“SOAPBOX” FOR AREA AUTO
BY JOHN SNYDER
(Excerpted from AARN SOAPBOX for April 27, 2010)
I have a pretty extensive racing library, but the latest addition to it is unlike any other book in my collection. That’s because it’s not about a driver, or track, or race, or race series, or promoter, or history or any of the usual subjects of motorsports texts. Instead Miller’s Time: A Lifetime at Speed is part autobiography, part philosophy, part how-to build a race team, and part a look into the inner workings of one of the most successful organizations in the sport’s history.
Miller’s Time is Don Miller’s story, with help from Hemmings senior editor and my good friend Jim Donnelly. Miller, a hot rodder from Chicago, turned a life-long passion for automobiles and speed into an amazing career that took him from drag racing on city streets to key sales and marketing positions with Sears and Goodyear and then to partnerships with Roger Penske and ultimately with Rusty Wallace the formation of Penske South NASCAR (then) Winston Cup team.
Along the way, Miller relates the struggles he faced, including a 1974 pit road accident at Talladega that nearly cost him his life and did result multiple injuries and the amputation of his right leg.
A good portion of the book---and some of its most interesting pages---deals with Miller’s fostering the careers of Rusty Wallace and later Ryan Newman. Of Wallace, Miller says, “What brought me to Rusty was his incredible fire, this blaze in his gut. I knew he would be successful if somebody gave him some guidance, because he always gave 140 percent, always. It was amazing. I had never met anyone up to that point who wanted to win as much as Rusty did.”
While Wallace had come from the late model stock car circuits mostly in the Midwest, Newman’s background was in open-wheel cars. But midget racing rivals stock cars in that region and Miller paid close attention to the USAC Midget races and drivers. “Keeping track of potential future talent was part of my job at Penske South…I was following the Big Five in the USAC Midgets, the guys who were really hot rods, which had consisted of (Jeff) Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kenny Irwin, Jason Leffler, and Ryan Newman,” says Miller.
“To this day, I believe that the drivers who race Midgets have the best car control of any racers in America…I’d seen Ryan drive, at least on videotape, and know that he had a tremendous ability to precisely control these tiny, featherweight, wildly overpowered race cars.”
Miller officially retired from Penske South at the end of the 2007 season, but retirement isn’t a real word in his vocabulary. He still keeps his eye on what happening with Penske’s wide-flung operations, but devotes much more of his time to Stock for Tots, Stop Child Abuse Now, and the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame. In fact, net proceeds from the sale of Miller’s Time have been pledged to support the prevention of child abuse and neglect in North Carolina.
Miller’s Time is greatly enhanced by the liberal use of quotes from others whose paths have crossed his own and dozens and dozens of great photographs that match the text. And that text is crisp, informative but never preachy, and often giving small insights into creating successful enterprises, race teams included. Once you start it, it’s a hard book to put down.
Miller’s Time is available through Coastal 181 and other outlets.
I highly recommend it.
“Indeed, It Was
By Mike Hembree, Foxnews.com May 31, 2010
The Charlotte Motor Speedway garage area became a much brighter space last Saturday the minute that Don Miller walked through the gate.
Miller, retired president of Penske Racing South and a racer virtually since kindergarten, made an all-too-rare appearance at Penske’s Kurt Busch hauler, and the parade began. Over the past quarter-century, few garage-area residents have been as popular as Miller, and his visit to CMS attracted a long line of crewmen, officials, public relations people and journalists anxious to catch up on his latest exploits.
Miller didn’t take credit for it, but, later that evening, Penske driver Kurt Busch won the Sprint All-Star Race. It seemed only appropriate, and such circumstances might force Miller to show up at the track more often.
A long-time Penske lieutenant, Miller finally was able to officially remove himself from the sport in 2007. He had been on the road in numerous racing jobs and positions (most Penske-related) for decades, and it was past time, he said, to spend some quality days kicking around with his grandchildren. Many people who retire from busy jobs say that’s their aim; Miller has actually done it.
Another thing Miller has done since his retirement from running Penske’s stock car operations is something he should have done – write a book. Although Miller’s name generally is not known among the wide spectrum of race fans, he has been a force in racing since a relative’s souped-up hot rod first got his attention as a kid in Chicago.
He got into drag racing as soon as he could afford it, eventually put himself in position to make money from racing in a variety of jobs and then met Penske. He, Penske and Rusty Wallace eventually put together the deal that returned the Penske name to NASCAR, and they built the foundation for the Penske Racing operations that now are housed in a fabulous facility in Mooresville, N.C.
Miller became a tutor of sorts for both Wallace and later Ryan Newman, whose quick rise in NASCAR can be traced, in large part, to Miller’s smarts.
Miller had his hands in many things over the years, including the early development phase of stock-car roof flaps and the ground-floor design of the Taurus model Ford teams formerly raced.
Those stories and many others are retold in “Miller’s Time: A Lifetime At Speed,” a book Miller wrote along with Jim Donnelly. To Miller’s credit, proceeds from the book will go to assist abused children in the Carolinas, a cause he has long supported.
The fact that Miller is around at all is rather amazing. In May 1974, he survived one of the worst pit-road accidents in NASCAR history. He was serving as the catch-can man in the Penske pits when a car driven by Grant Adcox smashed into the rear of Penske driver Gary Bettenhausen’s car while it was being serviced. Miller was caught between the cars and then was slammed into the pit wall.
His right leg was virtually cut off in the accident, and rival crewman Buddy Parrott, working nearby, raced over and applied a tourniquet to cut the bleeding, a move that probably saved Miller’s life.
The brutal accident left Miller with the mangled right leg, a broken left leg, a broken back, a pelvis broken in three places and other injuries. He went through months of rehabilitation and years of surgeries and still deals with the effects of the accident 35 years later.
No one would have blamed Miller if he had traded racing for raising petunias after the Talladega trauma and its aftermath. Instead, with Penske’s encouragement and the support of family and friends, he worked through the recovery and returned to racing to become one of the most important people in the business.
“I’ve learned to live with it,” Miller said. “There always are plenty of reminders of the operations I’ve had – all the nuts, bolts, screws, pins and all that that are around. It’s always something.
“But it’s all done. I take the high road.”
Now 70, he still wanders over to the Penske shop occasionally to keep up with the goings-on. But much of his time is spent tinkering on hot rods for his grandchildren. He’s a “car guy” who wants to nurture other car guys, and he wants it done safely and sanely.