It’s been six-and-a-half years since Ryan Milliken rolled out a diesel-powered Nova for the X275 class of Lights Out 8. Leave it to the founder of Hardway Performance to put a torque-monster diesel on a 275 tire at the biggest drag radial race in the world. The green Cummins-powered Nova got attention by running a 5.14 while dragging the parachute like a field plow, yet the tractor was far from competitive and did not qualify for the 32-car show.
Thankfully, for fans of diesel racing, Milliken is an extremely stubborn man who likes to do it the Hardway and did not give up on radial tire racing. With the help of Daniel Pierce and a Bosch Motorsport control package by S&S, the 1966 Nova got quicker and more consistent. The pair won a round of X275 at Lights Out 9 and Lights Out 10, then qualified 6th out of 82 cars for the elite Sweet 16 2.0, thus earning a little respect for the diesel combo. Unfortunately, the iconic Diesel Nova kissed the wall a year later at Lights Out 11, which put it in the chassis shop for major rehab.
Milliken sold the first car, but his love for Novas and disdain for spark plugs would lead him down the Hardway path all over again. One year later, Milliken showed up to Lights Out 12 with a Glacier Blue 1969 Nova sporting a Cummins between the factory-ish frame rails. The new purpose-built X275 car had the equipment to go fast and the power to break stuff… which happened every pass of the event. The debut of the second Diesel Nova nicknamed “Blue” was not a success, yet shaking down a new car at an event rarely is.
The past two-and-a-half years, since the debut of Blue, has been an uphill climb for the Hardway Racing Team of Ryan Milliken, Rick Haynes, Rod MacMaster, and Jonathan Montesino. Over time, there would be less carnage and more win lights, yet an event win, or even runner up, had eluded the team. A few number one qualifiers and the class speed record was proof that the Blue had the diesel-fueled muscle to go fast, but doing it round after round was the challenge.
The back-to-back events of Battle of the Thrones and No Mercy 14 was the pinnacle week of nearly seven years of hard work, frustration, loss, and pure stubbornness. Milliken put the class on notice by locking in the X275 top qualifying spot of Battle of the Thrones with a 4.16-second rip at 177 MPH. He and the boys would go on to claim a career-first X275 Runner-Up at Battle of the Thrones. This was a huge accomplishment for Hardway Racing, and the entire diesel industry; yet, there was still work to do at No Mercy 14. What would ensue could be considered total diesel domination. Milliken, once again, claimed the number one spot with an elapsed time of 4.16 at 179 MPH. After a first-round bye, the S&S-badged Nova printed a series of tickets (4.21, 4.18, 4.18, 4.20) that lead straight to the X275 Winner’s Circle and into history as the first diesel ANYTHING to win a drag racing event at that level of competition!
Many may think that diesels are low-tech brutes, yet that couldn’t be further from the truth to compete at this level. The Freedom Racing Engines Cummins that powers Blue is not short on muscle; the level of technology and electronic control needed to regulate obscene torque going to a pair of 275-mm-wide tires is an engineering marvel. An S&S-spec MoTeC M142 standalone ECU which precisely controls an S&S ultra-high-pressure direct injection fuel system is crucial to making the required torque at the exact time needed, and doing it cleanly.
S&S Diesel Motorsport, along with many other high-tech manufacturers, have been a part of Ryan Milliken’s seven-year quest to win the Hardway since the very beginning. Now Milliken is 5 points off of the X275 lead in the Radial Outlaws Series, proving that a diesel can be a championship contender. Pride is an understatement for what it is being felt right now by all involved.