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To rest up from Adios Week—or in the event his western Pennsylvania empire should begin to seem confining—Miller can always fly to Chicago or Los Angeles to inspect the other racetracks in which he has a financial stake. Or he could even accept his standing invitation to drive a trotter at the track in Moscow, and thus add another country to his life list of competition sites. Joe Namath and Wilt Chamberlain, you picked the wrong professions.
Or is it just Miller's inborn sunny disposition that makes him such a happy man? In the one-room school he attended, Miller was considered something of a card, always doing things like dipping girls' pigtails in the inkwells. A card he continues to be surrounding himself with props guaranteed to draw a laugh. To a new acquaintance invited in for a drink, he remarks with great solemnity, "I myself am confining my drinking to a mere thimbleful." His drink is in a thimble all right; a metal container shaped and dimpled like a thimble, but holding a full British pint, 20 fluid ounces.
In Florida, Miller drives from condominium to track in a $7,300 Abercrombie & Fitch runabout—a rich man's toy built more or less in the form of an old Model A Ford roadster, complete with running boards and rumble seat. At any given stoplight, some truck driver or pedestrian will drop his jaw and ask in wonderment, "What is that?" To gild this lily, Miller's vehicle sports a rear bumper sticker reading I'M NOT A DIRTY OLD MAN: I'M A SEXY SENIOR CITIZEN.
On the golf course Miller often shows up in a gold sweater with bright red lettering that says I'M JUST A POOR BROKENDOWN STABLE CLEANER! I NEED 5 SHOTS A SIDE. And one of his golfing accessories is a rattlesnake tail, to be shaken surreptitiously but at a high decibel level if one of his companions has to go poking around in the rough. Joe Namath, you should have so many laughs.
When training or in a race, however, Miller is all business. He continues to wear the grin; he never seems to worry about a race before or after, win or lose. But he knows what he is doing and the way he handles himself on the track shows it. As one of his competitors says, "That damn Miller looks as if he was born in a sulky."
Only a slight exaggeration. Though Miller was not born in a sulky, he did find his way there in a hurry. After his father died in the flu epidemic of 1918, he grew up on the farm of his grandfather, an ardent breeder, trainer and driver of harness horses. Miller had his first trip around the farm's training track at the age of seven, sitting in the lap of one of his grandfather's assistants. By the time he was 10 he was jogging horses; since his legs were not yet long enough to reach the stirrups from the seat, he sat on a board placed across the shafts in front of the seat and used an old potato sack to cushion his buttocks.
He was 16 when he drove his first race at a nearby county fair, behind a filly that was a gift from his grandfather. He was still in high school and had to play hookey to compete; most of his classmates did likewise to watch him. In a three-heat race he finished fifth, fifth and fourth, earning the grand total of $9.
Miller won his first heat when he was 18 and the year he turned 21 he finished on top 40 times; on one memorable afternoon he swept the entire card of four races, all involving three or more heats, at a county fair in Mercer, Pa. And this in an era when harness racing was considered the exclusive province of seasoned old men who regarded anybody under 40 as an upstart hardly fit to breathe their dust.
There was no photo patrol in those days to encourage drivers to behave, and most of them were past masters at the art of cutting off a rival without being spotted by the judges. The driving was especially rough in the late afternoon, after some of the veterans had been working on their whiskey bottles to pass time between heats and were hardly in shape to drive a buggy pulled by an old gray mare down an isolated country road. Naturally there were accidents. Miller drove in one race in which his uncle, behind another horse, was killed.
"It was tough, all right," Miller recalls. "Sometimes it seemed that half the horsemen at a meet were on crutches. It was especially difficult when I tried to race in Indiana one summer. They had good horses there and they were clannish; they didn't want some outsider coming in and beating them, especially a kid. They pushed me all over the track."