World’s Collide— One Unique 1966 Chevy Nova
Cummins-Powered ’66 Nova
Drag racing—the “straight-line hustle”—is currently one of the hottest segments of the diesel-performance hobby, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Outlaw Diesel Super Series and the National Hot Rod Diesel Association, the scene’s two major racing sanctions. At ODSS and NHRDA, serious torque and horsepower take center stage, pushing large, blocky pickups to low elapsed times (single digits in many cases) on quarter- and eighth-mile dragstrips.
When it comes to the really quick diesel trucks (4,500-pound beasts that run 5.30-second eighth-mile e.t.’s), one of the more prominent names in the conversation is Ryan Milliken, the main man at Hardway Performance Solutions in Mary Esther, Florida. The championship-winning racer has dominated categories and crushed records with an assortment of brutally fast, Cummins-powered rigs. However, while Ryan’s racing credentials are more than official, his latest creation has sparked a huge amount of buzz and excitement among diesel enthusiasts and, wait for it, muscle car fans throughout the U.S.
After spending two years racing in the Outlaw Diesel Super Series Pro Street eliminator with his notorious black ’14 Ram 1500 (a truck that ran a best e.t. and mph of 5.29/136 in the eighth-mile), Ryan left the big rig life for a chance to drive the brightly hued ’66 Chevrolet Nova you see here.
“My dad’s favorite car was ’66 Nova, and he passed away in 2012,” says Ryan as he reflects on how his decision to buy the Nova came to be. “I wanted a universal race car. The diesel races are fun, but they are only 10 times a year and I was doing it with the same truck. With the Nova, I can run nearly every weekend in a variety of drag races.”
The build was surprisingly quick and much easier than anticipated. “The engine bolted between the framerails with relative ease,” Ryan says. Hardway built custom motor mounts and a set of “bat wings” to secure the 6.8L Cummins engine in place. The rest of the car came prepared for drag racing thanks to an SFI 25.2-spec chassis and race-bred leaf spring suspension system. And the coolest aspect of the combination is that Ryan runs the Nova exclusively on small rear tires—either a pair of 28x10.5 Mickey Thompson slicks or ET Radial Pro 275 DOT tires.
While the engine is commonly recognized as a Cummins, Ryan prefers to call it a Freedom Racing Engines powerplant. The block and aluminum cylinder head are solid, so no water flows through them. Engines in Ryan’s Super Street and Pro Street trucks had coolant running through the block and cylinder head, which led him to design a special coolant-control system to help keep the engines together. Based on Ryan’s calculations, with 65 psi of boost from an 88mm Garrett GTX5533 Gen II turbocharger and a 700hp, three-stage fog of nitrous oxide, the 6.8L engine combination produces 1,900 hp.
The Nova is equipped with a SunCoast Diesel Transmissions–built TH400 automatic transmission that is designed as a two-speed rather than the more typical three-speed. SunCoast also built a diesel-specific torque converter with extremely low stall speed. Drag-racing a muscle car with that kind of power and low engine speed is unique, mostly due to the short back tires and the anticipated 150-mph speed Ryan is shooting for in the eighth-mile. The Ford 9-inch rear housing currently holds a 2.91:1 gear ratio, but a switch to 2.73:1 gears is in order. Sourcing pro-style gears in those ratios has proven difficult, as companies stopped making them more than a decade ago, so Ryan scours Internet forums, swap meets, and race car garage sales to find the hardened ring-and-pinion sets for the high-speed/short-tire combination.
Eight weeks after securing the new-to-him rolling chassis and installing the latest 6.8L powerplant, the Nova came to life for the Lights Out 8 event in February 2017. Ryan was entered in two categories—the world-famous X275 Class and the ultra-cool Leaf Spring Shootout. Working the bugs out of the new combination, the team walked away with a best performance of 5.15 seconds at 145 mph.
The racing didn’t stop after the Lights Out 8 adventure; in a matter of weeks, Ryan attended several more competitions and, in early April, he moved closer to his goal of making 4.70s. It was during the 9th annual NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals, held at Atlanta Dragway, that the Nova’s best elapsed time dropped to a stout 4.88 seconds at 150 mph! He was entered in the ultra-fast category known as Street Outlaw, and the diesel-powered Nova held its own in qualifying but ultimately lost in the opening round of competition.
The path from racing a class-specific, modified street truck to competing in a radial-tired race car that is capable of battling in an assortment of categories now allows Ryan to satisfy his drag-racing desires in a vehicle that was so dear to his father’s passion for muscle cars.
Fast Facts:Year/Make/Model: ’66 Chevy Nova
Owner: Ryan Milliken
Hometown: Haines City, Florida
Fuel economy: 1 gallon/660 feet
Engine: 6.8L Freedom Racing Engines
Fuel: S&S Diesel Motorsports and CP3 Bosch dual injection pumps, 550-percent-over injectors, Bosch Motorsports engine-management system
Air: Garrett GTX5533 Gen II 88mm turbocharger, Induction Solutions three-stage direct-port nitrous-oxide system
Exhaust: 5-inch dump pipe/fender stack
Transmission: GM TH400 two-speed automatic converted by SunCoast Diesel Transmissions, custom torque converter
Fluids: Joe Gibbs Racing Oil
Horsepower: 1,450 hp
Torque: 2,100 lb-ft
Tires: 275/60R15 Mickey Thompson ET Radial Pro
Wheels: 15x10 (rear), 15x3 (front) Weld Racing V-Series
Suspension: Leaf springs, CalTracs traction bars, Santuff adjustable shocks
Axles: Strange Engineering 40-spline, 2.91 gears
Body: Carbon-fiber doors
Interior: SFI 25.2 rollcage with racing seats
Fun Fact: “My mom had a ’67 Camaro, so my dad built a fun car for himself and started on a Chevy II,” Ryan says. He credits Dad for his passion for cars and racing, having spent a lot of time racing on circle tracks and some drag racing as a kid. The Nova is a tribute car that helps feed Ryan’s yearning to race anywhere, on any given weekend. The car is so cool that race officials from various drag racing arenas have made provisions for the diesel-powered muscle car to compete in their small-tire categories.