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Spotlight on Erik Miller

 

By Will Gentile for OffRoadPress.com

“Who is Erik Miller?”  The question asked at the 2010 King of the Hammers finish line, as the gold skinned Miller Motorsports car sat surrounded by race fans, a gleaming Erik Miller sitting in the driver’s seat.  The question begged an answer following the seemingly out of nowhere 5th place finish at the race, the team’s first trip to a desert race, let alone the desert itself to compete.  Following up that year with an Ultra4 International Endurance Championship (IEC) under their belt, the first ever for the racing class, the question would soon be answered.

Erik, co-driver Rob Ruggiero, and their team hail from the Northeast, a long haul from the sands of the Hammers in Johnson Valley, but that would prove to be merely a speed bump as the team rocketed to success following their freshman race effort at the 2009 Rausch Creek Qualifier, where they managed an 8th place finish in Erik’s Jeep, securing them a spot in the 2010 King of the Hammers race.  They would arrive to the Hammers in February in a new to them genuine rock racer created by Twisted Customs, sporting some high horsepower and a suspension worthy of some speed.

Coming at you on the race track, it is normal to midjudge the time in which you have to get out of the way of the Miller Motorsports car, as Erik and Rob absolutely hammer the track on a very fine balance between survivability and complete madness, the worked Schwanke LS3 motor absolutely shouting for everyone to make room as they approach.  I have the bruises on me to prove that the car rearranges terrain with extreme prejudice and won’t hesitate to tag you with a spray of earth if you aren’t in a smart spot. Whoops.  The tally is up to twice, and is no fault but my own.  Respect the power!

Following their series IEC victory, as well as local Line Mountain race series overall championship in 2010, Erik and team Miller Motorsports headed to KOH in 2011 with a new drive to win, and a wave of good momentum to ride.  However luck would not side with them on this bout, with a steering ram separating from the axle and forcing their hand at a long stay in the pits, as well as a damaged steering fitting later on in their day.  They would eventually rally to produce a 14th place finish overall out of 100 teams, securing them a spot in the race the following year, but not without disappointment in their pursuit of first.  In 2012 Erik will return to carry the torch of the east and gun for a first place finish, the #4421 Twisted Customs car outfitted with an all new suspension and attitude, look for him to be a serious contender on race day following the drop of the green flag, and in my case, the spray of terrain.

How long have you been competing in Ultra 4 Racing?  
3 years. Our first race was the 2009 RCQ, where we qualified for KOH 2010 in my Jeep YJ. That race started it all for us.

How long have you been racing?
7 years in motorsports. I began competing in rock crawling events in 2005 with the NEUROC series in the Stock-Modified class. We also competed in the UROC and WEROCK series before transitioning to Ultra4 Racing. I also raced 12 and 24 hour cross-country mountain bike races in high school.

Tell us about your past experiences in the King of the Hammers and where you have finished?
In our freshman effort of 2010, we finished 5th overall. We ran a conservative race and had no major mechanical issues. A flat tire kept us off the podium.

In 2011, we had problems early on. I tagged a rock entering Outer Limits that flattened a tire and broke the steering ram clamp. We were able to make it through the trail to remote pit where we welded the ram to the axle housing and changed the tire. Problems plagued us again on Aftershock when we lost a steering fitting that was damaged previously. We were down for over two hours but still able to manage a respectable 14th place finish.

What’s the attraction to racing of King of the Hammers for you?
Two reasons: competition and spectators.  This is our opportunity to race against the best in the world.  Nothing beats competing in front of a crowd, let alone 30,000 race fans.

What’s your favorite part of the King of the Hammers?
My favorite part of the event is seeing a small city come to life in the middle of the desert. People travel from all over the country and make this one of their annual vacations. Knowing that everyone is there to watch us race is a pretty cool feeling.

How do you physically and mentally prepare for this type of racing?
I like to cross train. Swimming, cycling, running and lifting are all key components of my training regiment. Being fit equates to better focus and decreased fatigue, allowing me to push harder for a longer period of time.

Teamwork is a big part of KOH, Tell us about your team for the King of the Hammers?
I could not run this race without my team. From having a prerunner, to prep, to logistics and planning, they have it covered. Miller Motorsports hails from all over the east coast including MD, VA, PA, NY, NJ and NC. These guys are not only my teammates, but they are also my best friends.

How much does strategy play a part in KOH?
Strategy is huge. You need to know when you are pitting, who is doing what during pits, where your spare parts are, when you can push it, and when to save the car.  All that planning needs to adaptive though, you never know when you are going to completely wreck your steering 30 miles into the race. Strategy saves you time, time wins you races.

What will it take to win the King of the Hammers in 2012?

Winning KOH will take a capable, well-prepared car, backed by a great team in addition to talent, dedication and a little bit of luck.

How much does a car vs. a drivers ability play into winning the King of the Hammers?
KOH is becoming really competitive. People are spending money on some serious rigs that would run circles around the older cars. With endurance racing, there is a balance of going fast and saving the car. The driver’s ability to find this fine line is the difference in winning or losing.

If you had the opportunity to participate in any race in the world, what would it be and why?

The Dakar Rally. Having the chance to run a multiple stage race through different countries would be an amazing experience.  The variety of terrain and challenge from its length is intriguing.

Who is your racing idol and why?
I have a great deal of respect for each and every one of my fellow competitors. Running this race is no small feat and these guys continue to make it happen every year. I look up to a lot of racers, but most notably would be the crew at Campbell Ent. They are not afraid to try something different.  They have built a winning program from scratch and are the epitome of hard work and dedication.

If you had an unlimited budget what would you build to compete in the King of the Hammers?

I would build a car that had the ability to hover!

Do you have any advice to give someone who is aspiring to race the King of the Hammers?
Get out there and race locally.  There are smaller races popping up all over the US. Learn from the smaller races, work the bugs out of your car, figure out how to finish races, and then take the plunge.

Can you tell us about the sponsors and people that have made it possible for you to do this?
First and foremost, I need to thank all of my family and teammates who support me through all of my racing endeavors. Otherwise, none of this would be possible. I also have to thank my sponsors for their continued support. Their contributions are a big part of why this program is successful.

Dom & John Balducci at Balducci Bros. Racing

Scott Decker at Bro King Racing for his “Prerunner”

Eric Startzel & Tom Birster at EMS Offroad

Thomas Kingston and Eddie Casanueva at Spidertrax Offroad

Nate Hunt at BFGoodrich Tires

Mark Pozzuoli at The Axle Exchange

Will Gentile at HeavyMetalConcepts

Wayne Israelsen at Alltech Motorsports

Tim Schwanke at Schwanke Engines

Vic Carroll at Advanced Adapters

Jason Youd at PAC Racing Springs

Scott Santucci at Metro Printing and Promotions

Lance Gilbert at PSC Motorsports

Jason Paule at Twisted Customs

The Facts Erik Miller #4421

Driver name:  Erik Miller                  Co-Driver Name:  Rob Ruggiero
Team Name: Miller Motorsports                             Car # 4421
Age: 25                                                                 Hometown: Cumberland, MD

Chassis Builder: Twisted Customs                                Engine: 427 LS3
Transmission:  TH475                                              T-case: Atlas II
Axles F/R:  Spidertrax 9” (F&R)                                            Lockers F/R: Spool/SpoolSeats: Mastercraft 3G                                         Shocks: Fox
Tires: B.F. Goodrich                                                     Wheels:  Trail Ready

 

About the Author

Jeff Knoll is the former Event Director for the King of the Hammers event. He has raced various classes in SCORE, BITD, MORE, and MDR. Following the California 200, Knoll travelled to Washington, DC to meet with BLM officials regarding the Special Recreation Permit policies of the BLM. Knoll serves on the BLM’s Desert Advisory Sub-Committee regarding Special Recreation Permits. Knoll also drafted language for Nevada’s Senate Bill 156 in 2011 regarding action sports safety.

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