Jack Of All Trades: Ken Phillips’ Bracket-Racing, Daily-Driven, Cummins-Powered Dodge Workhorse
It can daily commute, drive to other states on a whim (and see 20-mpg while doing it), make repeatable passes down the drag strip, dig its way through 8-inches of snow in the winter and it has no issue pulling a 40-foot gooseneck trailer. Meet Ken Phillips’ ’06 Dodge Ram 2500. It’s a truck that can do it all—and do it all well. The common-rail 5.9L Cummins under the hood is a big reason why that’s possible, but don’t mistake Ken’s quad cab long bed for some mythical, 1,000 horsepower diesel that somehow manages to serve every purpose yet never break. His Dodge is closer to stock than you think, and for good reason: reliability.
Aside from a brief trip inside the 170,000-mile I-6 Cummins for a cam swap and a quick refresh, a short list of bolt-on parts and a built 48RE transmission have helped make Ken’s Dodge a dominant figure in the Outlaw Diesel Super Series’ ET Bracket class. He won the latter category’s points championship in 2018 and came close to earning his second in 2021. Whether it’s working on the farm, hauling the kids to school or running the number like clockwork at the track, Ken’s third-gen Cummins offers up the perfect lesson in mechanical multitasking.
Perfecting The Art Of Bracket Racing
Since joining the ODSS racing circuit in 2017, Ken and his Dodge have been a permanent fixture (and force) in the ET Bracket category. In 2018, he brought home a championship and for 2021 he nearly did it again. With well over 100 talented racers signed up in ET Bracket, it goes without saying that it’s no easy task to end up on top at the end of a long, competitive season. It’s also important to point out that while Ken’s Dodge is capable of making north of 600rwhp, he dials things back to roughly 500 ponies on race day, which is easier on parts. As for dial-in, we’ve seen everything from 8.80s to 9.50s written on his glass over the years. But no matter what dial-in he goes with, the truck always seems to run it with precise repeatability.
A 99-Percent Stock Cummins
Getting down the track in consistent, reliable fashion begins with a 170,000-mile stock bottom end 5.9L Cummins. Once upon a time, Ken did venture into the common-rail Cummins to swap a Hamilton 178/208 camshaft into place, but the factory rotating assembly has never been touched. During the cam job, ARP head studs went in to guard against any possible head gasket issues. A High Ram intake horn from Banks Power opens up airflow before it enters the 24-valve cylinder head.
Stock-Appearing Turbo—On Steroids
As proof that Ken went out of his way to keep things simple, he opted for a 100-percent drop-in turbocharger rather than an S300 or S400 and an exhaust manifold upgrade (which is highly common in the diesel performance segment). The direct, bolt-in replacement from Fleece Performance Engineering is based off of the factory Holset HE351CW turbo, but this version—coined the Holset Cheetah—sports a larger, 63mm FMW compressor wheel, a high-flow turbine wheel and a larger wastegate actuator. A 4-inch turbo-back exhaust system with a muffler from Jamo Performance helps evacuate exhaust gases leaving the Cheetah.
Sun Coast-Prepped 48RE
The reinforced four-speed automatic tasked with harnessing the Cummins’ power has some age on it, but it’s yet to skip a beat. It was built at Sun Coast some time ago, but all indications are that it was definitely not assembled on a Friday. It’s held up to countless passes at the drag strip, been hot-lapped plenty and has also towed its fair share of trailers. Upgraded shafts, a triple-disc torque converter along with a billet flex plate sum up the Sun Coast hard parts, while a Mag-Hytec deep pan helps keep the 48RE cool.
Every-Occasion Tires For An Every-Occasion Truck
Because a lot of diesel trucks rely on four-wheel drive at the drag strip for optimum traction, bracket racers can often get away with running all terrain tires. On Ken’s silver Dodge, it’s been nothing but Nitto Terra Grappler G2 tires. In fact, it’s the only tire he’s run on all of his trucks for some time. The LT285/75R17 G2s aboard his ’06 Ram are a key piece to the truck’s do-everything puzzle. Not only do they maintain traction leaving the starting line, but their E load range makes them the perfect candidate for towing and their all-terrain tread design shines in Ohio winters.
Smart Fuel Mods
Contaminant and air-free fuel delivery begins along the frame rail in the form of an AirDog II-4G lift pump system. The 200-gph system pulls diesel from the OEM tank and supplies steady fuel pressure to the factory Bosch CP3 high-pressure pump. Thanks to careful tuning, the stock CP3 maintains ample rail pressure to a set of 45-percent over Exergy Performance injectors. Combined with the 63mm turbo upgrade, these fueling mods are capable of producing more than 600rwhp (vs. the 280 to 290rwhp a stock ’06 5.9L Cummins can lay down).
Still A Workhorse
As proof that the truck still gets put to work, you can find a pair of Firestone air springs perched between the rear axle and the frame. Ken keeps tabs on inflation pressure via a 0-150-psi gauge in the cab, mounted on the bottom of the dash. Also notice the BD Diesel diff cover, which increases gear oil capacity and gear oil flow to keep the AAM 1150’s ring and pinion cool. In the fall, it’s easy to find the ¾-ton helping out at the farm, often with something heavy in tow.
Keeping It Simple, And Fun
Even though he has a 6.60-second, pump gas fox body Mustang in the garage, Ken prefers racing his Cummins. The biggest reason? It’s stupid reliable and each pass is predictable. In fact, the truck is often so repeatable at the track that it clicks off the exact dial-in on the windshield. A simple yet proven combination of parts, spot-on ECM tuning and plenty of experience behind the wheel have all contributed to Ken’s past, present and future accomplishments in drag racing.
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