Ryan Milliken successfully campaigned his 2007 Dodge Ram 2500 4X4 named “Buckwheat” from 2012-2014, winning the NHRDA Super Street National Championship. But a destructive run-in with the wall near the top end of the Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in June of 2014 helped him decide to retire Buckwheat.
“One of the best looking drag trucks we have ever seen”
As the owner of Hardway Performance, he wanted to continue to campaign a drag truck but wanted something more focused on drag racing performance than his previous 4X4. The new truck would come to be known as Mini-Wheat, an homage to its older brother Buckwheat, with just as much power but in a smaller, lighter package. Late in 2014, the 2WD drag truck project began, and about eight months later, one of the best-looking drag trucks we’ve ever seen emerged.
THE MADNESS BEGINS
Milliken started with a Hemi-powered standard-cab short-bed 2014 Ram 1500 that ran and drove fine but needed some Cummins grunt under the hood. The new Ram went under the knife as soon as he got it back to his shop in Navarre, Florida: He and his crew stripped the truck down to the bare body and chassis, removing the engine and interior—except for the door panels. Then, they shipped it up to Fleece Performance Engineering in Brownsburg, Indiana.
At Fleece’s shop, lead chassis builder Tony Durhammer went to work on the chassis. With Milliken’s 1,500 power goal in mind—1,500 hp to the rear wheels—Durhammer focused his attention to the truck’s back, chopping off the rear section of the frame. With the factory rear suspension removed, he installed a selection of Chris Alston’s Chassisworks and custom fabricated pieces to build a Pro Street-style adjustable 4-link suspension with Competition Suspension adjustable coil-over shocks. The links and shocks support a Strange Engineering Pro-Race 9.5-inch fabricated rear-end housing.
The Strange rear end is stuffed with 4.11 gears and a spool to evenly send the power to both of the massive rear tires. To slow the truck down, the rear axle uses a pair of two-piston Wilwood calipers for each wheel, which clamp down on slotted Wilwood rotors.
On the track, Milliken uses a set of Hoosier 34.5/17-16 drag slicks wrapped around 16X16-inch Weld Racing SFI 15.3 rated AlumaStar PRO double beadlock wheels that are designed to handle the speeds and loads that he will be putting to them on a regular basis.
While Durhammer was working on the back-half of the truck, he also integrated mounts to house the aluminum fuel cell between the new frame rails, with the battery on the outside of the passenger-side frame rail. There are braces and supports installed between the rails, as well as a driveshaft loop to prevent the driveshaft from hitting the track in the event that a U-joint were to fail.
Rather than installing a ton of individual gauges to monitor the truck’s vitals, Milliken chose to go with the Bosch DDU 7 Motorsport Display to keep all vitals condensed to a single screen mounted behind the steering wheel.
He also built the truck’s NHRA-certified multi-point roll cage that strengthens the link between the original chassis up front and the new section in the rear. The cage runs forward from the rear frame rails into the cab above the factory-glass rear window, where it intersects the interior portion.
Despite the additional weight, Milliken chose to keep the entire bed and tailgate, rather than running stripped bedsides only. A pair of Simpson Safety parachutes are mounted to the tailgate to help slow the truck down after he completes his high-speed blasts down the track. He did opt to remove the rear bumper—in order to replace it with a roll pan—and had Herbie Henry repaint the bed and steel tub panels, as well as the access panel installed in the bed, to cover the rear tires and axle.
The fuel tank filler neck is integrated into the bed floor just forward of the tailgate, while charging posts and the main power shut-off switch are integrated into the roll pan on the passenger side of the truck for easy access. A Setrab transmission cooler with a pair of electric fans is recessed into the front portion of the bed floor, just forward of one of the roll cage X-braces.
Since Milliken and his crew gutted the cab of the truck before sending it up to Fleece, Durhammer didn’t face any obstacles when building a cocoon of safety within the limited space of the standard cab truck: The safety cage features a maze of intricately cut tubes, which are notched and welded together to meet the SFI 25.5B standards, with a certification to times as quick as 7.49 seconds in the quarter-mile. Everything vital to the driver is anchored to the cage, including the pedals, steering column and shifter. Additionally, the Sparco Pro 2000 racing seat and 5-point safety harness is firmly attached to the cage to keep Milliken safe and secure during his runs down the strip. The roll cage is built from chromoly tubing for ultimate strength with minimal weight, and the main structure anchors directly to the truck frame. To add additional strength and safety to the chassis, forward extensions from the cage pass through the firewall and tie into the front of the factory frame.
The factory-front suspension configuration is retained, but enhanced with a set of Belltech Ram 1500 2-inch lowering springs and a pair of double-adjustable Competition Suspension shocks to tame the front end of the chassis. For now, it rolls on a set of factory five-spoke 20X9-inch wheels with 255/55R20 NT05 Nitto tires, but in the future, he will likely upgrade to lightweight drag wheels and tires for the front end. Factory Ram 1500 rotors and calipers are used up front to help whoa the beast down from triple digit speeds on the top end of the track. Braking force is transmitted through the racing brake pedal assembly inside the truck to a Wilwood master cylinder mounted directly to the firewall with no brake booster. From there, brake pressure is channeled through an adjustable proportioning valve to the front and rear braking circuits, with a Hurst Roll Control line-lock installed on the firewall to help stage the Ram.
To save weight and simplify wiring, Milliken chose to ditch the factory Ram harness and replaced it with a custom harness from Spaghetti Menders. The wiring harness, Bosch ECU and modules are all cleanly installed on the passenger floorboard of the truck. He has custom sheet metal panels that are painted black to match the truck and install, with quarter-turn fasteners to conceal all of the electronics and wiring. We shot the truck during a private test session where he was tuning the truck, so the panels were removed for quick access to anything he might need to adjust during the session.
While the interior of the truck is gutted, Milliken decided to retain the factory door panels, glass and even power window motors. (He had to wire the motors with relays and replacement switches since the factory BCM and associated wiring is no longer present to control them). The custom steering column terminates in a quick release for the Sparco steering wheel with integrated buttons that Milliken uses to stage and launch the truck.
Rather than installing a ton of individual gauges to monitor the truck’s vitals, Milliken chose to go with the Bosch DDU 7 Motorsport Display to keep all vitals condensed to a single screen mounted behind the steering wheel. He also had Durhammer include pegs for him to rest his feet on while racing: one is behind the throttle, which allows him to pin the throttle and hold it there through the 1,320, while the other is for his left foot. Since he stages with the line lock and trans brake, then uses software to control stage and launch RPM, he is able to put both feet on the pegs and enjoy the ride, only needing to move to lift off the throttle and brake—if everything goes as planned.
Lifting the factory steel hood reveals the Fleece Performance Engineering built Cummins engine in all its tire-shredding glory. The crew at Fleece started with a 2007 Cummins block–with a 4.125-inch bore–and a factory Cummins crankshaft swinging R&R rods through a 4.88-inch stroke to arrive at 6.4-liters of displacement. Diamond pistons were installed at the small end of the R&R rods, and the pistons feature a compression ratio that Milliken described to us as “barely enough,” joking that his common rail is one of the few that requires ether start if the ambient temperature is below 70-degrees.
The short block is topped with a Cummins cylinder head that the crew at Fleece ported and polished after milling off the intake shelf to replace it with a Banks Power side draft intake manifold. A Hamilton Cams camshaft actuates a set of top-secret Fleece Performance valves through a set of Hamilton Extreme Duty pushrods and factory rocker arms. The rockers are linked to the valves with billet rocker bridges, while Hamilton valve springs control the valves. The engine is topped off with a carbon fiber valve cover from Randy Davis at Old School Fab, which pairs an amazing high-tech look with lightweight functionality.
Milliken’s fuel system starts with a single Fuelab electric fuel pump drawing fuel from the aluminum fuel cell and delivering it to a Fleece fuel distribution block via -10 AN lines and fittings. From the distribution block, fuel is sent to a pair of 10mm Fleece Performance PowerFlo 750 CP3 pumps. The twin CP3s provide plenty of volume for the large S&S Diesel Motorsport 450 percent over injectors with a 146-degree spray pattern. The custom injectors are built to withstand over 36,000 PSI (2,500 bar) without excessive return flow or injector failure. S&S engineers modified the injector bodies with a “Redman 30” mod and installed nozzles that can flow 5,500cc/min @ 100 bar to make one of the highest flow Common Rail injectors possible. Operating the common rail fuel system at such high pressure required Milliken to install an electronic fuel pressure relief valve on the rail, which the ECU controls.
Of course, to go with all that fuel, you need plenty of air, and Mini-Wheat features a large set of turbos on the passenger side of the Cummins. The engine draws in massive amounts of air through an aFe Pro5R cone filter mounted directly to the primary 98mm Garrett GTX5533R turbo charger. Once the intake charge is compressed by the primary turbo, it’s handed off to a Fleece Performance Engineering S480/96 turbo mounted to a divided Steed Speed 24V T6 exhaust manifold. After the intake charge is compressed once again, it’s channeled through a Mishimoto air-to-air intercooler mounted in front of the Mishimoto aluminum radiator. Then, after the charge air is cooled, it’s routed to the Banks intake and into the modified Cummins head.
To get the turbos spinning, spent gasses are fed from the Steed Speed manifold to the FPE S480, then carried over to the Garrett GTX and expelled through a short hood stack. The manifold also holds a pair of high-flow Turbosmart Comp-Gate 40HP high-pressure wastegates, which divert exhaust gasses around the manifold turbo charger directly to the primary charger when needed. Durhammer at Fleece Performance built all the custom stainless steel plumbing and piping for the turbo system.
Engine control is handled by a Bosch Motorsports MS15.1 stand-alone ECU from S&S Diesel Motorsport. Not only does the Bosch ECU monitor and control engine functions, it also handles nearly every other electronic control in the truck including the Sun Coast built 47RE transmission. Moreover, it also controls Milliken’s staging system, which includes line-lock pressure activation, trans brake and engine RPM/boost levels to help him line up, spool and launch in a simple and consistent manner. After he leaves the line, the ECU triggers the air shifter to upshift each time the engine reaches 4,500 RPM and applies the torque converter lock-up to transmit the power directly from the engine to the transmission.
A Sun Coast SFI rated billet flexplate is used to link the Cummins engine to the Dodge 47RE transmission through a 2,600 RPM stall Sun Coast triple disk billet torque converter. While the 47RE case is factory, the rest of the transmission has been given a thorough upgrade by the pros at Sun Coast. Billet shafts and high performance clutches were used throughout the transmission, along with a Sun Coast valve body to put the power to the ground through each gear as the truck flies down the track. Shifting chores are handled by an air-actuated Precision Performance Products shifter, controlled by the Bosch ECU to ensure the shift points hit perfectly every single pass. The transmission is linked to the Strange rear end through a carbon fiber drive shaft from Precision Shaft Technologies.
As of our press deadline, Milliken had not yet made a 100 percent effort, full 1/4-mile pass with the truck, as he was dialing in the staging system, suspension and working out some kinks from the new build when he made the test pass for our photoshoot—which coincidentally took place at the same track that saw to Buckwheat’s demise. So we don’t have ET and speeds to report yet; but we know there is a lot of potential. As he gets the truck dialed in, we expect to see single digit ETs and trap speeds over 150 mph from the truck. We can report that he has made a dyno pull of 1,450-horsepower while maxing out the torque reading at 2,000 lbs-ft when he made some tuning passes. We have every reason to expect that he will eclipse his power goal of putting 1,500 horsepower to the rear wheels before the season is over. We’ll be keeping a close eye on both Milliken and Mini-Wheat as they blast down the track through the summer events. Stay tuned for updates on the performance in our upcoming event coverage. DW