Michelle Miller Shares Her Story

World of Speed Archive. Cindi Lux with DirtFiish student, 2015. 

World of Speed Archive. Cindi Lux with DirtFiish student, 2015. 

 

MICHELLE MILLER

I’ve always liked cars and driving but my exposure to racing happened rather late in life.  Like many people, I never thought it was possible for a “normal” person to have any kind of access to race tracks or competitive driving. The media coverage of racing makes it seem a bit out of reach for people of moderate income with self-built vehicles, regardless of gender.

Before I discovered racing, my husband and I were enjoying ourselves building cars and taking them out for Sunday drives.  In 2006 that all changed when a fellow Rx-7 club member, Jeb Thornton, invited us out to our first autocross novice school.  I was incredibly nervous.  I didn’t want to be the slowest one there, or confirm the stereotype that women can’t drive, or hold up the event or even worse wreck the car.  I was amazed and surprised at the warm welcome received from all of the other competitors and instructors.  They wanted me there and wanted me to have fun and be good at this autocross thing.  I was slow, in fact scared to hit the gas, but after a demo lap from an experienced instructor and realizing what my car was capable of, I was hooked.  I actually did pretty well that season, placing second in a very large novice class.

When I find something that really engages me I tend to just dive in so I started getting involved with the local club, Bremerton Sports Car Club (BSCC).  The board was very open to new ideas and, of course new volunteers, and before I knew it I was the Secretary of the club and on my way to be the Novice Chair.  I was thrilled to be part of it and made huge efforts to share the sport with others. The great thing about autocross is that it requires very little financial commitment at the grassroots level and you can pretty much drive any car for $25 an event.  While not a ton of seat time in minutes, the time you are out there is right on the edge and is invigorating and adrenaline rushing.

While enjoying the autocross seasons, we also started to get involved with our local BMW CCA, Puget Sound Region club, attending tech sessions, drives and car shows and starting to think about getting our cars out on the local race tracks for HPDE events.

In 2008 I volunteered as the Bremerton Sports Car Club Novice Chair.  I was responsible for running two schools and coordinating novices and instructors throughout the 8 event season.  BSCC is pretty much the novice club in our area and we would see as many as 50 novices per event so this kept me very engaged and busy.  Of course, I had a real job as well, working in an administrative position at a local labor union.  I was able to take some of the organization I used at work and utilize that at the novice schools to make them run more efficiently, match up instructors and students easily and started using Motorsports Reg as our registration system.

2008 was really a turning point for me in my volunteer activities not only with BSCC, but also with the BMW club where I asked to coordinate their largest car show of the year, the Concours d’Elegance.  I was awarded the BSCC member of the year award in 2008.  It was an honor to receive the award from the membership of almost 400 and fueled me for the next couple of years to increase my efforts to get more people engaged in autocross. I coordinated two ladies-only days to get more women involved as well, both of which were very successful events cross promoted through over a dozen different car clubs.

2010 marked the next milestone for me.  I was still Novice Chair, Concours coordinator and ran another ladies day as well as starting to get involved with other driving clubs including the Porsche Club and the Sports Car Club of America.  One of my fellow competitors, Laurie Hyman, was looking for a co-driver (read “tire warmer”) for the SCCA National Championship in her Nissan GT-R.  I decided that I should go for it.  I didn’t think I’d ever have an opportunity to do anything like this again and so took her up on the offer.  It definitely opened my eyes to a whole new level of the sport when I arrived in Lincoln, NE to join over 1200 other competitors.  I didn’t win, but I didn’t drive that poorly either; the car and the whole scene was overwhelming at first, but by the end of the event, all I could think was “I have to figure out how to do this again” and hopefully bring my spouse with me the next time, so we bought a Mitsubishi Evo.

In 2012, after a year of developing and competing in the Evo we headed back to Nationals again, this time [my spouse] Chris joined in.  This was my third trip there and it was starting to feel a little less intimidating.  Keeping my mental focus and determination, I was able to take my first National Championship.  I was in tears I was so excited and happy and learned some great lessons in where my mental state needs to be in order to drive well and win.    In addition to the autocross, I started doing more track days to get better at driving at higher speeds and had taken the position of President of the local BMW Club.  I was wrapping up my role as Novice Chair and training my successor.

In August of 2013, I was approached by a fellow competitor, who was the Chief Instructor at DirtFish Rally School, about whether I’d be interested in exploring instructing part-time at DirtFish.  I felt honored and it made me realize how much the extra things we do in life get noticed and can affect our lives in ways never imagined.  All of my volunteer work at the club level was just that, I wasn’t expecting anything from it, but wanted to give back and share my love of the sport.   The fact that it opened the door for me to do what I do now was just an added bonus. 

The position at DirtFish was an amazing opportunity for me although a very big decision as well.  I had a very good, steady, professional job and would be leaving that safe and reliable world.  But things like this don’t come along often in life. I made the leap into this whole new industry in October of 2013 and have never looked back.  In January of 2014 I was asked to instruct full-time and have been doing that ever since.  Teaching people how to drive rally is one of the most amazing and rewarding things I’ve done in my life.  I won’t lie; some days are hard, but every time a student has an “ah-ha” moment or challenges themselves in a way they never thought they would, I get to share that with them.  Every day is an opportunity.

In 2014, our 4th trip to Nationals, I won my second National Championship in a MINI Cooper.