Archive for Thursday, July 12, 2007

Area 8 year old loving his big-boys toys

July 12, 2007

The closest most 8-year-olds come to driving a car is steering a "Hot Wheels" toy across the floor.

Blaine Miller is not a typical 8-year-old.

Blaine, who won his first NHRA Jr. Dragster series event last month in Topeka, is far ahead of his peers in terms of driving experience. But a head start on his driver's education coursework is not the only payoff: the shiny trophy he earned in Topeka is certainly something to be proud of.

Miller failed to advance into the finals of any of his first three races but fared much better at Heartland Park in Topeka.

"In the other races I was getting out in the first or second round," Blaine said. "But last time, I won."

The Eudora resident is currently in the youngest age group of NHRA Jr. Dragster racers. Participants aged 8-to-9 years use a half-scale dragster to run the one-eighth of a mile-long track. The cars use Briggs and Stratton engines and are fueled by either alcohol or gas.

The scaled-down machines are similar to full-size dragsters with several exceptions: the 8-to-9 year-old racers are not allowed to finish the race in less than 12.90 seconds or exceed 85 miles per hour.

Despite the speed and performance restrictions, drag racing can be dangerous for drivers of any age. But Blaine's father, Kevin, trusts his son to stay safe thanks to his driving skill and protective gear.

Blaine knows the safety procedures like the back of his hand and has no trouble reciting the steps he takes before putting the pedal to the floor.

"First I buckle up," Blaine said. "Then I put on my helmet, brace, suit and gloves."

Miller's bloodlines left little doubt that he would someday become a drag racer. His father races in the NHRA Lucas and Super Street classes, giving the 8-year-old both an inspiration and an experienced teacher.

"There was a learning curve just working on driving and stopping the dragster," Kevin Miller said. "But it wasn't too tough. We did a lot of practicing and it only took about three months. Getting acclimated to the dragster was the only difficult part."

Despite being several years shy of his 10th birthday and a rookie on the Jr. Dragster circuit, Blaine is already a veteran driver. He got his start at age 7 when he raced in the Outlaw series in Pittsburg, Kansas. After some practice on the family's four-wheeler, he was ready to step up to the Jr. Dragster class.

But the Millers invested more than just a few practice runs to prepare for his first race at Heartland Park. The father-son duo spent three years, or in Blaine's words, "a long time", building and fine-tuning the half-scale racecar.

"It was a project he really wanted to do," Kevin Miller said. "We worked on and off during the offseason and whenever I wasn't racing."

Though father and son will have to build a new dragster before he moves up to the age-10 class, the car will most likely stay in the family: Blaine's 6-year-old sister Ashley will inherit the dragster and attempt to carry on the family tradition in the Jr. Dragster class.

Miller has not raced since his June 22 victory, but is seeking a repeat performance this weekend at Heartland Park in Topeka. Qualifying will be held Friday evening and races are scheduled for Saturday morning.

After this weekend's races, Miller will take his dragster to two races in Kansas City and two more in Pittsburg to close out the season. If Blaine finishes the summer with the same kind of success he enjoyed in the first half of the season, he could be bound for the Western Conference Finals in Denver, Colorado.

Teams of 10 racers from each region are invited to the finals, held in late July. Currently, Miller is ranked 4th in the region and likely will qualify for the championship.

In the event that Blaine wins the Western Conference title, he will take home more than a trophy: the grand prize in each age group is a $5,000 savings bond.

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