RAY AND THE RECORD BOOK
There have been thousands and thousands of races like it. Last
Saturday night at Bear Ridge Speedway, way up atop Vermont’s Green
Mountains, 18 cars lined up for their feature shootout – 25 laps
around a quarter-mile dirt track for the wingless midgets. Not for
the faint of heart.
But this one turned out just a tad
different – and very special. On Monday morning out in Indianapolis,
USAC historians were scurrying about, beginning to review records
back to 1957. By winning the race, did East Granby, Connecticut’s
Ray Miller, who celebrates his 71st birthday today, become the
oldest winner in their open-wheel annals?
Miller, a New
England Hall of Fame modified driver, is absorbing it all with his
normal engaged but laid- back fashion.
“You know, the first
challenge was to get in the cockpit.
“Sure, back in the
sixties, seventies, and early eighties – the golden age of the
asphalt modifieds at Stafford and Riverside Park, we had a blast.
But I always loved dirt. How I remember broadsliding through that
third turn at Fonda.
|Ray back in the ’60s (David
“Then a few years back, I saw Denny Zimmerman
(1972 Indy Rookie of the Year and a couple years older than Ray)
playing on the dirt in midgets. I hadn’t raced in quite a while, and
he was my inspiration to get with it.
“I was at 217 pounds
and knew I had to get down to 175. There was lots of walking,
weight-lifting, and dieting. I do my beer and ice cream in February
when I go see Bugsy Stevens and Georgie Summers in Daytona, but
“It really woke me up when I did a trial 10-lap
exhibition race at Bear Ridge near the beginning. Man, I was looking
for that checker on about the third lap. It was exhausting and I
knew I was going to have to amp it up if I was going to get this
done. There is no question that you have to have the desire. That’s
what I admire so much about Red Farmer and Buzzie Reutimann and Dave
“So, I had been preparing for this, but in a relaxed
state of mind. I don’t have that pressure there used to be in the
modifieds to run up front because of all the money involved. It’s a
pleasure now that I don’t have to win to have a good time, and it’s
satisfying to know now that I can go the whole distance with my
conditioning. No problem. And I haven’t been too concerned about
getting banged up, even in these cars. In all the years I’ve raced,
I’ve never been on my roof. And this year I added
restraints around the seat to be extra careful.
Saturday I won my heat, and, coincidentally, Denny and I brought up
the front row. It was a straight-up start, and I got the lead.
“I was really concentrating on my driving, hitting my marks. It
was dry slick. There were a couple of cautions, and soon I could
feel some presence around me. Then I saw Scott Viet’s nose (his
teammate) and I heard Kevin Chaffee trying it upstairs in Skip
Matczak’s car. I knew they were working me.
|That’s Scott Viets
looking to the Ray’s inside, while Kevin Chaffee
a shot on top. (Howie Hodge Photo)
“Then, maybe 15 laps in, I missed my mark in a turn. It’s so
hard to keep that bottom covered. I opened up a big hole, but,
fortunately, no one filled it, so I got back to business, back to
“Four to go and there was another caution. At
that point I thought, ‘Hey, I could actually bag this thing!’ My
expectation had been a middle-of-the-road finish. The competition in
that USAC/Dirt Midget Association is really tough. But, when you’re
in the cockpit, there’s this natural instinct. I doubled down on my
focus, and we won, but they were four long, long laps.
whole thing is sinking in now. I figure I should enjoy it because it
won’t be long ‘til Denny wins and knocks me off this perch.
“But, you know, the real joy of it is what it means for my stable.
Back in 1947, my dad bought a Kurtis Kraft midget and had Charlie
Ethier drive. I was six years old and captivated. And here we are,
66 years later – midgets in that same garage – and we won. My dad
would have been horrified if I had wanted to run midgets earlier in
my career because they were so dangerous. Now, with all the safety
stuff, I know he would have been thrilled.”
Needless to say,
there was quite a celebration on that chilly night up on the Ridge.
And not everyone was as stuck as Ray on the history of it all. They
had just seen one helluva race.
One of them was Ray’s
significant other, Zetti. Skip Matczak, DMA’s founder, says, “She
hugged that trophy so hard she choked it.”
|That’s Saturday’s podium: L,
scrappy veteran Scott Viets; Ray, the top dog;
and R, third-place finisher, up-and-coming Fairlee
Flyer, Kevin Chaffee.
(Howie Hodge Photo)
|It’s 1948 back at the Empire
Speedway in Menands, NY. Ray Miller’s dad, left,
joins partner Ray Lataille (right) buttoning up
their Offy before Charlie Ethier
gets pushed off.
(Miller Family Collection)