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by Michael Dickens, December 2011
Mike Miller is a 16-year veteran of the California desert racing scene who is extremely comfortable driving on dirt tracks. So comfortable, in fact, that Miller has won back-to-back Street Stock division points championships at Victorville Auto Raceway in Victorville, Calif.
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Recently, Miller successfully defended his 2010 points title, winning three races, and captured the 2011 season title by “a comfortable margin” with 367 points, 28 points better than his closest competitor, Pat Coley.
“To finish first,” said Miller during a recent telephone interview, “you have to first finish.”
At age 55, Miller's day job is as a welding contractor (and owner of Mike's Iron Works in Barstow, Calif.). On most spring and summer Saturday nights, Miller races his 1974 Dodge Challenger for Chrome Horn Racing on the 3/8-mile dirt oval track in a city located at the southwestern edge of the Mojave Desert, 81 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The racetrack, which is located about 30 miles from his residence in Barstow, has become like a second home for him over the past 11 seasons.
This season, Miller was consistent and finished every race in 2011 except the last one. "I suffered a right rear flat tire with 13 laps to go and I had the lead," said Miller, a slight chuckle in his voice. One could sense from listening to Miller that he really wanted to finish every race without fail.
Although Miller's Street Stock division schedule this season was trimmed to 10 races from last year's 13, he was confident he could be successful racing his familiar, bright yellow No. 44 car (a number he chose because it was his age when he started dirt track racing). "With changes I made to my car's engine (a 360 LA engine) and its geometry, I knew I would run better and faster," said Miller of his car, which he originally bought on eBay for $1,200 (which included the car shell with driver's cage).
A year ago, Miller footed all of the necessary expenses to compete without the benefit of any sponsorship support and handled much of the off-the-track repairs by himself. Thanks to his 2010 success, Miller gained three sponsors for this season — Napa Auto Parts, Conversions Firestone and D.J. Mathews State Farm Insurance, all of Barstow — to where it didn't cost him anything to race.
“It was a big burden off my shoulders,” said Miller, who estimated it cost about $2,000 to compete over the entire season (about $200 per race for 10 races). “It was fun to have others pay the bill.” And, of course, Miller never underestimated the importance of a loyal and supportive wife (Louise Carmichael Miller) as well as a steady pit crew (Will Hitt and son-in-law John Sandridge) that contributed to the success enjoyed by Chrome Horn Racing.
Although Miller once drove a 1978 Chevrolet Camaro when he started his racing career on asphalt at the Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino, Calif., Miller's heart has always been with Mopars. For several years, Miller drove a 1973 Plymouth Duster before switching to the blue and yellow 1974 Dodge Challenger. "Now, I have more enthusiasm than when I started 16 years ago in dirt racing, said Miller, who looks forward to the upcoming 2012 Street Stock season at Victorville Auto Raceway starting in March. "Now, I am more serious about racing. It's more competitive and I want to do better."
Fans of Miller can follow him through his Chrome Horn Racing Facebook page and can see his 8/27/11 race on YouTube.
Also see our Mike Miller, April 2011 feature
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