RACING AROUND: Miller is making his mark
The dates June 26 and 27 must be special for sportsman driver A.J. Miller.
On June 27, 2019, Miller picked up his first career sportsman victory at Fulton Speedway.
Last Friday, June 26, Miller made the two-hour haul to Susquehanna, Pennsylvania and brought home his initial sportsman feature win from Penn Can Speedway.
“It felt good to get the job done especially against those Pennsylvania guys,” Miller said. “They want to win just as much as the next guy and you have to want it more. We struggled the first two weeks there but I think we got the car figured out and have it dialed in. We got it done against those guys and they are tough to beat.”
Due to mandates for the COVID-19 Pandemic, finding places to race early this season has been a challenge for all the race teams and when some of the Pennsylvania tracks opened, Miller and the Pioneer Windows team jump at the opportunity.
“We had been trying to figure out some place to race especially with Fulton and Brewerton not open and Afton is closed,” Miller said. “I have raced at Penn Can before and I like racing there. It seemed like a logical answer to head down there to see if we could compete with those guys and see how we could do. Apparently we did pretty good. With the virus and stuff, trying to find a place in New York to race has been tough. It just seemed logical to go down there.”
With some of the virus mandates being eased in Phase 4 and the tracks in New York starting to open, the schedule for the 14J team is starting to get hectic.
“A couple weeks ago we ran Friday at Penn Can, Saturday at Thunder Mountain and Sunday at Utica,” Miller said. “Last week we ran again at Penn Can, and won, then we had a big DIRT Series races at Land of Legends [Canandaigua]. Wednesday we have a race at CanAm, which is another DIRT series race then back to Penn Can on Friday and Saturday at Thunder Mountain.”
Hitting as many of the DIRT Series events is a goal for the 19-year-old sportsman pilot.
“We are going to continue to run the DIRT Series and try to get up there higher in the series points,” he said. “We will continue to run Penn Can and we have talked about running the Southern Tier a few times with the 358 modified but we are not sure right now. We need to get our cars in order.”
After starting out in go-karts in 2005 and moving up to the 600CC XCel modifieds, Miller made the jump to the sportsman division in 2016.
“Friday nights were good nights for us at Afton because we ran the 600 and the sportsman before going to Fonda on Saturday or Utica on Sunday,” he said.
A Fultonville resident, Miller lives within earshot of both Fonda Speedway and Glen Ridge Motorsports Park, but has opted to take to the road to race at Afton, Fulton, Utica-Rome and Weedsport on a regular basis.
“I love traveling,” he said. “I live near Fonda Speedway but I am not one of those guys who can go 10 minutes from home every week and only run that track. I love to travel and get out on the road. I think it makes you a better driver and when you come back to these places, like Fonda or Glen Ridge, which is five minutes from my house, you are a better driver and you know more about racing.”
Miller has benefited from the experience of his mentor, four-time Fulton Speedway modified track champion Dale Planck, who also piloted a small-block modified for the Pioneer Windows race team.
“Dale has been a big help,” Miller said. “His son, Brandon. is a engineer and started his own business along side his father called DIG Race products. They started out building miscellaneous parts that made the cars a little bit better and a little bit faster. They also offered consulting as to how to set up your car for a track, especially Dale. He would tell a driver if he was missing the boat a little bit. They eventually turned it into a shock business. They started building their own shocks and got them approved. That is what we run on our car. They are awesome. Dale has a lot of wins at a lot of tracks and is not afraid to tell you if you are not hitting it right. There is nothing better than having someone there that is able to tell you what is going wrong and how to fix it. He has been there for all my wins and helped me through my highs and lows in racing. You can’t buy experience but you can surround yourself with experience if you want to learn.”
Like Planck, Miller is a hands-on driver.
“I am not one of those guys who can sit in a chair and watch other people work on the car,” he said. “I need to get in there and work on it. I think it actually makes you a better driver. I do the weekly maintenance and wash the cars. Dad [Eric Miller] comes in and does the tires and when my girlfriend [Brianna Sprague] is around she gets just as greasy as I am from working on the racecars.”
Miller is also helped on the cars by crew members Rick Allen, Rich Christman, Dale and Brandon Planck, Steve Williams and “a lot of other guys who have come over from Dale’s team have stepped up to help out.”
Miller recently graduated from Fulton-Montgomery Community College where he focused earned a degree in Construction Technology and took business classes.
“I am fortunate that my dad lets me take this much time off from working with him to work on the cars,” he said. “But most of the time when I am working with him I do some of the engineering drawings for the doors and windows.”
Miller thanks and pointed out that his sponsors, Pioneer Window Mfg., DIG Race Products, NH Kelman Inc., Bill Lake Modular Homes, Henry’s Exhaust, Kennedy Architectural, Sowle Hardware and Tractor Trailer Repair, Miller Fabrication and JR Enterprises are essential in the teams success.
The $10,000-to-win, Bob Hilbert Sportswear Short Track Super Series (STSS) Fueled By Sunoco Fuccillo Automotive Group ‘Firecracker 50’ scheduled for Wednesday night at Fonda Speedway was rained out.
The race, plus the scheduled 25-lap, $2,000-to-win for the STSS 602 crate sportsman division has been rescheduled for Sunday.
Racing returns Saturday night for a full regular card of racing.