MILLER SHOWS TRUE GRIT WHILE SEARCHING FOR IMPROVEMENT
LAS VEGAS, Oct. 10, 1998 -- Jack Miller, the racing dentist, spends a lot of time gritting his teeth at racetracks.
Dr. Jack, as he is known in the racing community and by a half-million children around America, has been loyal to the Nissan Infiniti engine through two years of racetrack development in Pep Boys Indy Racing League competition.
"I just want to have a chance to win," he said. "A lot of times I've left the track totally dejected, but I've kept it to myself. I've had some real good times with Nissan and some real bad times."
One of the best times came in qualifying for the Indy 500 last May when Miller placed his Crest Racing Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone in 15th position as the only Infiniti to make the 33-car starting field. But a broken header 40 laps into the race when he was still running on the lead lap removed his chance for a good finish.
Still, neither Nissan nor Dr. Jack has given up.
As the third Indy Racing League season reaches its conclusion with running of the Las Vegas 500K on Sunday afternoon, both the engine manufacturer and the driver have shown improvement. Infiniti claimed its highest finish, a fourth by Roberto Guerrero, in the last race at Texas, and Miller placed ninth at Charlotte after 13 consecutive races out of the top 10.
The Oldsmobile Aurora engine has won all 18 Pep Boys IRL races since the league introduced its normally aspirated engine formula in January 1997.
"A lot of people think I'm just too polite, too much of a nice guy," Dr. Jack said. "At first, a lot of people thought I was just a dentist out there playing around. I don't give up. I can be a real SOB if I need to be.
"Nissan has made tremendous gains, but they've had major failures, too. They weren't giving up either. When they started making more horsepower, they cared about the reliability, too. It's been frustrating, but I still can see the light at the end of tunnel."
Marty Fiolka, Nissan's representative on the IRL circuit, said that from his perspective Miller has been a great person to have in the car. He also said Nissan appreciates that Dr. Jack, and car owners Jeff Sinden and Joe Kennedy have remained loyal to the engine firm. In three races this year, Miller was the only driver in a car powered by an Infiniti.
Another example of that loyalty was provided this weekend when the Sinden Racing Service-Crest Racing crew voted to forfeit their 1998 prize money to compete in this event. The team originally had sponsorship for just 10 races but wanted to continue its development of the Nissan engine.
"There has been so much progress with the Infiniti engine," Kennedy said. "We have worked really hard with Dr. Jack Miller and Crest Racing. I'm proud of the entire team for sticking together."
Despite problems that dogged the team through the second half of 1997, Miller was optimistic heading into the 1998 campaign. An engine failure in testing at Phoenix dashed his hopes and then in later qualifying he was bumped from the field, the first time he ever had failed to make a race.
"We were committed to sticking with that engine," he said. "There was the greed part. If that engine hit, there would be a 3-4 mph advantage.
"I think driving Nissan helped me and hurt me. As a driver people see me in the middle or back of the pack and say, 'Oh, that's just Jack Miller.' Other people know what I go through. Look what other engines have gone through. Someone has to do the development.
"Until they've sat in my seat they shouldn't make a judgement. They should say, 'This guy's a fighter and he won't give up.'"
Miller has not allowed his frustration to deter him from presenting his children's dental clinics regularly at racing sites and elsewhere around the country for his Crest sponsor. He was contracted to talk to 250,000 kids, but has doubled that total this year.
Dr. Jack avers that he will be in the IRL next season -- "I love the IRL" -- and will be riding on Firestone tires. He isn't ready to confirm the chassis, engine or sponsor situation yet. After Vegas - wife Elizabeth, his parents, four brothers and sister all were on hand for the race - the team will take a week off, then sit down and decide on the complete package for 1999.
"Next year, I want to leave the racetrack saying that if I didn't win it was because Jack Miller didn't do a good job, and not if he had this or had that," he said. "If I can't have that, there's no reason for me to race anymore."
Dr. Jack's qualifying day was typical of his season. He spun in morning practice, took a couple of warmup laps but then pulled off without taking the green flag for a speed run. He parked the car at the end of the line only to pass on a second run and accepted a last-row starting position. He will start 28th.
He just gritted his teeth and prepared for better things during the race Sunday.