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Published: 1/3/2023

Diesel Duo: A Record-Setting Father-Daughter Team

Author: DAN HODGDON

Photos: LUCAS PRIAMO

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Mike Graves wasn't surprised when his daughter Mattie wanted to go drag racing. After all, the family had raced diesel-powered trucks for years. What he didn't expect was when she said she wanted to race a dragster.

Mike Graves and daughter Mattie at the PRI Trade Show. Mike is the crew chief for their diesel-powered dragster, while Mattie serves as the driver.

 

The family owns the diesel performance and maintenance shop, Hollyrock Customs, in Hollywood, Maryland, and Mike Graves is also an accomplished racer. He drove a 7,000-pound, 2004 GMC crew cab pickup truck powered by a Duramax diesel engine to multiple records.

Mattie Graves started racing as soon as she got her license, following in her father's footsteps with a 6.7L diesel-powered F-250 of her own at the local track on Friday nights.

But over breakfast during a weekend at the track with friends, she announced her desire to step up seriously into the dragster ranks.

"I said, ‘Well if we do that you know it's going to have a diesel in it,'" Mike Graves remembered during the recent PRI Trade Show in Indianapolis. "She said, ‘Absolutely, I wouldn't have it any other way.' So we bought a car that day."

 

Mattie Graves recently set the diesel eighth-mile world record.

 

Mattie Graves rose through the racing ranks quickly, going from racing locally in 2019 to joining the Pro Dragster class of the Outlaw Diesel Super Series for the 2021 season. Since then she's won two events in her twin-turbo, 6.6L Duramax-powered rail.

The first came at Tennessee's Crossville Dragway during her rookie year, and she scored her second triumph at Wagler Motorsports Park in Lyons, Indiana, during the 2022 campaign. Ultimately, she finished second in the final point standings.

In addition, the Graves team has recently been competing in the Top Dragster class at some Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) events. 

But perhaps Mattie Graves' most impressive feat was setting both the Duramax and overall diesel-powered world record in the eighth-mile at her home track of Maryland International Raceway in the fall. At the strip in Mechanicsville, she turned in a blast of 3.963 seconds at 187 mph.

"It's a goal that every one of us chases after, setting that record," Mike Graves said.

Even more special was the fact they did it with a stock General Motors LML block.

 

The dragster's engine features a stock GM LML block.

 

Mike Graves explained that they chose the LML for its strong webbing and casting, along with familiarity with the brand.

"I'm a diehard GM kind of guy," he said. "I've been with GM my whole life and we started racing with the Duramax. I just knew that brand. It's been really good to us."

The Graves' 6.6L Duramax engine was built by Matt Hatfield of Danville Performance. In addition to the LML block, the engine's stout components include Wagler billet LBZ cylinder heads and aluminum rods, Ross Pistons, a Weinberg crank, Alternate Fire cam and an HSP/Limitless Diesel billet intake. 

Twin stainless 5Blade Mafia 468/83 turbos provide boost and a Nitrous Express three-stage system works to help spool the turbos and cool the engine. The power plant is mated to a Coan Turbo 400 lock-up transmission utilizing a ProTorque Pro EV1 lock-up torque converter.

Fuel is delivered via an S&S Diesel Motorsport Common Rail Diesel Fuel System. S&S Diesel also handles the electronics with a control package that includes a variety of MoTec components, including the ECU. At the PRI show, the dragster was in the S&S Diesel Motorsport booth, and its staff is often at the track to help tune the car.

 

Maintenance on a diesel dragster is less than with a gasoline-powered car.

While the Graves run a diesel dragster in some ways to be different and take on a unique challenge, there is also a benefit to the engine known for its distinct exhaust smoke and scent.

"Maintenance is minimal," Mattie Graves said. "We change the oil every other race, or if we're making a lot of laps probably at the end of the race or a test session. If you have a gasser you're taking the heads off, you're checking the valves, you're replacing the spark plugs. So for us, it's very simple. It's easy. We come back to the pit, we cool down and then we're ready to go."

An example of that simple maintenance comes in the fact the oil pan hasn't been off of the engine in three years.

On the flip side, the diesel is heavier than the gasoline-powered machines Graves competes against in PDRA, and the nature of diesel technology means the staging process takes a little longer. Plus, some of her gasoline-powered competitors can run significantly more advanced engine setups. Still, the MoTec computer system is helping Mike and Mattie Graves make gains.

They note there was some trepidation amongst competitors when they first moved outside the diesel world, but they have worked hard to earn respect from all racers. 

"They know that we need a minute when we get up there [to stage] so they're cool," Mattie Graves said. "I think they're just more interested that somebody else is out there running a different power adder than they are."

Mattie Graves won one Outlaw Diesel Super Series race in 2022 and finished second in the final point standings.

 

A team of family and friends attends each race, with Mike Graves serving as crew chief. However, he is not just the team leader, he is also a doting father. Before Mattie began driving a dragster, he had her attend the esteemed Frank Hawley Drag Racing School and took the class alongside her to ensure they were on the same page. 

He also points to patience as something he's learned from his daughter throughout her career. While he is naturally competitive, he has worked hard to find the balance between pushing Mattie to the limit of both her and the car's abilities and not forcing too much at once. As a result, he believes their success comes from not being overly aggressive.

Mattie Graves meanwhile has soaked up lessons both from her father and a variety of other racers.

"If somebody's willing to help you, take it," she said. "If they have any type of knowledge they're willing to share with you, take it."

That camaraderie permeates throughout all of the Outlaw Diesel Super Series.

"ODSS is a small group of guys – and ladies – and everybody is willing to help everybody," Mike Graves said. "It's been a great experience. I love it."

And now, the Graves' dragster experience also includes one very special world record.

 

 

Keep watching The BLOCK for much more on Chevrolet Performance and all motorsports disciplines.

 

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