Project Red Storm Pt. 3: Simple F-150 Suspension Tricks To Run 9s

Our most recent installment of Project Red Storm’s journey through the project vehicle process details the achievement of massive horsepower numbers from the boosted Coyote engine, thanks to Oz Tuning’s head honcho, Ken Osborne, and his tuning talents with the F-150 platform on E85 fuel. Oz was able to coax a whopping 919.3 horsepower and 720.4 lb-ft of torque from our Whipple-supercharged pick-‘em-up truck.

The boosted 5.0-liter engine combines with the factory 10-speed transmission. The combo powers a vehicle on 22-inch street tires that knocks down 9-second elapsed times with ease but can also roll to the local home improvement center to pick up a load of lumber.

Getting Power To The Ground

All that power doesn’t get to the ground effectively in a four-wheel-drive vehicle without some modifications. Red Storm underwent some changes to the suspension and driveline to effectively hold and plant the power to the ground.

“Our whole issue going into this project was whether we could get the truck to run into the 9s as it sits how I drive it, and that’s exactly what we did,” says owner David Lukason.

Woof. A 9-second truck that looks so unassuming was the main goal for owner David Lukason.

Suspension Specifics

Initially, MaxTrac installed its 3/5 lowering kit (PN K333235-6-NS) underneath the truck. This kit uses the company’s patent-pending 2-inch drop spindle to get the truck’s attitude right in the front; when paired with the 1-inch drop coil springs, the truck’s nose comes down three inches total.

The MaxTrac suspension kit can be used on 2WD and 4WD applications.

MaxTrac manufactures the forged aluminum drop spindles from 6082 aircraft-grade aluminum, then machines them to factory tolerances to ensure excellent fitment. Additionally, they are substantially lighter than the factory spindles and are backed by a limited lifetime warranty.

When we compare the stock spindle on the left to the MaxTrac forged spindle on the right, we can see how the upper mounting point is relocated down to bring the wheel higher into the wheelwell relative to the body once the upper control arm is attached.

In the rear, a spring flip kit repositions the leaf spring mounts to achieve a 5-inch total drop at that end of the vehicle.

Initially, the MaxTrac shackles were used to finish off the 3/5 drop. These feature greasable fluted polyurethane bushings, grey powder coat for durability, and precision fitment.

Lukason chose different dampers to achieve his goals, and along the way decided to make further modifications to achieve the ride height he desired for best performance at the dragstrip. For this application, a set of double-adjustable rear shocks from QA1 (PN TD-807) would be ideal for helping to plant the tires. These were almost — but not exactly — a direct fit, and the install team at J&S Gear in Huntington Beach, CA, had to modify the upper bushing to fit into the stock location.

The upper mounts for the QA1 double-adjustable shocks required a little massaging to work in this application but were otherwise a direct bolt-in. Lukason had to play around with the adjustment settings to figure out what was best for the track.

Dialing It In

After determining that just a bit more drop was needed, a set of BellTech coilover shocks installed up front allowed Lukason to dial in the height exactly where he wanted it to be. Using these allowed him to drop another inch of height from the nose, which required some extra modifications to the rear to get more drop there. The J&S team built 1/8-inch-thick reinforcement plates then C-notched above the rearend so the rear had enough clearance when the truck is at ride height. The stock shackles were reinstalled in place of the MaxTrac units for more length to drop the last inch of height in the rear.

“Being that the truck is four-wheel-drive, it took me a little while to figure out how to get it to hook because it’s still on the street tires. By keeping the suspension as level as possible, all four tires hook. And it’ll chatter a little in the front and go,” says Lukason.

“Having the double-adjustable front coilovers and then the double-adjustable rears, I go full rebound on the front and full compression on the rear. I take all the rebound out of the rear and all the compression out of the front, and the thing ran 1.48 to the 60-foot.”

As you can see from the marks on the bottom side of the red bump stops, with the suspension drop the rearend housing was making contact with the bumpers more often than preferred.

Fabrication of the C-notch required a small section of the frame just above the rearend housing to be removed. The team at J&S Gear whipped up some thick frame reinforcement plates and fired up the welder to make this happen for Lukason. The truck is no worse for wear and now has the "just right" stance — along with working effectively on the track.

While at J&S, Lukason also stepped up the truck’s capabilities by installing an Eaton 9.75-inch TrueTrac differential (PN 913A477) in the rearend. The TrueTrac helical-gear differential design is well-proven both on- and off-road across a wide range of motorsports. It is considered one of the penultimate choices for street-going vehicles in terms of durability. The unit’s design is maintenance-free as there are no internal clutch packs to replace over time.

The TrueTrac works like an open differential in normal driving conditions and allows one wheel to spin faster or slower when a vehicle is turning, but when traction is limited, it transfers torque to the tire with the most traction. In a dragstrip situation, when both tires are stuck, they receive the ideal amount of torque application evenly from the differential.

The TrueTrac doesn’t wear out or require friction modifiers to work correctly, either. It’s about as “set it and forget it” as a differential can be, especially when compared to the factory electronic locking differential that is prone to breakage.

Adding More Traction

To take advantage of the horsepower delivered by the Whipple supercharger, Lukason turned to a Stiffler‘s Long Bar Traction System to help reduce wheel hop in the rear. The Long Bar kit offers easy installation and proven performance. Dave’s Frame & Alignment in Huntington Beach (714-841-2940) installed these and knocked out the alignment once the suspension pieces were correctly hung.

Bracketry for the Long Bar kit is simple; one bracket bolts under the leaf spring to the U-bolts at the rear housing and one bracket bolts to the frame using Stiffler's dual nut plate. One of the factory holes in the frame needs to be opened up slightly with a die grinder for this to fit.

One of the downsides to a leaf-spring suspension is its inherent flaw when used in a performance application. As torque is applied through the driveshaft, the springs wind up and twist or bend. When they try to return to the straight position, wheel hop ensues. The Long Bar system stops that motion entirely by keeping the rearend of the vehicle in its natural location. One bracket bolts to the forward location on the truck’s frame, and the other bracket replaces the lower leaf-spring bracket in its normal location.

The Stifflers Long Bar system is designed to reduce 60-foot times by minimizing axle wrap (wheel hop) and improving weight transfer. The stiff chromoly bars provide stability and strength to the suspension, and the rod ends allow for free movement where necessary to maximize traction.

The last step in the performance equation for Project Red Storm came in the form of a custom one-piece carbon fiber driveshaft from JE Reel Driveline in Pomona, California. The one-piece TrakHook tube from Neapco Aftermarket uses precision-wound carbon fiber filaments that are layered to provide stiffness and torsional strength. The 3.5-inch carbon fiber tube is bonded to a precision-machined aluminum Sonnax slip yoke at the transmission end and flange yoke at the other end to provide smooth running characteristics and far more strength than the stock steel driveshaft.

How do you improve the looks and performance of a late-model F-150 without wrecking its street manners? By installing a set of Asanti ABL-29 Emperor wheels along with 305/40-22 Toyo Proxes STIII tires. One challenge of using such a large wheel and tire combination is unsprung weight. Each assembly weighs in at 87 pounds, so multiply that by four and imagine just how much grunt this pickup truck takes just to get moving. That makes its performance capabilities all the more impressive in our eyes.

What’s more impressive about the truck’s ‘strip performance is that Toyo’s Proxes STIII tires are an all-season design designed to run 40,000 miles and are not at all optimized for dragstrip performance. Toyo touts these as a tire that offers a good balance between wet traction and dry handling, with wide circumferential grooves to bolster highway wet traction and evacuate water effectively. The shoulder blocks are directional, which reduces tread squirm and gives the driver better road feel along with reducing noise. It’s probably safe to say that Toyo’s engineers never factored in someone trying to go sub-1.50 short times on the track with the Proxes STIII, but the simple fact that they do on this truck is remarkable.

The Asanti/Toyo wheel-and-tire combo on this truck provides an appealing appearance without being overbearing or unsightly; Lukason is pleased with the relatively understated look that announces his arrival.

In Conclusion

“It’s incredible. It really is. I don’t think people are getting how fast it is. As racers, we know what it takes suspension-wise, tire-wise, to try to make cars hook and make power and run a 9. And people don’t understand how fast that is, especially in a 4,500-pound vehicle. And that this truck does it, how I drive it every day is just amazing. And I’m not sure if people are really grasping that point of this,” he says.

Red Storm has delivered a 9.94 at 137.79 mph on the dragstrip, with an astounding 1.49 short-time on the Toyo street tires. These are heady numbers to be sure.

To say he’s proud of what he and tuner Osborne have achieved with this vehicle would be an understatement, and we have to agree with him, as it’s one heck of an accomplishment. They are currently battling a short-shifting issue — the trans is upshifting from 6-7 at 6,600 rpm, not carrying sixth gear out to 8,000 rpm like it should through the traps — and Osborne believes that the truck will be even quicker once that is sorted out. He’s also adding new drag radial tires from Nitto.

“He thinks there are another three tenths in it, easy,” sums up Lukason.

From a 4,500-pound, daily-driven, four-wheel-drive pickup truck. Does anyone else have adjectives to get that point across?

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About the author

Jason Reiss

Jason draws on over 15 years of experience in the automotive publishing industry, and collaborates with many of the industry's movers and shakers to create compelling technical articles and high-quality race coverage.
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