No, that's not just some fancy line of BS from a cowboy president in a flight suit. This was an actual mission that really was accomplished and completed this past Saturday night. The mission was to take the points championship at Midvale Speedway once again.
This mission started right after the last race of the 2007 season and it involved a veteran racer that was just not content with his performance towards the end of that season. I honestly don't know of anybody that could have done any better with the equipment he had. As a matter of fact there were plenty of guys behind him each week that would be glad to trade finishes with him, but that wasn't the point. This guy is used to success, and his history proves it. No, he doesn't have to win every week to be happy, but he demands of himself that he's capable of those wins when things go right. Unlike many, he doesn't simply throw money at a problem to fix it, or drop the car off at some other shop to have the best stuff built. Mike does it "old school" with plenty of hard work, and the attitude it takes to look for improvements each week with the equipment he already has . That's a real racer in my book, and that's one of the reasons that I was more than happy to join him a few years ago. Sure it was strange at first trying to learn this asphalt stuff and compare it to what I grew up with, but the learning has actually become fun, and for some reason I love a good challenge. Some of those challenges can be pretty damn frustrating at times, but the way they're handled can be the difference between a racer and a guy with a race car, if you know what I mean. I've dealt with both over the years, and I can tell you the difference often shows up on the track for all to see. There's simply no doubt which category Mike Miller falls into.
Anyway, back to that damn mission. The car was stripped to a bare chassis right after the last race of the '07 season so that it could be taken to the chassis builder. The front and rear clips were replaced to repair the damage from a sometimes violent season, and a couple changes were made for setup options. While most racers were enjoying some down time over the winter, many long hours went into going over every nut, bolt, bracket, joint, mount, bearing, and hose. The engine was freshened up while we worked on getting the car back together. and before we knew it, the racing season was sneaking up quickly. There's no rushing something like this so it was going to be close. The body was finally completed and the vinyl installed just in time for opening day. Since we were starting with basically a new version of the same car he's run for years, we figured we'd be safe simply using familiar setups and all would be fine. That would bring us to our first challenge. The car simply wouldn't turn in the middle and had no bite coming off the corners. We chased that problem for weeks trying several things that weren't even in the same ball park as Mike was used to using. Finally it was clear that a test day was needed to sort things out. One Friday trip to the track with plenty of options in the parts pile, we found that bite we were looking for. Hell we found enough bite to rip the trailing arm mount right off the car! The problem in the middle of the corner was better but still not quite gone yet. The rest of the season we spent trying even more strange ideas to "cure" that problem, while still remaining competitive each week. Lap times were usually pretty good, and at times they were damn fast, and before long Mike found himself with the points lead. Until very late in the season he had no finishes outside the top 4, and even though everything wasn't perfect, it was pretty hard to complain too much. With the weekly wreckfest at Midvale it was tough just bringing the car home in one piece, and that's another area where Mike shines. I've seen many guys over the years that were great at missing the ugliness in front of them, but this 53 year old fella has the reflexes of a 16 year old kid on meth! ;-) He proved that again last night, and that's the stuff that wins championships even more than feature wins.
With the tight points race in the final weeks that word "conservative" got tossed around alot. Anybody watching all the changes made to the car every night might not see that conservative thing going on though. That was simply a search for that extra something that would make the car better, and we always kept a backup plan handy just in case. For the final points race a completely different setup that none of us are familiar was in place for hot laps, with the thought that we'd probably quickly revert back to something more common. That wasn't the case and that trial setup lasted all night with great results. With the feature being 50 laps and a real chance for trouble by starting deep in the field, the points championship was still up in the air when the green flag dropped. As expected, the destruction started early and happened often. At one point just a few laps into the race, I was sure Mike's night was done and the points battle lost when the backstretch was cluttered with bent up spinning cars, but he came through the smoke cloud without a scratch. That was just one of many bullets the would dodge before the field was thinned down enough that he could get up on the wheel and get busy. Around lap 28 that time came and he headed to the front. The plan wasn't really to win the race, just focus on a strong finish, but you know how that goes when a racer can see the front of the pack. The final laps had him racing door to door for second while on the bumper of the leader. At the stripe he was scored 3rd, but more importantly he'd secured yet another points championship. I look at this deal as much more than just another track championship win though. Not only has he proven that he's still "got it" at his age, but he did it with real class. While some others often use their bumpers to pass, Mike does it the hard way and shows respect to every other driver on the track, even some that certainly don't return the favor. He did it without the budget of many dirt Pure Stock teams. He did it by getting his hands dirty all year-round and busting ass in search of any improvement to be found. He won this championship with determination, guts, and good old fashion experience and talent. Now that's a true CHAMPIONSHIP, and I'm more than a little proud to be part of it. What a ride this season has been, but it was more than worth it! As the young folks would say, " You Da Man Mike!!"