Sometimes careers evolve over decades of careful planning, and sometimes they come to fruition organically. Either way, being open to opportunity can help create valuable experiences along the way, and renowned tuner Jamie Miller made sure he walked through every door that opened in front of him. Now, he’s elevating his employment to a whole new level as his son, John, follows in his footsteps.
Back when Jamie, now 45, was still in high school in Connecticut, he and his friends used to mess around with their cars in their home garages.
“I wasn’t necessarily into drag racing, but I had a ’72 Chevelle and liked working on it,” he explained of his early days. The hobby eventually led to him getting a job, as a friend of his who had a circle track car—and crashed it—connected Jamie with the fabricator in charge of repairs in the mid ‘90s. “I wound up working there off and on for almost fifteen years, building circle track Northeast Dirt Modifieds and even some bobsleds for the USA Olympic team.”
Jamie moved on to start his own chassis shop to build drag cars, Miller Race Cars, around ’02 and employed a small team of guys. He raced some Outlaw 10.5 and Super Street Outlaw, and learned what he could from guys like Mike Murillo and Job Spetter Jr. Working mostly on small tire projects and focusing on the F-body and Mustang markets, Jamie actually had an early brush with stardom in an infamous episode of Pinks in ’06.
Thanks to a connection made by Nate Pritchett, Jamie got in touch with producer and host of the show, Rich Christensen. Instead of his Outlaw 10.5 ’95 Camaro, driven by Ray Johnson, the two decided that Jamie would build a 10-second car instead. The costs were shared among a group of individuals, ownership was syndicated, and it was settled that—if they won—both cars would be sold and the profits split. The process received tons of publicity, and Jamie was blown away by it all.
Fast forward to go time, and Jamie arrived in Arizona with his new ’68 Nova as well as his old Camaro. With no prior testing, it was a dicey gamble to run his race against Trevin Lindsay.
“Well, we lost… and we lost the Nova. We were all devastated,” shared Jamie. However, fate threw an interesting twist his way as another man who was supposed to be racing had mechanical issues and asked to buy Jamie’s Camaro as a replacement. “We agreed that he would buy it, Ray would drive it, and I’d tune it… and we wound up winning—a ’72 Nova of all cars—and redeemed ourselves! It was the craziest thing, the lowest of lows and the highest of highs all in one day.”
By ’08, Jamie had transitioned into working at Dennis MacPherson’s DMC Racing in Massachusetts. There, he got hooked up with Outlaw 10.5 racer Janos Enos and his beautiful ’67 Mustang. Long story short, the car had been built elsewhere, but was brought to DMC for updates and installation of its new Pro Line Racing engine package. When it was finished and finally a turn-key race car, Enos was eager to get going and looked for people to help… and he hit it off with Jamie.
“So, we started racing a little, and Steve Petty would come tune,” Jamie recalled of the days way back when. Since Petty was busy racing as well, and working with other heavy hitters like Tim Lynch, Jamie was often on call for tuning duty. “We would go testing, I’d send the data to Petty, and we would constantly work together to share data.”
Jamie and Petty developed a solid friendship, and, when Enos cut back on racing a few years later, Petty reached out to offer Jamie an opportunity to tune cars for Pro Line Racing in ‘11.
“The shop was growing and I didn’t know if I could make a living doing that, but I knew I couldn’t pass it up,” Jamie proclaimed.
Incredibly, Jamie’s first official gig at PLR was one of epic proportions—he had to go to Bahrain to work with the Q80 Racing Team.
“I’d never flown anywhere by myself, never even been out of the country—but here I was, traveling halfway around the world. It was absolutely nuts,” he laughed. The trip itself happened to take place during a time of political unrest, and Jamie vividly recalls driving through a huge protest while trying to get to the airport and having tear gas bombs shot at his car. “I started going back every winter a few years later though and haven’t had any issues since—they’re really great people over there.”
As Petty was primarily overseeing the Pro Mods, Jamie mostly managed small-tire and radial cars in the beginning, and had a hand in DeWayne Mills’s budding radial program while working with Tim Davis. One of his most memorable moments in his illustrious career to date, actually, was helping Mills to get the Radial vs the World win at No Mercy 7 in 2016.
“He calls that race his nemesis—he had always had trouble there—so to finally get the win, it was very emotional,” Jamie shared.
Around ’14, Jamie also began working with Pro Mod driver Michael Biehle and his ’13 Mustang. The two completed their first full season together in ’15 and captured the NMCA VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod championship that very same year. After, the men decided to move to NHRA Pro Mod.
“Michael was Rookie of the Year in 2016, finished fourth overall in points, and qualified for every race—it was pretty bad ass,” added Jamie, who stayed on with Biehle for three more years.
Since his first overseas foray, Jamie’s career as a tuner with PLR grew rapidly and he is now known as one of the most respected in the world. In addition to Enos and Biehle, he’s had the honor of working with other huge names such as EKanoo Racing, Ken Quartuccio, Manny Buginga, Joe Copson, and even tuned Ryan Martin on his way to his No Prep Kings 2019 season championship.
“Back when I first started, I was the fabrication and suspension guy. If you had asked me ten years ago today if I thought I’d be doing what I am today, I’d have said ‘no,’” confessed Jamie, who worked many odd jobs throughout his motorsports career, all of which helped develop his knowledge to better prepare him for his job as a tuner. “A lot of guys know the computer, but they don’t know the car front to back, and there are certain things you just can’t fix with a laptop.”
Fully comprehending the intricacies of a race car and understanding how all of its systems not only interact, but effect one another, has proven to be a competitive advantage for Jamie and has set him apart from other tuners. Knowing that, Jamie has made it a point to educate his son, John, and instill in him the same mechanical foundation that he received himself.
The educational process starts at home, and Jamie actually has his own small shop out back where he has a Pro Mod on a chassis table.
“I’ve taught my son to weld and the fundamentals of chassis fabrication, but it’s important to me for him to learn from as many other people as he possibly can,” said the proud father of how his son, 19, has shown a tremendous talent already. “Tim [Davis] has been instrumental in teaching my son a bunch, and John has also worked with Chris Foster and Craig Pettis [both of PLR] with the GALOT team.”
John has been around racing most of his life, thanks to his father’s involvement, and was even learning the ropes by helping to line up cars when he was only about ten years old. Jamie doesn’t want John to just be a keyboard jockey, he wants him to know cars front to back and every inch in between.
Recently, Jamie has been working with FuelTech customer Buginga on his NMRA VP Racing Madditives Street Outlaw program and with Pro Line Racing customer Jeff Rudolf on his NMCA VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod team, and John comes along to lend a hand. He’s also had opportunities to work with Mark Woodruff, and soaks up and knowledge that Steve Petty is willing to share when he’s around as well.
“It’s awesome that Petty spends time with him. The guy that taught me is now doing the same for my son, and it’s so cool for me to see that,” said Jamie, grateful to his mentor and glad to be able to work alongside, and travel with, his son.
It isn’t just family that inspires Jamie to share, as that’s been a key part of his personal program since day one, and a big part of the day-to-day operations at Pro Line Racing, period.
“The strategy there that Eric [Dillard] focuses on is that we all work closely together–myself, Steve Petty, Brandon Stroud… everyone’s got their core guys and their fallback guys, but we all work together and having the right people around really helps,” Jamie stated of the teamwork that goes into the race teams’ successes.
While being well-rounded is certainly crucial, Miller still understands the importance of having a specialty. For him, although he really enjoys the big-tire Pro Mods, it’s the small-tire and radial racing stuff that truly piques his interest.
“When you pull a Pro Mod up and notice something about the track, you can make adjustments to the car on the starting line like setting the wheelie bars or dropping the tire pressure,” he explained. “With a radial car, you can’t do that. You’ve got to have it all decided on and set in stone before you pull into the water box, and that strategy and mindset is really interesting to me.”
Putting his racers’ successes first is always priority number one for Jamie, who never loses sight of the fact that he is at the track to do a job.
“I really hate it when people think I’m standoffish, because I’m busy working and trying to stay focused,” he openly admitted. “I don’t want them to thing I’m being cold–I actually want more people to get into this sport!”
Jamie often feels the burden of having the pressure to perform falling squarely on his shoulders. As a tuner, he’s got to think through each and every decision or change and consider how it can potentially make or break a run. And, if he’s managing multiple cars at once race, making a change on one means quickly rushing to address the others, depending on how the first worked out.
“It’s definitely stressful,” he laughed. “Buddies of mine who aren’t involved in racing think I have the best job in the world, and yeah it’s cool, but there’s a lot of unseen obligation involved.”
The stress isn’t limited to just the events themselves, though, as Jamie often finds himself on the road for weeks on end.
“It’s hard to maintain a life when you’re living like that. I’m always gone on weekends, so my actual weekend is basically Monday through Wednesday, if I’m home,” he detailed of the hectic schedule required of someone of his caliber. “I’ve got four kids and my wife is home. I want to be there with them at the house, but I have to work.”
Even with the drawbacks, Jamie’s will to win is stronger than ever.
“There is absolutely nothing better than putting your finger up in the winner’s circle, and that’s my drive every day,” he said adamantly. “I love going out there with a customer and running better or being more consistent, making improvements…”
That constant challenge of chasing the next big milestone motivates Jamie, and the next target in his sights is the Sweet 16 3.0 race at South Georgia Motorsports Park in March of 2020 [author’s note: due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the race has since been postponed until October].
“I’ve won Radial vs the World and Pro 275 at the same race, but it would be cool to sweep all three classes,” he outlined of his short-term goals, which include the X275 category.
Looking ahead to his more long-term future, though, Jamie fully intends to scratch another big item off his racing bucket list–winning an NHRA Wally trophy in Pro Mod.
“I’ve won Wallys overseas, but never from an NHRA Pro Mod race… and I want it,” he asserted. “I’ve won an NMCA VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod championship [with Biehle] and four championships in NMCA Mickey Thompson Radial Wars [with Keith Berry twice, DeWayne Mills, and Josh Klugger] so I’m not making light of that, but an NHRA win has eluded me.”
Despite the fairly unexpected start to his career, Jamie’s professionalism and willingness to say ‘yes’ to opportunities and learning experiences has served him well. In a relatively short amount of time, he has mastered multiple different power adders and different EFI systems, and racked up countless high-profile wins to become one of drag racing’s most respected tuners. Jamie shown that he can–and will–do it all, and now he’s making it even more remarkable by doing it with his son by his side.