We Found Nemo: Ken Bruner’s 1,700-Horsepower UCC-Ready Ram

In 2016, a new event called Ultimate Callout Challenge popped up. I was intrigued because this event took the biggest names and businesses of our industry and put them all in the same arena. In diesel motorsports, events are spread out all over the United States and not everyone can make it across the country. Well, the “UCC” put up enough money to make it worth their while to make the trip.

This experimental event forced teams to build the ultimate rig. A truck that could not only make huge numbers on the dyno and pull a super-heavy sled, but it could also barrel down the dragstrip at speeds that this amount of weight shouldn’t physically be able to. As an enthusiast, making teams push these engines to their absolute limits knowing the risk involved, I was hooked.

How Did You Get Here?

For Windsor, California, native Ken Bruner, he was too. But before Bruner’s passion for diesel trucks started, he was already involved in racing with his dad. “My dad competed in desert racing when I was at a very young age and that really helped develop my love for cars and trucks,” said Bruner. “I started riding motorcycles at three years old and I continued too as I grew up. Ever since, my passion for anything motorsports grew stronger and stronger.”

Bruner’s first truck was his dad’s old work truck. A 2000 model Ram with the 5.9-liter Cummins engine. “This is where it all started for me. I took this truck four-wheeling a lot in my teen years and it has just snowballed from there,” Bruner said. “Straight pipe, K&N air filter, boost elbow, a fueling box, and so on and so forth. It got to the point where I wanted more.”

The outside of the event grounds didn’t leave much for pretty backgrounds but Bruner’s sunset orange Ram sure helped.

Like most of these stories, you know where this is headed. When you get bit, you’re done. You can’t get enough and you just go as deep into it as you can. Or as Bruner says, “as much as the income would allow.” That brings us to his 2006 Ram truck. At 21 years old, Bruner purchased this truck in 2011 for only $15,000 as a tow rig. Once he realized that adding power to a common rail Cummins was easier, he made the easy decision to quit playing with the VP44-equipped truck.

0 To 100 Real Quick

Fast forward to now, this is literally as extreme as it can get. When I talked with Bruner at UCC in Indianapolis, he explained to me that ever since this event started, he couldn’t wait to be able to do it himself. “I’ve just always watched this event, followed the results, seen these big shops compete at the highest level and I wanted in,” Bruner said. “For me, this would be a ton of fun to do and it would put my business, Capital Diesel Performance, on the map.”

Proudly representing all of the companies on board, Bruner had his truck glossing.

I love how all of these stories start small and just make their way to the extreme. Competitors just get their feet wet and the next thing you know they are headed to buy waiters, you know? I talked with Bruner more about his build to see what his favorite part of it was. With something like this, you’ve got hundreds, maybe even thousands of hours involved. Something has to stand out.

“Honestly, I like the fact that I have built everything. The transmission, the tuning (for the most part until this last year), the engine, the roll cage, four-link, body panel framing, tilt hood, and all of the wiring. (Minus the Gray’s Performance & Off-Road standalone harness) For someone who has a competition vehicle like this, I get it. It takes a lot of knowledge and work to create this and props to him for taking the reigns and doing it.

With fully adjustbale suspension in the rear, Bruner can fine tune the truck and the way it launches on every track he goes to.

Continuing our conversation, Bruner wanted to share that there are things in this build that still need attention. “I love everything about it but it still isn’t exactly how I want it. The four-link suspension still isn’t dialed in. If you watch videos of it taking off, it is pretty much a loose cannon. I have to countersteer and drive it sideways through the sixty-foot cone,” Bruner explained. “That being said, it still consistently runs a 1.3x 60-foot time. It could use some work on the launch and we may try a slick tire over these radials in the future.”

How Did UCC Go For You?

Out of 19 trucks that entered the 2021 Ultimate Callout Challenge, Bruner placed 9th overall. Making that 34-hour-ish drive from California worth it, in my opinion. In the gauntlet event, Bruner consistently did well. He suffered a trashed transfer case on the dragstrip but managed to pull out a 5.563-second pass in the eighth-mile anyway.

The following day, he came up short on his 2,000-horsepower goal, but still made a staggering 1,753-horsepower and 2,724 lb/ft of torque dyno run. Although he didn’t hit his goal, making 1,700-horsepower at all is incredible. His huge 2,700 lb-ft of torque number had him right up there with the best of them. For a kid who just wanted more and did it all himself, way to go, dude.

On the last and final day, Bruner’s bright orange Ram pulled the sled 280.58-feet. To sum up, Bruner put on one hell of a performance for a first outing and I’m sure this isn’t the last time we’ll be seeing this California native. On the strip, Bruner placed 7th overall. On the dyno, he placed 10th overall. On the sled pulling track, he earned another 10th overall. I’ve seen this before and not everyone that shows up to this event does this well their first time out.

Pop That Hood Right Now!

Now that is a serious engine bay.

So, what does it take to perform like this? How can you build something to do what this does? Let’s tilt this front clip back and see. Just as I expected, wow. Bruner’s Ram features a 396-cubic inch deckplate Cummins engine. Inside this monster is a 5.9 Cummins crankshaft, forged Diamond Racing pistons, .80″ longer CP Carrillo connecting rods, Manley Performance 1.38-inch valves, and has a 15:5:1 compression ratio.

“The block on the engine was machined by RPM Engine in Rohnertpark, California and the head was machined by Freedom Racing Engines in Indiana,” Bruner explained. “Once the machine work was done, it was all put together by me here at Capital Diesel Performance in Windsor, California.”

Other upgrades to this engine are a Kingspeed Race & Repair oil pan, Hamilton Cams 207/220-110 camshaft, and a Banks Power Big Hoss side draft intake manifold. Everything else is bolt-on goodies and boy, are there a lot of them.

Boost & Fire

You need a well-oiled machine to crank out that kind of power. What do you do for tuning? Big orange features a tuned CM849 by Hardway Performance, a 400-percent over stock Super Mental fuel injector and dual 12MM CP3 high-pressure pumps from Dynomite Diesel Products, and a Waterman Racing lift pump.

As for boost, it is all pumped through a full-stainless steel piping system and is emitted out of a 5-inch exhaust. Bruner trusts a set of huge compound turbos to make this power. Hanging off of a Steed Speed T6 manifold, this compound duo features a Garrett GTX5533R 85mm and a Garrett GTX5533R 98mm turbo. Talk about a lot of air. Careful walking in front of this truck, you could get sucked in.

As if this wasn’t enough, he’s using a custom-built dry nitrous oxide system with the help of a Nitrous Express Maximizer 5 controller. Three stages of nitrous are on board. One for a spool jet and then two other main stages. Other boost-related upgrades are a Hypergate wastegate and Banks Power Technicooler intercooler where 110psi of boost is pumped through.

Gettin’ It To The Ground

So you’ve mastered one of the hardest parts of a build like this. Making the power. Now that you’ve got all of this horsepower, can you use it? Can you actually apply all of this to the track or the street? Bruner puts his trust in a built, factory 48RE transmission that features everything required to stay alive at this power level. What does that entail?

It requires upgraded clutch materials, a better converter, a stronger flexplate, and a cooling system that can keep it happy. Bruner uses a pair of BD Diesel Performance double-stacked transmission coolers to keep the fluid cool as it runs through all of his upgraded parts. This includes a Diesel Performance Converters triple-disc, 2700-rpm stall torque converter, and flexplate. All while being controlled by hand with a Precision Performance Products Power Shift air shifter.

Strictly business in here.

On the differential side of things, this Ram features the factory AAM axles. Geared to a 3.73 ratio, this truck has enough to run quarter-mile, pull, and make dyno runs comfortably. With this power in mind, Bruner wanted to make sure the axles would take this abuse so he upgraded the front axles to RCV 300M and then Branik Motorsports 300M axles in the rear.

Outside of the engine and transmission are Full Hook Performance billet control arms, Bilstein shocks, PCS steering box, ACME rigging front suspension straps, AFCO Performance Big Guns rear shocks and springs, Competition Engineering sway bar, and a custom-designed four-link rear suspension system with integrated sled pulling bump stops by Capital Diesel Performance.

Moving on to the wheels and tires, Bruner uses different sets for different competitions. With a set of 18-inch by 10-inch Moto Metal wheels, he uses 325/45R18 Hoosier DR2 drag radials for drag racing. When it comes to sled pulling, he relies on 33-inch by 12.5-inch Nitto Mud Grapplers. All of this is stopped on the other end with EBC upgraded brakes.

Again, it takes a whole package working together which brings us to the body. As you can see some of these panels aren’t factory and why is that? Knowing that these trucks are ridiculously heavy, Bruner made the choice to lighten it up. By converting the panels over to fiberglass, he saved thousands of pounds. Not everyone wants to do that but when you think about it, not everyone wants to replace destroyed parts either. Racing heavy stuff is detrimental. For aesthetics, he had Healdsburg Collision of Healdsburg, California coat the panels in a beautiful Sunset Orange color.

If you crack open the doors to this machine you’ll see a Capital Diesel-built 8.50, NHRA-certified roll cage. As for comfort, you’re looking at PRP racing harnesses that will hold you down in a pair of Kirkey Racing seats. For data acquisition, Bruner uses two Banks Power iDash Datamonster Dataloggers.

It Takes A Team

This truck that started out as a tow rig for a rock crawler and other fun toys has surpassed some serious goals. Although he didn’t crack 2,000-horsepower, that is next. He was determined enough to get all of this done, there is no reason why 2,000 doesn’t happen soon. With a best elapsed time of 5.55 and 129-mph in the eighth mile and 8.75 at 157-mph in the quarter, that is nothing to be ashamed of. Also, this was all done with a single .083 jet.

Yeah, he wrenched on it all and did most of the work, but there have to be companies that stand behind you, right? “There is a pile of companies that need to be thanked. Firstly, Dynomite Diesel Performance for all of the fueling components. Next, Opti-Lube for all the oils and additives. Industrial Injection, CGT Diesel Performance, Diesel Performance Converters, Banks Power, Allied Diesel, Siskiyou Diesel Performance, and Tali-Pak Lumber Milling,” Bruner said. “Without these companies, it wouldn’t be near as possible or as fun. I appreciate these relationships.”

We look forward to seeing Ken and his crew back out at future events and hope he can better his performance at the upcoming Ultimate Callout Challenge. For more action from UCC, truck features from events we attend, and anything else diesel-related, stay tuned right here to Diesel Army. What do you think about Ken Bruner’s hot rod? Let us know in the comments below.

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.
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