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Story by Jack Baruth – Photography by Dave Everest and Jack Baruth

Welcome to the first installment of Towin’ Speed:Sport:Life. In this series, we will be trying out different trucks with just one purpose in mind: towing to races and other auto events. We aren’t going to talk about residual value, slalom speed, or global warming – we’ll save that for the mainstream press, who typically “review” these rigs by driving little Austin and MacKenzie to their local Goddard School. Instead, we’re loading them up and running them hard. Each review will focus on Ten Important Questions For Your Race Rig, which isn’t a trademarked phrase as far as we know. Without further ado, then, let’s meet our truck: the 2008 Ford F-250 Super Duty 4×4 Crew Cab Lariat Styleside Triton V-10 156″ Wheelbase. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it?

The Super Duty pickups were kind-of-new for 2008, featuring a revised frame, upgraded interiors, and a new front end designed to produce involuntary urination in five out of six Prius drivers. The list of options and configurations possible in a Super Duty makes for literally millions of possible combinations, and we’ll be trying more of them in the next year, but for now we decided to start with a variant that is relatively common among club racers – the 4×4 crew cab. Although having four-wheel-drive in a tow rig seems like a waste of money and fuel economy, it only took one start in wet grass to convince us of the benefits. The 4×4 has proven useful in towing service since then, including backing the trailer up a steep hill, pulling a disabled race car from weeds, and dragging a stuck trailer out of six inches of mud. We’re not the only people to understand this, so more and more Super Duties are showing up at the races with the “4×4 Off Road” sticker on their beds. While it may be tempting to go out and buy a new 4×4 so you can enjoy all these features, one alternative to this is investing in 4wd conversion which will allow you to keep your current car and have the joys of being able to go off road.

Where this truck does deviate from standard club racer doctrine, however, is in the short bed and 6.8L V-10 gasoline engine. For the committed race driver, bed space is like money in the bank. It’s just not possible to have too much. However, this F-250 has a trick up its sleeve to help bridge the gap, as well see. We were also a little unsure about the Triton V-10, which serves up 362hp at a relatively lofty 4750 rpm and 457 lb-ft of torque at 3250 revs. Compare that to the 6.4L Powerstroke’s 350 horses at 3000rpm and 650 lb-ft of torque at a basement-level 2000 rpm, and it’s easy to see why many racers choose the diesel. Could the V-10 compete? Let’s ask the questions and find out.

The Crew Cab is luxurious and spacious, although our rear-seat passenger didn’t appreciate being seated with the helmets.

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#1. What’s it cost, and why? Our tester was $48,750 from a base price of $37,305. Major cost options included the Triton V10 ($600), the five-speed automatic ($1490), the monster-mudder twenty-inch wheel-tire combo ($1245), and the in-dash nav system ($1875).

#2. What did we pull, and how well did it do? We took the Green Baron Motorsports Neon ACR to Putnam Park, Indiana, for a double NASA race weekend. Total trip distance was approximately 620 miles. We used our Quality Trailers 18″ steel-deck trailer for a total towed weight of around 4500 pounds, plus another 600 pounds or so of wheels, tires, and equipment in the bed. This is well under the Super Duty’s tow rating, so we expected an easy pull – and we got one. Believe it or not, the short-bed variant does feel a touch more nervous down hills than the longbed F-250, but the difference is miniscule. This was mostly due to the outstanding integrated brake controller, about which it is impossible to say too many nice things. Called “Tow Command” by Ford, this controller is fully adjustable and offers a complete display showing successful connection of the trailer, the amount of gain dialed into the system, and the amount of brake force currently being applied. Long-time tow pros know the annoyance of stop-and-go traffic with conventional brake controllers, which produce a “lurch” at every start as the brakes are released. Tow Command does away with that, allowing smooth driving in town. Best of all, from a racer’s perspective, it allows you to drive the truck-trailer combo pretty hard. On the secret “back way” to Putnam Park, we found ourselves effortlessly flowing through a hilly, corner-infested one-and-a-half-lane road closely resembling the infamous “Tail Of The Dragon”, keeping up with the unladen Jeep Commander ahead of us without difficulty, and even trail-braking into a particularly surprising turn. It’s a six-hundred-dollar option, but trust us: you want the Tow Command.

#3. Does it have enough motor? The Triton 6.8L V-10 divided opinion among our staff. A few people said they preferred the diesel no matter how much more it cost or how expensive diesel fuel gets, but consider this: When you are not towing, the Triton allows you to fill up at your local station with clean, non-smelly, easy-evaporating gasoline. You’ll never have to worry about finding a diesel station on the freeway, or suffer through a long line of big rigs on your way to a pump which doesn’t even take a credit card. And when you are towing, the Triton has enough twist to pull a modest trailer without difficulty. Even the longest hills only forced a shift to fourth gear, and the transmission temp gauge never wandered into the danger zone. For this application – namely, towing a sub-ten-thousand-pound rig – the V-10 is fine, and it’s quiet, too. More importantly, the V-10 is kind of a secret weapon for Ford, since it has no effective competition in the marketplace. Chrysler and GM don’t offer a V-10 at all, forcing the customer to choose between V-8 engines that are up to 90 lb-ft of twist short of the Triton V10 and seven-thousand-dollar diesel options. If you want a powerful gas engine, Ford stands alone.

When the motor in our little racer blew, we towed it in from the track. Why not? We had a bigger truck than the recovery personnel did!

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#4. It is “enough truck” for a club racer? Oh, hell yes. The Super Duty is superbly unruffled by the demands of towing and hauling, and there’s room for five in the crew cab. Ford’s stuffed it with little features that the competition doesn’t seem to know about – whether we’re talking about the power slide-and-fold tow mirrors, the iPod integration, or the helpful little tray inside the center console that keeps keys and other small items from falling all the way into the deep well between the seats – and the result is a truly premium vehicle. For most racers, the longbed would be a more logical choice, but Ford offers a $250 bed extender that allows the tailgate to be used as additional load area. Is it strong enough? Check the photos below:

Mark loads the bed extender full of wheels. The bed of the Super Duty is deep, a feature which doesn’t stand out in brochures but which makes loading multiple layers much more secure.

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Another view of the super-strong tailgate and the bed extender. While Ford probably got the idea of the bed extender from an old truck accessories catalog, rest assured that this version of the product is seriously strong and easy to use.

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The Super Duty appears to have no practical limit to tailgate load. Incidentally, this is what Toyota doesn’t seem to understand about full-sized trucks, namely that the tailgate has to be as strong as the rest of the truck. Having a 250-pound man standing on the tailgate loading 80-pound items into the bed isn’t abuse, it’s how these trucks are used every day. What’s so hard to understand about that? Don’t put a crap tailgate on your truck and call it “heavy duty”. And Ford’s managed to supply a proper ‘gate without making it difficult to lift. Heck, it’s tougher to lift the tailgate on a ’95 F-150 than it is to do it on this modern Super Duty. That’s progress.

#5. What was the fuel economy? We observed 10.4mpg average during our mostly flat Midwestern tow. Without a trailer, the average was 10.5 in the city – showing that the F-250 is mostly unconcerned about what’s following it around, mileage-wise. The Triton series of overhead-cam truck engines has never been known for mileage, and the V-10 is no exception to the rule. As noted above, also, the V-10 has no competition, so guess what? If you want 450 lb-ft of torque in a gasoline engine, this is the only option.

#6. How’s passenger comfort? The Crew Cab has a lot of room, and the front captain’s chairs are very, very decent places to spend a long tow. Passengers in the rear section were less pleased, citing unusually hard seating areas and a somewhat uncomfortable seatback angle, as well as a complete lack of HVAC venting. We also might be tempted to skip the 20″ wheel/tire combo, as there was a lot of “head toss” on rough roads. We’ll call it more comfortable than the regular Ram four-door but less so than the MegaCab. On the positive side, the sound system was excellent, the power sliding rear window was a much-loved feature, and the sunroof is both usable and enjoyable.

#7. What options do I need? We’d definitely recommend either the Triton V-10 or the Powerstroke diesel; the 5.4 V-8 just isn’t enough motor. Tow Command is a must, and we’d definitely pay the relatively small price for the tailgate extender and the “step up” handle on the tailgate. As to whether you need the “Lariat” trim level – well, it depends on how much you like woodgrain and leather. We might be tempted to take the XLT instead and save the money. We’d also recommend the longbed for most users, unless you are parking in downtown Manhattan. And let’s face it: if you’re parking this thing in Manhattan, not even the shortbed’s gonna save you. Don’t forget to buy the limited-slip diff and the shift-on-the-fly switch for the 4WD. Last but not least, the power sliding rear window adds value and enjoyment far beyond its $185 cost.

#8. What options should I avoid? The nav system is great, but it’s almost two grand. The 20″ wheel/tire package adds massive street cred and trailer envy, but it makes the truck ride harshly and impacts cab accessibility for shorter people. It’s also a little tough to put hundred-pound tubs of spare parts into the bed of what amounts to a lifted truck. If you’re going to spend most of your time towing, forget about the $245 reverse sensors, as the trailer ball makes them freak out even when there’s no trailer attached. HomeLink is an option, but we’re talking about a truck which doesn’t come close to fitting in most garages.

#9. Where does this stand compared to the competition? 2008 is the final year for the current Ram truck, and we think that at this fifty-thousand-dollar level, the Ford has a definite edge in comfort, equipment, and sheer desirability. We’ll wait to see what the new Ram offers in 2500 form. The new Silverado and Sierra appear to cost more which offering fewer engine options and less industrial-strength ruggedness. If you’re shopping right now, it’s hard to argue against the F-250.

#10. What’s the overall picture? A long walk through our paddock at Putnam Park shows that there are really only two trucks which show up in any numbers at these events. The Dodge Ram owns the half-ton market thanks to the availability of the HEMI and low purchase price, while in the 3/4-ton and above range, it’s Ford all the way. Chevy and GMC rigs are conspicuous by their absence, while the Toyota Tundra appeared in the same quantities as the VW Touareg – which is to say, there was one of each. There’s a reason Ford owns this market, and it’s plain from the moment you get behind the wheel. GM used to have an ad campaign entitled “We sweat the details”, but in the truck world, it’s Ford which clearly has sweated each and every detail of this massive, wonderfully fit-for-purpose truck. It reminds us of a Porsche 911 – not because it’s small or nimble, but because it’s so obviously been relentlessly honed to near-perfection in every aspect. Our race weekend was a no-sweat affair thanks to this charming monster, and while you might quibble on the options fitted to this particular truck, there’s no dispute when it comes to selecting the best three-quarter-ton race rig out there. It’s called the Super Duty.

Make no mistake: this is the best big truck out there, at least until the 2009 Ram arrives.

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Jack Baruth

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