MORE THAN JUST A DRIVER: BUTCH MILLER by Jim Tretow
New Team Presents New Roles For Former Champ
I caught up with Butch Miller as he was driving his trusty motor home down to Florida, to assist SS Racing's late model program and young Scottish driver John Dalziel (pronounced dee-el). Butch will assist the young crew and spot for the team at events this weekend at Orlando Speedworld and New Smyrna. Butch considers it part of his job with SS Racing to help develop Dalziel and Zach Niessner, who will run eight ASA races this season.
After a strong performance in winning the ASA Racing Series opener at Lakeland (FL) on March 22nd, Butch is the odds-on favorite driver to win the 2003 ASA Championship. No, it's not because he topped the 51SportsRacing.com ASA Most Popular Driver fan survey from last season (Editor's Note: And why not?), it's because of the strength his team showed in the 13 events they ran last season, laying a solid foundation for a full season effort with Indianapolis-based SS Racing.
Last season, the team won their first of three events right out of the box at Butch's home track, Berlin Raceway in Marne (MI). It was the first time Butch drove a Lefthander Chassis too. Credit the solid communication and ASA racecar knowledge of crew chief Deon Deneau for their immediate success.
Deneau possesses the credentials to "spar" with Butch, as a former crew chief for a CASCAR team in Canada and the championship crew chief with Tim Sauter during his 1999 ASA National Championship.
Undoubtedly, Butch Miller is one of the best short track racers in the country. But wouldn't you think after 47 ASA wins and three championships prior to joining SS Racing that Butch would have a rigid way of going about things?
"When it comes to the chassis set-up on the car, Deon and I are on complete opposite ends of the world," Butch shared. "The good part about our relationship is if he doesn't like what I want to do to the car, he'll do it anyhow and see if I like it, and vice versa.
"I'll say, 'Deon you don't need to put that spring over there, that's gonna make the car go slower' but I'll still try it. And quite a few times I'm wrong and it does make the car go better! I don't mind being wrong. If the car goes faster when we're done, I don't mind being wrong at all."
In the off-season, the Timber Wolf Racing-backed team prepared a brand new race car for the 2003 season that saw limited laps in testing at Lanier National Speedway in Georgia prior to the ASA Racing Series opener March 22nd in Lakeland.
Sure, they burn up cell phone minutes talking via the phone, as Butch now lives in North Carolina, but when Butch is at the SS Racing shop, what does he do?
"When I've been to the shop to help prepare the cars, it's not Butch Miller the race driver, it's Butch Miller the fabricator. Whatever Deon says I'll do," Miller said with a smirk.
With SS Racing's plan to run Niessner in eight races and Dalziel in up to four more ASA races this season, I asked Butch if this plan is going to hamper his efforts to win the title.
Without hesitation, Butch answered.
"No, I think it's going to help our program quite a bit," he said. "Helping Zach (who had two ASA starts in 2002) will go more into details of what to look for in an ASA car, not so much in driving. When we go test with Zach, I think that's going to help the 52 team too!"
Zach Niessner is a full-time mechanic in the shop and will get his first shot behind the wheel at Toledo. Dalziel is scheduled to race up to four additional events and will run under Butch's tutelage in select late model events.
Miller was impressive with his win in the ASA opener.
My back-up car is Zach's primary car," Butch admitted. "John's primary car is Zach's back-up. We didn't have time to celebrate after Lakeland. Our third car right now is a bare frame in the shop; there's no rest for us!"
There was no rest for the team after the victory in Lakeland either.
"Our celebration was to get in the car and drive home. We'll have 12 ASA races this season where SS Racing will have two cars in the show. With our third car a bare frame right now, there's no rest for us."
When it comes to the wily veteran helping out other drivers, he enjoys it.
"I like going to the races and helping other drivers. It's a joy. If you can help them a little bit, it's almost like you did it yourself. I feel pretty good about it," Butch said.
Butch's outside pass on Reed Sorenson and Kevin Cywinski at Lakeland for the winning pass was textbook. Look for more calculated, skilled maneuvers from the driver behind the wheel of his familiar #52, as he helps his young teammates while 'schooling' the rest of the ASA Racing Series drivers this season.
Deon Deneau (left) and Butch Miller have worked well together over the last two years.