There are certain idividuals that just have that hardcore racer mindset. You know the type: the guy that will do whatever it takes to make a race even if it seems insane. That level of passion for racing doesn’t just appear, it comes from passion and unwavering dedication to something. Ryan Milliken is a true hardcore racer who has taken his years of exposure to horsepower and his desire to go fast, and used it to create a menacing race-bred pick truck a: 2014 Dodge Ram known as “Mini-Wheat.’
Many racers get their first taste of the horsepower life before they even start school, and spend just as much time in the pits as on the playground. For Milliken, that was precisely the case. “Growing up, I was that barefoot kid at the local circle track, running through the pits with all the other racers’ kids. Since I was about four years old, I guess, I’ve been surrounded by racing, from circle track, to drag racing, closed course buoy racing on jet skis, and motocross. I was even a competitive swimmer in high school. I just always wanted to go fast,” Ryan says of his deeply-rooted need for speed.
The origins of this speed addiction can be traced back to Ryan’s father, Michael Milliken, who continues to be a big influence in his racing today, even after his passing. That love of racing from his father is rooted deep within Ryan, and has never stopped growing.
“My father passed away on Christmas day in 2012. To me, he was ‘Mr. Horsepower’, and he always had those stickers on everything in the garage. I keep a Mr. Horsepower patch in my truck at all times these days,” he says.
Me being in the Air Force is where the really nerdy stuff started happening. I chose a career field as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, aka the bomb squad.
With all of this influence so early in life, it’s no surprise that Ryan found himself working at a young age around anything performance related. “When I was 14, I worked at Tiger Shark Racing’s R&D facility where they made one-off race boats for the IJSBA circuit. I swept floors, emptied trash cans, and moved stuff around the shop. They would take me to the races occasionally as a little reward for working hard,” Ryan explains.
Soon, life on the water began to bore Ryan, and it was on to the next type of motorized fun: dirt bikes. Ryan went to work for his friend John Kerr’s motocross shop as his lone employee. At the shop, Ryan helped run operations, plus did everything from keeping things organized and stocked, to rebuilding motors.
After spending a few years working at Kerr’s shop, Ryan was about to graduate high school and start the next phase of his life serving in the Air Force. Most people would not equate working in the military as a driving factor for anything racing-related, but for Ryan it tossed gallons of jet fuel on his burning desire to go fast.
“Me being in the Air Force is where the really nerdy stuff started happening. I chose a career field as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, aka the bomb squad. It was in this line of work where I gained a vast amount of knowledge in advanced electronic theory, and overall being exceptionally interested in how stuff works,” he says.
During his service in the military, Ryan still found time to feed his love of motorsports on some level. He raced motocross, started playing with rock crawlers, and spent time at different race tracks whenever he could, between his deployments. After he got back from Iraq in 2007, Ryan purchased a Dodge Ram with a 6.7 liter Cummins to tow his heavily modified rock crawler. The purchase of this truck would be the beginning of his diesel racing adventures.
Ryan recognized the power proficiencies of the Cummins engine, and became spellbound by the possibilities it possessed. He wanted more. Ryan threw a whole bunch of mods at the truck, including a small turbocharger, exhaust, and a programmer to net over 550 horsepower to the wheels — which was a lot at the time.
After his next deployment, Ryan had enough money to do a substantial build on the truck. These modifications led to strong dyno numbers of 780 horsepower and 1800 lb-ft of torque. The truck was now running deep into the 7.20 range in the 1/8–mile at the track with ease.
Making that kind of power, and running those ET’s came at a price, though. Ryan explains, “After a few times of being told I’m going too fast without a roll bar, and refusing to put a roll bar in my still-new-to-me truck, I took all the hot rod parts off of it. I then put all my parts in another single cab 2007 6.7 liter Cummins 4×4 that was a beat-up work truck.”
Ryan did some racing with the National Hot Rod Diesel Association (NHRDA) in their Super Diesel index class, and eventually stepped up to the heads-up world in the NHRDA Super Street class. At first, Ryan was in way over his head by jumping into the heads-up racing world. He spent 2013 taking some lumps and didn’t win a single round.
In 2014, Ryan stepped up his game after a winter filled with upgrades to the truck’s combination, and it paid off big. He was able to crack into the nine-second zone and go on a serious winning streak during the season, taking the points lead. Things were going great until a parts failure caused him to wreck the truck, forcing him to finish the season in a customer’s truck from his shop, Hardway Performance. Even after the crash, Ryan was able to still win the points title in Super Street.
If his racing was going to continue, a new vehicle would need to be sourced, and coincidentally, Ryan had just purchased a 2014 Dodge Ram for a different project. Soon, his new ride was off to the chassis shop, erasing the previous plans of making it a mean street machine. After some considerable work, it was about to be pressed into full-on race duty as project Mini-Wheat.
Under the hood of Mini-Wheat is a stock block, 409 cubic inch Cummins that’s been sleeved down to a 4.125-inch bore to keep the block from splitting. Inside the Fleece Performance Engineering-prepared mill is a set of Diamond Racing pistons and Wagler connecting rods that rotate on a stock Cummins crank.
For the top end, Fleece took a stock cylinder head and modified it to help move tons of boosted air. The head is matched to a 194/220 camshaft with 110 LSA, .330-inch lift, and a Banks intake manifold. S&S Diesel Motorsports provided the fuel injectors that get the diesel the engine runs on from a pair of 10mm Fleece Performance CP3 fuel pumps. Ryan tunes the truck himself using a Bosch Motorsports MS15.1 ECU.
The compound turbo system for Mini-Wheat is based on a Steed Speed T6 manifold header, with 4-inch hot and cold piping. Providing the boost is a BorgWarner S482/96 turbo on the manifold, and a Garrett GTX5533R as the primary turbo. A custom intercooler that uses a Precision Turbo 5-inch thick core as its base cools all the boosted air when it flows into the engine.
The compound turbo setup, mixed with the Cummins engine, puts down a whopping 1,550 horsepower and 2,500 lb-ft of torque to the tires. This helps the 6,000 pound truck rocket down the track to a best 1/8–mile time of 5.42 at 142 mph, and a 1/4-mile blast of 9.00 at 153 mph.
Over the years Ryan has been pretty hard on driveline parts with his trucks, so a SunCoast Transmissions Torqueflite 727 was used to take all the diesel driven abuse he can put down. Ryan also picked a billet flexplate, and a 2,600 rpm, triple-disc lock-up converter from SunCoast to go with the transmission in the truck.
When it came time to make Mini-Wheat stout in the chassis department, Ryan turned to good friend Tony Derhammer to build the 8.50 certified cage. A Strange Engineering Pro 9.5 rearend that uses 3.25 gears, a Strange Engineering spool, and 40-spline axles are used to rotate the rear tires. Tony custom built the four-link rear suspension in the truck using a square tube back-half kit from Chris Alston’s Chassisworks, and added a set of VariShocks to help put the power down.
In the front of the truck, additional Chassisworks parts were added, with one of their front-end kits being used for the control arms, and another set of VariShocks to help with dampening duties.
I bought a set of the new Mickey Thompson 315 Pro radials, I’m coming back to Donald Long’s race in the fall to run ODR instead of open Comp.
Ryan will be getting tons of racing in this year at various diesel-powered events, but his plans for this fall are very interesting. “I bought a set of the new Mickey Thompson 315 Pro radials, and I’m coming back to Donald Long’s race in the fall to run Outlaw Drag Radial instead of Open Comp,” he says.
Getting his racing fix over the years has taken many different forms for Milliken, but he’s always found a way to get his track time in. He has even established a career out of his addiction so he can live the dream every day. Ryan is proof that you really can’t keep a racer down, and they’ll always find a means to make the next race so they can get another pass in.