April 24, 2013 - At 15-years-old, Vinnie Miller has spent nearly a decade racing toward one goal—NASCAR.
His quest started early in life.
Miller, a Brandon High School sophomore and Hadley Township resident, has been behind the wheel and on the throttle since he was about 5-years-old.
"I remember driving a Yamaha Zinger, a little 50 cc four-wheeler, around the yard when I was about 3-years-old," he said. "One lap and I was hooked."
For six years, Miller raced the quarter midget series with more than 70 trophies and several championships in Michigan and other states. The quarter midget cars are one-quarter the size of an adult midget car and speed along at about 30 to 40 mph, but race on a shorter track, keeping the speed lower.
At 12-years-old, Miller began his stock car racing career on the asphalt at Owosso Speedway, located in Ovid Mich., about 20 miles west of Flint. Racing in the Purestock Division, Miller drove a 1984 Chevy Monte Carlo in his first race, finishing ninth of 20 cars.
"There's a lot more muscle to deal with and more to handle," he said. "But the car is set up to handle the speed. The car took some getting used to, but older drivers were also a challenge. They told me, 'A kid can't drive.' Many of the older drivers gave me a hard time about it. Over time I gained their respect, but some of them just never got it and continued to be less than supportive of me."
Miller learned, too.
"The first year of racing at Owosso I just did not listen to anyone," he said. "By the time I started my second year I was way more serious about racing."
Last year Miller debuted in the Sportsman Division at Owosso Speedway which he ended last fall with Rookie of the Year honors over 16 races.
Built in 2009, Miller races in a car by Tony Baselone of Gaines, Mich. that incorporates a 1974 Camaro chassis and a NASCAR roll cage. The body of the car was constructed after a 2008 Monte Carlo and includes a 375 horsepower 358 cubic inch Chevrolet engine. The race car has been a proven winner taking the Owosso Speedway championship for the 2010 and 2011 season.
"You have to go out and try to win," he said. "If you give respect on the track, you get it back from the other drivers. With more horsepower under the hood it's easy to get in trouble. The trick is not to spin your tires—it's very easy to do. The strategy is to wait for other drivers to make mistakes and take advantage of that. Then just blow right by—it's not just about going fast."
While practice, skill and speed are key to racing, Miller said family, along with setting up the car correctly, are a top priority.
"Tony Baselone, along with my grandfather "Papa" Vance Weeden, and dad, Rick Miller, kept me going in a sport that is not only expensive, but is very time consuming. It's really a big family sport. The key to making it in NASCAR and running with guys like Tony Stewart is not only the skills and experience, but sponsors."
A new sponsor for Miller in the 2013 season, which opens next month, is Bullfrogs, 2225 Ortonville Road.