Mark Miller -- from finance expert to professional rally driver
Wolfsburg (14 December 2009). Mark Miller has been a member of the Volkswagen factory team since 2005. The American made his mark at the Dakar Rally with an impressive performance in the cockpit of the Race Touareg, narrowly missed victory in 2009 and is one of the most versatile characters in the brands line-up. A portrait of the former finance manager who became a professional cross country rally driver.
Mark Miller's history is verges on the unbelievable: A finance manager who gives up his career to ride in motorbike rallies? An American who has become an ambassador of Volkswagen TDI technology in the home of V8 gasoline engines? A professional sportsmen who, at 47 years of age, is better than ever before and who trains with the same fitness team as the German national football team?
Two careers in job and sport
All this applies to Mark Miller. The American, born in 1962 in Phoenix, Arizona USA, initially pursued a career outside motorsport. He completed his study of financial sciences at the Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Science degree. As President of the financial adviser's Mikles Miller Management as well as the financial broker Mikles Miller Securities and as manager of the Kodiak Capital hedge fund he pursued a career in the 1990s as a self-employed consultant in the finance world.
Miller showed an interest in motorsport at an early age: In 1979, at the age of 17, he contested a SCORE Off-road competition on a motorbike. In the 1990s he competed in the NASCAR Truck series Ultra Wheels, drove Buggies in the SCORE series and led various motorbike competitions. With success: In 1999 he won the silver medal in his class at the international six-day race in Portugal. In 2002 - Miller was already 39 years old - he made his debut in the Dakar Rally and won the Trophy Class. In parallel he contested the hardest off-road competition in the USA. In 2003 and 2004 he won the high-calibre Trophy Truck Class in the famous Baja 1000. "Those are the two greatest victories in my career up to now," judges Miller. His mentor at that time was Larry Ragland, with five wins one of two record holders in the Baja 1000. "He explained everything to me - from the tactics of driving to the fundamental strategy. Only after I'd been a passenger in his pre-runner training vehicle for eight times was I actually allowed to drive it myself!"
Miller has been an asset to the Volkswagen team since 2005, and is also a member of a factory team for the first time. During this time he been on a constant upward curve through the leader board: In 2006 he finished the rally in fifth place, 2007 in fourth and best Volkswagen driver. The event was cancelled in 2008, in 2009 he was second a mere 8 minutes 59 seconds behind the winner. "I'm still young," he commented half disappointed and half optimistic over the result in January. This leads to only one end for 2010 - to target victory. "Victory is always the goal," emphasises Miller. "However, the Dakar Rally is very special. All I can do is prepare myself so that it will be my year."
Meticulous sporting preparation and varied interests
The sportsman from the south-western US state of Arizona leaves nothing to chance in his preparations. He does his training programme at Athletes Performance in Phoenix. The brains behind the company is Mark Verstegen who prepared the German national football team for the World Cup at his studios between 2004 and 2006. Tennis players such as Jennifer Capriati and many athletes from US professional leagues train at this facility. "After you've been there once you possess greater abilities," paraphrases Miller.
In addition to his studio training Miller prefers to use his local environment for sport: In the meantime cycling - either mountain or road - consumes an even larger part of his sporting workload. Several times each year he completes his cycle training together with professional tri-athlete Jessi Stensland. "She is super fit and highly motivated," says Miller. Prior to the Silk Way Rally in September, where he was second, he changed his preparation to suit the stress and strains of the Dakar Rally and now trains daily. Yoga is also new to the sportsman's programme who listens to the Beatles (Can't buy me love), Incubus (Drive) and Cake (The distance) on his iPod.
As finance manager the father of two sons has led a refined life, however the physical hardship in his "second life" as sportsman does not scare him. He even escaped unscathed from the greatest motorbike adventures, incredibly he suffered his most serious injury outside motorsport. On his ranch in summer 2004 he fell from a horse breaking a bone in his lower leg and his ankle. "I was fixed up with a plate and eight screws. It's now behind me even though I can't play football since then," he summarises soberly. Among his hobbies are fly-fishing and flying. Whether in the Robinson R44 helicopter or Cirrus SR22 propeller machine: Thanks to his instrument rating Mark Miller is just as experienced on the paddles as in the Volkswagen Race Touareg cockpit.
Mark Miller defines the greatest difficulty in sport so: "To find somebody who believes in something as much as I." To this end he specifies: "Even as factory driver you rely on the energy of other in order to reach the highest level." One person who he can always trust is his co-driver Ralph Pitchford. With the 47-year old South African he recorded his best "Dakar" result since the 2007 season. "Ralph is all business and allows me to do my job in the best way possible," praises Miller.
Successful connection with Volkswagen
Mark Miller is not only connected to Volkswagen through the Dakar Rally. He has already contested the Pikes Peak hill climb and the Baja 1000 using Volkswagen TDI power. Furthermore, he is involved in a pioneering achievement through the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup - the first diesel powered one-make cup in the USA. "I helped to conceive the idea and I oversee the technical operation, the driver training and the operational strategy," says Miller. "We have demonstrated that diesel power is fantastic and represents clean power."
In addition to motorsport and engines there is also an entirely different side to Mark Miller's life. The sportsman stands up for social commitments and supports the facility "Hogar de Los Niños" an orphanage in Mexico. Also on vacation his rhythm does not even reflect his professional life. "Relax, be calm, take a look at everything and meet people," describes the American of his recuperation pace. He names the Kodiak Ranch in Colorado and the Città Alta the principal city of Bergamo in Lombardy as his favourite destinations.
With this mix of globetrotting, sporting ambition, his ability to concentrate, excellent team spirit, years of managerial experience and an impressive sporting career Mark Miller is an unusual and distinctly versatile personality. Since the second place in January 2009 it would certainly not surprise anybody at all if he, with so many strengths, also reaches his next great goal - to win the 2010 Dakar Rally. After all: "I'm still young --"