Ask our Experts, we're here to help!
Growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, David Leffel got his first taste of four-wheeled competition in tractor pulling. After working his way up the ranks and transitioning over to modified truck pulling, he moved to south Tennessee and decided he wanted to try something a bit different. A welder by trade, Leffel was looking for a racing discipline that he could pursue on the side that provided an outlet for his fabrication skills, and the burgeoning drift scene fit the bill perfectly.
“I jumped in a car with one of my buddies at a local grassroots event,” he recalls. “I’d never been in a drift car before. By the time I got out of it, I knew I needed to build one.”
That led Leffel to put together a couple of LS-swapped Nissan 240Zs over the next few years that he and his son campaigned with East10Drift. He says that while the Nissans were competitive and the platform benefited from solid aftermarket support, they decided to take a road less traveled when they embarked their next build back in 2012. “We didn’t want to do another typical drift car, and we’ve always been into the older classic stuff, so that’s when we decided to build a drift truck. It was something we just hadn’t seen before.”
A Facebook ad caught Leffel’s attention not long after. “It was basically just a ’64 Ford F100 cab, frame, and some fenders that a guy was selling down in Georgia,” he tells us. “It was a basket case, but that was actually what we wanted for this. We loaded up the trailer, headed down there, and bought it home.”
The crew wasted little time getting the Ford into fighting shape, initially piecing together a combination that included a naturally aspirated, 347-cube Ford small-block, a T-5 five-speed transmission, and a four-link with a Ford 9-inch out back. “I talked to the guys at TCI about helping us out with the front suspension setup,” he says. “They sent over a front end for one of their older Ford trucks, and we did a Wilwood 2.5-inch drop knuckle. TCI shortened up the control arms for us and dialed in the geometry, and we added a hydraulic handbrake, of course. That setup seemed pretty good initially, but at our first event at Bristol, we discovered that it was more of a donut king than a drift king. The rear end was way too light and the back of truck just wanted to come around all the time. So we started thinking about how we could address that.”
In the meantime Leffel also scored what he describes as “one of those cheap eBay twin-turbo setups” and bolted that up to the 347. “We had way more power, but we were basically just doing faster donuts," he says with a laugh. “And then of course we blew the motor.”
The downtime gave the team a chance to reassess their strategy. “We were having a motor built for boost over at London Chassis Dyno, and while the truck was down, it gave us some time to address the problems we were having with the rear end as well. The four-link just wasn’t working. But we had the IRS setup from a 2015 Mustang just sitting in the shop, so we decided to give that a try.”
Leffel set to work adapting the IRS to the truck’s stock chassis and fabricating the bits and pieces needed to get everything to bolt up. After reaching out to Driveshaft Shop for a custom driveshaft, he swapped out the T-5 for a four-speed dog box from G-Force transmissions. “We knew the old gearbox wasn’t going to be able to handle the new 363ci Dart small-block we were dropping in,” he notes.
Once the new power plant installed, the team brought the reworked truck to a drift event over in Atlanta for a shakedown. “Suddenly the rear end was so good that I was chasing the front end – it was clear that it needed more grip and more angle. It was a good street setup, but it wasn’t a good drift setup.”
The F100 soon went under the knife again, and this time Leffel wanted to get the truck sorted out once and for all. “After that event, I went back and basically cut everything out from under the front end of the truck except for the crossmember,” he says. “The double A-arm setup wasn’t getting us where we wanted to be. TCI told us they could probably design something for us, but it would probably cost a lot more than if we just fabricated something.”
While on the hunt for a more drift-focused front suspension setup, the folks at Competition Clutch suggested that Leffel take a look at the front end of their dirt track cars. “As soon as I saw what they were running, I knew that was what I needed to do. But for both sides of the truck, obviously – it needed to turn left AND right!”
The combination he landed on was a custom fabricated single upper A-arm, single lower control arm setup that widened the track width by six inches. “I kept the Wilwood drop knuckles, and I modified a few of their steering arms to play around with the angle and figure out what worked the best. We got it to a really good place – we’ve got about 70 degrees of angle on the truck now.” Leffel also bolted up a set of custom triple-adjustable Ridetech coilovers to complement the new suspension setup.
With the handling nailed down he turned his attention back to the engine. Along with swapping out the old forced induction setup for a pair of Garrett 3076 Gen II turbos, Leffel also brought a Holley HP EFI setup into the mix. Running 12psi of boost, he tells us that the Dart mill dyno’d at just over 1,000 horsepower to the wheels.
“Although old EFI setup was working, we didn’t know what we were missing until we made the switch to the HP system,” he explains. “It’s just so much easier to tune now. We’ve put on three or four more Holley EFI setups on the other cars in the shop since then. It’s pretty much all we run now.”
Once the team finally got the truck dialed in, they decided it was time to focus mainly on exhibition drift events. “We don’t do a ton of grassroots stuff anymore because we really can’t get more than two laps out of a set of tires with that kind of horsepower involved,” he points out.
“These days it’s stuff more along the lines of the drift demos at NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, YouTube videos, and Ford Fest, of course. Ford Fest is one of my favorite events because it brings together drag racers, autocrossers, and the drift guys together in one place to check out what everyone’s up to, and the truck always gets a lot of attention out on the drift course.”
Looking down the road, Leffel says the plan is to hit more drift events when time allows, but he admits that another project is currently vying for his attention. “We have one of the original Mustang FR500Ss in the stable now. These were produced for Ford Racing Mustang Challenge series, but we’re thinking about getting it prepped for NASA’s American Iron class. We’ve been buying 75 tires at a time for the truck, so I’m starting to think that road racing might actually be cheaper!”