Back In Blue: Ryan Milliken’s New Cummins-Powered ’69 Chevrolet Nova

Last year, Ryan Milliken offloaded his beloved Cummins-powered Chevrolet Nova to a new home. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t upset about the car going away but it made me feel better knowing that it was going to a group of guys that would still be heavily involved in the radial-tire racing it’s known to compete in.

Between two ownerships, the Nova brought confusion, excitement, and tragedy. Confusion is for the people who couldn’t understand how something with a tractor engine could go that fast. Excitement is when they took said powerplant and buried into the 4.2-second range. As for the tragedy, under the new ownership, the car suffered an impact with the wall last fall that left everyone in shock. Luckily the driver walked away and the car will live on.

What’s New?

With Milliken out from under the “green car”, as he’s called it, it was time to sit back and relax for a while.–At least that’s what he thought. When I heard the green car was sold, I knew it was only a matter of time before something else came out of the Hardway Performance camp. A few months went by and I was already hearing chatter about a possible replacement.

As you can see, it’s here. I think I speak for everyone when I say that everyone loved the old car and hated to see it go, but seeing the new car is seriously helping the grieving process. Introducing the next diesel-powered machine to hit radial-prep is this nasty Tin Soldier Racecars-built 1969 Chevrolet Nova with a Glacier Blue coating.

As of right now, the car isn’t named yet. “I need to just park it in my shop and stare at it for a while before I can make a decision like that,” Milliken said. “If there is one thing for sure, this one will also have a Cummins.” Owning the green car and racing it over the last few years, Milliken has learned quite a bit when it comes to engine and suspension tuning. He’s hoping that gives him a headstart on learning the new ride.

“Someone was interested in the green car, and I was sort of window shopping for another car, but nothing real serious,” said Milliken. “During that time, in October of 2019, I found this car for sale as an unfinished project at Tin Soldier Racecars. I have always heard of them but I never really paid attention to what they did. As my interest grew for this car, I started paying more attention to the work coming out of their shop.”

Sometimes the stars just align and that is what happened here. "I love the Chevy II, but I just think these third-generation Novas are sexy," said Milliken. "My wife and I loved the color, it had leaf springs, and it just made sense. This is a full-on 25.2 Chromoly chassis with a body around it. To me, it's basically a Pro Mod with steel doors."

My first question to Milliken was what class are you wanting to go after this go-around? Is X275 still your home, or are you going to bump up to Pro 275 or LDR? “Right now, I just want to get the car back to what the green car was capable of,” he said. “Give me a year of tinkering on this and testing and I’m hoping to be back where we were. One day, when this car grows up, it has dreams of being in Pro or LDR. We’ll see.”

This car was being built at Tin Soldier by a different owner to fit X275 or Ultra Street with an LS-based engine. Milliken noticed it and took great interest. In fact, the guys at Tin had just converted the car to a single frame rail when Milliken purchased it from the owner. “The green car was single frame rail and I could physically see the weak points where it would actually crack the paint on the body. The A-Pillar and driver side door would touch the front fender and leave evidence after a strong pass. So, I had them completely remove what they just finished, double frame rail it and cover it with sheet metal to make it safer, stronger, and just better.”

With huge support from both Fleece Performance and Freedom Racing Engines, they supplied the chassis shop with a junk Cummins block and a GM adapter/mid-plate to mock the car up for the engine. Again, learning from the old car, the new Nova features different steering configurations which will allow Team Hardway to in-frame this engine at any time.

“The steering on the old car was underneath the engine, which made it impossible to pull the pan off,” explained Milliken. “We’ve relocated the steering to the front of the engine now, which lets us drop the pan in the car and give everything a once-over without removing the engine. If I do something dumb like lock a rod bearing up, I am set up to make those fixes at the track, unlike last time.”

Tin Soldier got the car finished up with a full set of polycarbonate windows, Pro Jack mounts, tie-down points, and a carbon-fiber wing.

As for the exterior of the car, it boasts quite a bit of carbon fiber – including a full front end with a removable hood, the trunk lid, and the wing. Other features are the black anodized wheels and polycarbonate windows. The Glacier Blue paint coat will stay, but as for the white top, Milliken’s thinking about color-matching it and also doing a black top for it.

“This was a Chevrolet color in 1969, actually,” Milliken said. “It wasn’t a Nova color, though. It was for the El Caminos and Chevelles, I believe.”

Factory steel doors remain on the hinges of the car, too. Even though he could save a bunch of weight there, Milliken needs the weight to fit within the class rules. If the plans of growing into a bigger, faster class happen, he has the option to lose more weight by using carbon doors. He mentioned that carbon doors should free up over 160 pounds.

Weight Breaks

In this style of racing, the competition is close. Milliken mentioned that in a 32-car field, their qualifying times can be separated by a mere 0.15 seconds. With that being said, John Sears, class founder and organizer of X275, makes sure all drivers are following the rules. If you’re using lightweight blocks and heads, you will be penalized. Same thing if you’re using bigger power adders.

The green car featured an all-aluminum engine that was making 2,680 horsepower at the flywheel. Since it was utilizing lighter parts, it was hit with weight penalties to make the competition fairer. After the weight penalties, it stepped on the scales at 3,430 pounds. With this knowledge, Milliken and the guys at Freedom Racing Engines felt there was an opportunity to be lighter and make less power, yet still, be competitive.

“We wanted to miss those weight penalties and be a lot lighter,” he said. “Our biggest weight penalty was the aluminum block and head. For this blue Nova, we’re going with a stock-based 6.7-liter Cummins block and head. The engine will be sleeved down to a .40-over 5.9-liter with a stock crankshaft and stroke. This allows us to free up some weight,” he said.

“This new car is nothing like the green one,” Milliken continued. “That car wasn’t meant to go fast. It was built as a street car with carpet, Dynamat, leather, and was meant to be a show car. This thing is more like a Pro Mod with steel doors. Right now, this car, as a roller, weighs 1,185 pounds. The old car required 2,680 horsepower at the flywheel to crank out 170.8 mph. Now, with the lighter chassis, it should only take 2,190 horsepower to be back to where we were.”

Milliken is on his own in the first sixty feet of his radial-tire racing. While he and another inline-six-powered machine (2JZ) are at the top of the mph charts, getting out of the hole is an issue. "We are the fastest cars in the class, but we've got our work cut out for us in the first sixty feet," he admitted. "My best 60-foot pass was 1.09, where the majority of the class was 1.01-1.02. Getting lighter is saving everything – brake pads, crankshaft, torque converter, lockup clutches, all of it. Less weight makes everything happy."

In theory, with the lesser 2,200 horsepower and new chassis, that should put ol’ Blue here in the 1.05 60-foot mark, per Milliken. If that is the case, that should make him even more of a threat to his competition.

“The base weight for a Cummins-powered entry in X275 is 3,200 pounds,” said Milliken. “The green car carried a 50-pound penalty for each component, including the billet block, billet head, and lockup torque converter, making the total weight required a minimum of 3,350 pounds. Meanwhile, at the time, the car couldn’t get any lighter than 3,430 pounds. The new car, however, will be taking a different approach to the rules since the chassis itself should come in much lighter than its predecessor. 3,200 pounds base weight, plus no penalties for a billet block or head, since it’ll be cast.

Add the 50-pound penalty for utilizing a lockup torque converter, subtract 50 pounds for utilizing an 85mm turbocharger versus the class standard 88mm, subtract another 50 pounds for turbo location – no ram air effect, since it will likely have its compressor facing the firewall – and this adds up to a total of 3,150 pounds. However, a small note at the bottom of the rules states that push-rod combos that are 365 inches or less can subtract 175 pounds. Turns out the stock bore and stroke of a 5.9 is under 365 inches and is, of course, a pushrod combo. This allows us to weigh 2,975 pounds minimum race weight.”

“My goal is to pick up where I left off with the green car. Not so much with miles per hour and elapsed time, but where the car was A to B. I want to get into local X275 stuff and within a year, get back to that ET and MPH as the green car. I am taking my time and doing everything correctly. This stuff doesn’t happen overnight.”

The Powerplant

We discussed briefly that this car would feature the Cummins engine. To that end, Ryan went to the experts over at Freedom Racing Engines and Fleece Performance.”To take full advantage of the weight breaks, and maximize our reliability at our target horsepower, we decided to go the cast block route and run a recipe that Freedom has proven over the past years. he said. “The engine that my car will have will mirror what you find on the Freedom Racing website.”

This engine package is a cast, stock-based block that will go through all of Freedom’s machining and upgrading processes. This will, however, not be a solid block. The dry, sleeved down 6.7-liter Cummins is now a 0.040-over 5.9-liter with a factory crankshaft featuring billet steel connecting rods. “I have seen failures with sleeved motors in the past, and they ran perfectly with the exception of pressurizing the cooling system,” explained Milliken. “If I am going to be dry, I don’t care if it leaks a little bit. All I care about is that the crankshaft stays tight to the mains.”

“I will likely be using Wagler Competition Products connecting rods and Diamond Pistons for the rotating assembly,” he said. “As for the cylinder head and the rest of the engine, it will be a 6.7-liter cylinder head worked over with the Freedom Racing Engines touch and all Trend Performance products inside. Hanging off of the Stainless Diesel manifold will be a Garrett GTX55 Gen-II 85mm turbo, as well as a Fluidampr balancer.”

For fueling and electronics, Milliken is relying on the experts over at S&S Diesel Motorsport. Through a MoTec system, S&S will have this car firing on all cylinders with a large set of fuel injectors and a pair of 14mm CP3 high-pressure pumps.

As for lubricants, Milliken’s new ride will be “Powered By Science.” The engine, transmission, and gears will be protected by the Hot Shot’s Secret line of Adrenaline Racing Oils, as well as their high-performance fuel additives in the tank.

Driveline

Making 2,000-plus horsepower is one thing, but getting it to the ground is another. Luckily for Milliken and Co., they’re backed by SunCoast Diesel. He will utilize SunCoast’s lockup TH400 transmission, their zero-drag, bolt-together 300mm torque converter, and a 151/126 gearset. “Something new is I will be locking the car up in first gear, whereas the old car was locking up in second gear,” he said.

The rear differential will either be Carmack Engineering or a Strange Engineering unit with a 2.73:1 gear ratio. Currently, the car features Strange brakes on it, but Milliken sees a change in the future because of his outstanding customer service with TBM Brakes. “I have had TBM parts last forever, and the customer service over there is on another level. They’ve overnighted me parts and left parts in my trailer at races to make sure we’ve got fresh brakes,” Milliken said.

Getting the power down will be with the suspension tuning. He continued, “I will be doing all of the suspension changes myself in conjunction with Menscer Motorsports products and input from Tin Soldier Racecars. The tires we’re using are Mickey Thompson M/T 275 Pros, and we will use the old Nova’s shocks on the new car. I purchased them back from the buyers because they have since upgraded.”

Ryan couldn’t say enough about all of the great companies on board this project. He and his team are ready to kick things off. “I want to give a big shout-out to both Limit Engineering and Garrett Turbos for stepping up to be apart of our team, SunCoast for the transmission items, Menscer Motorsports on the suspension, S&S Diesel Motorsport for all fueling and electronics, Fluidampr for the harmonic balancer, Hot Shot’s Secret for fluids and additives, TBM Brakes for their continued support, and definitely the guys over at Nitrous Outlet,” he said.

Another special thank you went out to Logan Yelton at Loganbuilt Transmissions. “Logan has been babysitting this car for me for a while,” Milliken admitted. “Tin Soldier is in his hometown and he’s been my eyes for quite a while. When it came to getting the car, I flew into his town, he picked me up, we went and got the car and towed it to Fleece with his truck and trailer and I just really appreciate him being a big help along this journey.”

Milliken wanted to mention that the crew that will be trackside with him will be Mike Coleman as Crew Chief and his wife, Leslie. Her official title is Chief Executive Backup Girl.

Coming up this fall, the 2020 PRI Show will feature the best of the best of the racing industry. Milliken is planning a full unveil at the PRI Show in Indianapolis coming up. If you’re there, be sure and check out the finished product at the Fleece Performance/Freedom Racing Engines booth.

About the author

Artie Maupin

Artie Maupin is from Southeast Missouri and has an extreme passion for anything diesel. He loves drag racing of all kinds, as well as sled pulling competitions.
Read My Articles

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