- American Joel Miller is on the Road to Indy
(photo: John R. Walker)
Without farm machinery, Joel Miller might not have been introduced to the racing world. Joel’s grandfather, Bob Burns, had a wide variety of farm equipment situated on his alfalfa ranch in Lucerne Valley, California. As a youngster, Joel was always impressed with his grandfather’s ability to maneuver the equipment around the property. When Joel was about five years old, Bob allowed his grandson to operate some of the heavy-machinery. At first, the routine involved grandpa running the pedals and Joel steering. It wasn’t that Joel couldn’t operate the pedals, he simply couldn’t reach them and even if he could, he just didn’t have the weight to utilize the pedals efficiently. At age seven, Joel was finally able to reach the pedals and had just enough strength to push in the clutch – so Bob allowed him to take sole control. Miller started with a small plow but was soon operating an eight-wheel earth mover, all by himself. He learned quickly and took the reins without a second thought and grandpa took notice.
Burns had been involved with go-kart racing during the late 1970s. Joel’s uncles traveled around the United States and competed in various racing series for quite a few years. After stepping away from the sport for a time, Bob decided to get back into it after randomly coming across a small go-kart shop in Arizona. He knew that Joel could operate large farm equipment with relative ease, so he figured why not let him try his hand at go-kart racing. He purchased the kart, loaded it up, and brought it home for Joel.
In the fall of 1996, Joel (8 years old) and his grandfather began making trips to Adams Kart Track in California for testing purposes. Just like everything else he had ever driven, Joel adapted to a racing kart quickly. Bob’s intuitions about Joel’s talent were very real. Less than a year later, Miller entered his first go-kart race, an IKF (International Karting Federation) event in Parris, California. He finished second. The very next season, 1998, Joel was crowned the IKF California State Champion at only ten years of age. It was clear that he had natural ability behind-the-wheel and by this time, he was hooked. Miller had officially been bit by the racing bug.
“There was no real decision about whether or not I wanted to race,” said Miller when asked about how he got his start in racing. “It was what I was good at. Some kids are good at various sports like soccer, baseball, football, etc., but in my case it was driving.”
- Joel Miller
Joel’s championship winning season in 1998 was just the start. Since making his racing debut in 1997, the Hesperia, California native has gone on to win more than 92 main events behind-the-wheel of a kart or formula car. He has won seven major championships.
Miller’s racing career hasn’t been perfect though. He’s had his share of ups-and-downs, including a serious accident in 1999. He missed the first half of the 1999 season after suffering a complete laceration of his liver following a crash at the start of the season. The injuries were so severe that he was induced into a coma to aide his recovery. Strangely enough, he continued racing that fall, unfazed and won the 1999 SKUSA SuperNationals in the Junior 60cc division.
In 2002 after earning a few more karting championships, Joel, at age 13, decided to make the transition to cars by training with PR1’s Bobby Oergel in a Formula Ford racecar. Meanwhile, he continued to develop his craft by competing in go-karts where he graduated to the Senior Intercontinental A (ICA) direct-drive class. In 2004, he won his first-ever car race in the Pacific F2000 series while competing at California Speedway for PR1 Motorsport. Unfortunately, due to funding woes, Joel was forced to withdraw, despite leading the drivers’ championship. During this period he remained active by competing in the Stars of Karting series as a privateer, working with his father Jack and tuner Seth Nash. That winter, he had the opportunity to get back into car racing by competing in the Skip Barber Western Regional Championship event at Mazda Raceway – Laguna Seca. He won the race.
- Tony Kart Factory Driver
In 2005, he continued his karting efforts and gained international exposure after being signed as a factory Tony Kart driver halfway through the season. Red Bull Racing also took notice as Joel was a finalist in the 2005 Red Bull North American Driver Search. He concluded the 2005 karting season by capturing the Stars of Karting (ICA) Western Division National Championship and subsequently earned the $25,000 Jim Truman Scholarship for outstanding performance.
The 2006 season was a bit of a break-out year for the California native. Miller continued his dominance in the ICA ranks by winning the Stars of Karting Eastern Division Championship and the overall National Championship. That fall, he was awarded a fully-funded ride in the 2007 Skip Barber National Championship for his season performance. He also dabbled in a front-engine USAC Ford Focus Midget by running a one-off Trophy Dash in Blythe, California – he won in his debut.
By this time, at age 19, Joel’s career was really on a roll thanks to all the scholarship support. He put his Skip Barber opportunity to good use by winning five of twelve events en route to winning the overall National Championship. Still competing in karts and developing as a driver, he won the 2007 Florida Winter Tour and the TaG-Senior division in the SKUSA SuperNationals. Team USA Scholarship founder Jeremy Shaw took notice of Joel’s performances and subsequently awarded him with the prestigious Team USA Scholarship at the end of the 2007 racing season. The program took him overseas to compete in the Formula Palmer Audi Championship where he finished 7th.
- Miller’s Indy Lights debut at Long Beach
Thanks to his performance in the 2007 Skip Barber National Championship, Joel was awarded a fully-funded ride in the 2008 Star Mazda Championship as part of the MazdaSPEED Driver Development Program. The scholarship was valued at approximately $350,000. He finished 2nd in the 2008 drivers’ championship – just missing a fully-funded Atlantic Championship ride. In 2009, he decided to return to Star Mazda with hopes of getting another scholarship. Unfortunately, he was competing on a shoe-string budget and ended the year ranked fifth.
This pretty much brings us up-to-date (2010). Joel is currently working hard to come up with the necessary funding for a ride in Firestone Indy Lights – the feeder series to IndyCar. With the help of several businesses, Joel was able to make his debut in a Indy Lights car at Long Beach. He finished 11th in his first race with minimal experience behind-the-wheel. He is now working on putting together enough funding to compete in the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom-100 at Indianapolis. The event is run during the same weekend as the Indy 500.
Utilizing a unique marketing idea, Joel has created a website entitled JMillerIndy.com which offers fans the chance to donate as little as $10 in order to become a key sponsor – helping Joel get back in an Indy Lights car for the May 28, 2010 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Read the interview with Joel Miller after the jump.