JUNIOR MILLER ON TOP OF BUDDING SMT RIVALRY By Matt Kentfield
Title is Another Jewel For The King’s Crown
Before the season even began, Junior Miller was the odds-on favorite for the 2006 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified tour championship.  He won the 2005 title in the series’ inaugural season.  He has more than 140 Modified victories to his name since the first time that he won at Bowman Gray Stadium in 1969.  Bowman Gray is also Junior’s house now, as he became the all-time winningest driver at the historic quarter-mile earlier this season.
After all, you don’t get a nickname like the “King of the Southern Modifieds” for nothing.

But this season, a formidable foe stepped up to the plate to give the veteran all he could handle.  Tim Brown, a multiple-time Bowman Gray champion in his own right, stepped up his program and his #83 Hayes Jewelers SMT entry battled with Miller neck-and-neck until the final lap in the series’ final event last Saturday at Southern National Speedway (NC).

In the end, Miller held his title of “The King.”  His series-high six wins, plus nine top-fives and 11 top-10s earned him enough points to edge Brown.  Brown went into the final race at Southern National four points ahead of Miller,
Tim Brown (left) and Junior Miller (right) kept it civil during their battle.  (Riggs Racing photo)
but his second-place finish and Miller’s thrilling victory dropped Brown to the runner-up points position.  55-year-old Miller has been winning races and championships throughout the South for years, but he has shown no signs of slowing down just yet.

“As long as these boys give me as good of racecars as we had this year, I might keep racing until I’m 65,” said Miller.  “The racecar wins the races, the driver doesn’t.  The driver might add to it a little bit, but that racecar has to go around the racetrack to win races.  It’s not all driver.”

Whether it was the car or the driver that earned Miller the championship this season, it came by beating a formidable opponent in Brown.  Miller and Brown battled for supremacy all season long, trading the points lead late in the season and having a number of strong battles on the racetrack.  Their on-track feud and war of words on occasions throughout the year indicates that there is quite a rivalry brewing in the SMT ranks between two of the South’s most decorated Modified drivers. 
After all, you don’t get a nickname like the “King of the Southern Modifieds” for nothing.

But this season, a formidable foe stepped up to the plate to give the veteran all he could handle.  Tim Brown, a multiple-time Bowman Gray champion in his own right, stepped up his program and his #83 Hayes Jewelers SMT entry battled with Miller neck-and-neck until the final lap in the series’ final event last Saturday at Southern National Speedway (NC).

In the end, Miller held his title of “The King.”  His series-high six wins, plus nine top-fives and 11 top-10s earned him enough points to edge Brown.  Brown went into the final race at Southern National four points ahead of Miller, but his second-place finish and Miller’s thrilling victory dropped Brown to the runner-up points position.  55-year-old Miller has been winning races and championships throughout the South for years, but he has shown no signs of slowing down just yet.

“As long as these boys give me as good of racecars as we had this year, I might keep racing until I’m 65,” said Miller.  “The racecar wins the races, the driver doesn’t.  The driver might add to it a little bit, but that racecar has to go around the racetrack to win races.  It’s not all driver.”
Junior Miller (#69) and Tim Borwn (#83) fought a close championship battle right down to the final lap of the final race.
Whether it was the car or the driver that earned Miller the championship this season, it came by beating a formidable opponent in Brown.  Miller and Brown battled for supremacy all season long, trading the points lead late in the season and having a number of strong battles on the racetrack.  Their on-track feud and war of words on occasions throughout the year indicates that there is quite a rivalry brewing in the SMT ranks between two of the South’s most decorated Modified drivers. 

The two share a sponsor, Hayes Jewelers, but beyond that, they share respect for one another.  Therefore, Miller insists that there is no real rivalry between the two.

“There’s no rivalry between us,” said Miller.  “We’ve got the same sponsors, so we don’t need to wreck one another because we’re both sponsored by the same people.  I’ve got Advance Auto Parts and two or three more sponsors, too. 
“The only bad race we had was Martinsville,” said Miller.  “We went up there and had a good racecar.  We had a bad qualifying lap and started in the back.  We got through one bad wreck on lap four, but on lap nine we got collected in a wreck.  We had a 103 point lead, but we came out of there with only a 40 or 50 point lead (as Brown was the highest-finishing SMT driver in the combination event with the Northern Whelen Modified Tour.) 

“From then on, we went a little bit downhill, even though we’ve won a couple of races since then.  The real bad luck was in Martinsville, though.  If we didn’t have that happen there, then we wouldn’t have had to race so hard (at Southern National).”
“I’m still heartbroken and I’m still pissed off at the moment, but when I get back to the motel room and get something to eat, I know I’ll say that this was just our second season doing this,” said Brown before departing the Southern National infield Saturday night.  “That sucker’s been doing it for 40 years.  To almost beat him for the points, yeah that’s a good season and I’m proud of it. 

“But I’m a very competitive racer, so second doesn’t cut it.  Monday morning, we’re going to start building stuff for next year and try to be better and I think we will be.”

Miller may have dominated many of the races on the Southern Modified circuit this season, he still found himself in a hole going into the final race.  Six wins weren’t enough to clinch a second-straight SMT title going into Southern National.  Several mid-season parts failures and crashes, combined with consistent strong finishes by Brown, who never finished outside the top-10 all season, set the stage for a memorable battle in the final race.
“The bottom line is I don’t care if it’s Colonel Sanders out there, when we put the helmet on we’re going out there to win the race.  It don’t matter to me who it is that we’re racing against, I’m going after that checkered flag.”

Colonel Sanders may have had something for Miller if he were still alive, but Tim Brown gave Miller all he could handle up until the checkered flag flew at Southern National.  After losing the race lead in lapped traffic late in the race to Miller, then giving “The King” one last shot in the bumper to make a move for the lead, Brown proved that he had enough gusto to win the championship, but he still came up just short.

“I did everything I could do to get back up to him so I could bump him and move him or whatever I could do,” said Brown of his last-lap battle with Miller at Southern National.  “But he’s a hell of a racecar driver and that’s a hell of a race team.  I knew at the beginning of the night he’d have a car to beat.  We worked really hard on ours to get it as best we could and I honestly think we had the better car, things just didn’t go our way.”

After the race, Brown was disappointed with finishing second once again to his closest competitor.
Junior Miller in his office
In the end, Miller secured his second-straight NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour championship. It didn’t come easy, but the veteran got his second-straight SMT title to go in his trophy case along with his 14 other Modified championships ranging from the now-defunct SMART tour and Bowman Gray track championships.  One thing that has remained constant throughout the years, though, is that Miller can get the job done behind the wheel, even if he still points all the credit to his #69 car and his Riggs Racing team.

“I wanted to win it for these boys real bad.  They gave me 110% this year and I gave them 110 percent and we’ve had a good year.  I wanted to do it for them.  I’ve won enough championships.  You don’t ever quit trying, but I wanted to do it for them more than anything.”





Junior Miller