from him shortly after all of this was done. He had planned to make this truck his sled puller, but he was thoughtful enough to sell after he saw how bad I wanted it. For that, I’m so thankful. The other work done on the truck excluding the tires and wheels was completed by another mechanic named John Shaw, and I did some stuff myself as well.”
Although the engine doesn’t have a cold air intake, the airflow is definitely improved with her setup. The truck is leveled in the front with an all-new DMAX Store front end (completed with tie rods, lower ball joints, upper control arms, steering gear, master cylinder level sensor, washer fluid reservoir and hose, all-new OEM power steering hoses and a hydroboost brake booster). It sits on 20-inch RDR wheels and 305/50R20 Nitto performance tires that give it a comfy ride. It has also been outfitted with a Merchant Automotive transfer case “pump rub” kit to prevent fluid loss not uncommon with 1998-2007 GM transfer cases. The transmission also has Deviant transmission cooler repair lines. Holly herself added new daytime running light sockets and license plate lamps. She removed the gauge cluster and sent it to Circuit Board Medics for rebuild (the odometer screen went blank), and then she had it reinstalled when it returned.
“This was one reason I wanted a second Duramax,” Holly says. “I about went crazy not being able to drive this truck for over a week while the gauge cluster was out.”
After getting the gauge cluster rebuilt, she replaced the fog light and headlight switches, the coolant reservoir (as the factory one was black from head gaskets going out, and that bothered Holly just looking at it) and two lower HVAC actuators.
Brizee the LBZ doesn’t look as built up (as it still has its stock wheels), but it has definitely had its share of work done to it under the hood and on the powertrain thus far.
“My LBZ, I’m just now starting to work on,” Holly says.
To date, the LBZ truck has a PPE transmission cooler, a remanufactured Jasper transfer case, a FASS 95 GPH lift pump, a Transgo Jr. shift kit (to improve transmission performance under heavy loads) and an aftermarket exhaust. Additionally, the engine speed sensor and connector, water pump, serpentine belt, transfer case rear output shaft seal, turbo vane position sensor, OEM power steering pressure hose, and heater hoses had been replaced. All of this work was completed by Mark’s Automotive, TriStar Garage, Clarke Power Services and Tomlin Diesel. Holly herself replaced the driver seat bottom leather, re-badged the truck (as it was de-badged upon purchase), painted the front GMC emblem white, installed factory tow mirrors (it had small 1500-style mirrors when purchased), raptor-sprayed the tops of the bed (as it had black bed caps and she doesn’t like a lot of black on a white truck), and finally installed a remanufactured GM alternator.
Holly remains passionate about the diesel life so much that she always looks forward to working on her two Duramaxes on the weekends and during the evenings and always is open to buying more of them.
“I still have a lot of big plans for both of these trucks,” Holly says. “They are definitely an addiction and once you go diesel, there’s no going back. They are worth every extra penny spent on them, no matter how much more expensive they are than a gasser. I never can wait for my next paycheck to buy the next want on my list.”
In regard to performance, Holly says her trucks don’t feel much different from the factory, but she says the Duramaxes still do plenty for her without a whole lot of aftermarket help other than a little tuning and cosmetics. Her goals are much more oriented toward physical appearance and longevity than performance and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
“People like me get made fun of for having diesels that ‘don’t work,’” Holly says, “but I don’t care what anyone says, if I enjoy them, that's all that matters. They are my street queens.”
Automotive Racing Products
Clark Power Services
Deviant Race Parts
Pacific Performance Engineering
Red Dirt Road
TriStar Garage Inc.
Tomlin Diesel LLC