Image courtesy RallySportDirect
It came in the middle of a trip that verged on the surreal, and I didn’t think too much about it at the time, but it is possible that I was one of the last people to take a lap with Roger Miller around the track that bore his father’s name.
On the way to the Bonneville Salt Flats, My brother and I decided to stop by Miller Motorsports Park and observe the proceedings at a “supercar”-focused open-lapping day. We were hanging out at the pit wall along the track’s long main straight when John Gardner, the track’s media director, came out to confront us for trespassing.
“Are you media?” he asked, casting a suspicious glance towards my battered Canon Rebel sans lens cap.
“We certainly are!” I responded, thus forever lowering Mr. Gardner’s opinion of The Press As A Whole. But he was extremely gracious and suggested that we speak directly to Roger Miller, the son of MMP’s founder, who was amusing himself by giving rides in his wife’s NASA Time Trial-prepped Lexus LF-A. I actually walked by the guy twice while I was looking for him; the burly, bald, open-faced man with his feet up in a trackside golf cart didn’t exactly look like the conventional kid-who-inherits-money. Roger looked like a bodyguard for that stereotype, maybe. After we established our mutual and extremely divergent credentials in Grand-Am sports-car racing (J. Baruth: two starts w/mechanical DNF in both, R. Miller: multiple top-half finishes and starring role in Patrick Dempsey’s team) he agreed to run me around the Full Course in the V-10 super-Toyota. I grabbed my helmet and in a few moments we were heading down pit road.
When we exited onto the track, Roger’s face briefly flushed with concern. “I’m not sure they gave me the go-ahead back there,” he muttered. “The track might not be open right now.”
“Roger,” I replied, “it’s your track.”
“Oh yeah,” he said, and pinned the LF-A’s throttle to the stop, where it mostly stayed for the next fifteen minutes. Roger was a fearless driver who was also capable of holding a conversation as he drove — about his experiences in the Continental Tire Challenge, his vision for his NASA region, his opinions on country music. He struck me as one of these “men’s men” that magazines like Esquire are always trying to teach their readers how to emulate. He was bold but not reckless, confident but not foolish, friendly but very reserved. He didn’t exaggerate his accomplishments or qualifications, because he didn’t have to. He didn’t brag; didn’t even humblebrag. When you’re worth more money than Walter White ever buried in a desert, you don’t need to. As a driving instructor, I didn’t see much to criticize in the way he went around his own track.
When we returned to the pits, he agreed to some further correspondence regarding NASA racing and his future plans to run Rolex GT. Unfortunately, I was hospitalized with pneumonia shortly after my return to Ohio. By the time I was well enough to talk to Roger, he was gone, found dead in his hotel room after a Conti-Challenge race in which he finished 11th. He was a racer, an enthusiast, a car guy, without an ounce of pretense in his bones. In other words, he was one of us, and I’m sorry he’s gone. Roger, the next toast we raise the night before a race will be to you.