Bill Miller is one of the last true independents in Top Fuel drag
One of the
last competitive, self-sponsored racers in Top Fuel
drag racing is Carson City, Nevada's Bill Miller.
A rarity in a motorsport where teams with two or three racecars,
a dozen engines, scores of full-time crew members, three tractor
trailers and millions of dollars in sponsorship are the norm,
Bill Miller's Top Fuel Team has a single car, a highly-motivated
crew of 10 and a budget dwarfed by those of drag racing's nitro
class stars. Miller races about 15 of 23 NHRA National Events
each year, mostly out of his pocket, with help from machine tool
manufacturer, Okuma America, premium lubricant maker, Red Line
Oil and Autolite Spark Plugs.
Why does Bill Miller race a Top Fuel Dragster?
He and his Team are consumed by the challenges of racing
cars with supercharged, nitromethane-burning engines. Each
crew member craves the competition and excitement of NHRA's
top class. Miller, also, views racing as a team-building
experience for his employees, several of whom are on the BME
crew. Last, but certainly not least, Bill Miller Engineering
uses its dragster to develop, test and promote its products:
BME Forged Aluminum Racing Pistons, BME Wrist Pins, BME
Forged Aluminum Connecting Rods and the Gibson/Miller Mark
II Supercharger. "We are," Miller states
emphatically, "the only manufacturer of pistons, pins,
connecting rods and superchargers which runs its own race
car to develop and test products. And, it's not just racing
the car. Because we're at the track and talk with guys who
run my parts, we stay current on trends which affect our
products and get continuous feedback about what to improve."
The BME/Okuma America Top Fuel Dragster blasts down Pomona
Raceway on a qualifying pass at the 2004 NHRA Winternationals.
motivates the BME Team?
Persistence. Above all, persistence is what keeps the Bill
Miller Engineering/Okuma/Red Line Oil Top Fuel Dragster Team
competing in the National Hot Rod Association's Full Throttle Drag
Asked how he manages to run a Top Fueler with a small crew and
limited financing, Bill Miller will quickly answer,
"Persistence. It's not talent, not genius, not education..
Image: BME Ltd.
Hanging in BME hauler is a plaque bearing President Calvin
Coolidge's famous views on the subject: "Nothing can take
the place of persistence. Talent will not–nothing is more
common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will
not–unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will
not–the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and
determination are omnipotent. The slogan 'press on' has
solved and always will solve the problems of the human
Every member of the BME Team takes those words to heart.
Bill Miller has been a regular in drag racing's ultimate
class for over a quarter century and persistent from the
start. For 17 years and in two different cars, he ran the
only blown, Fontana/Chevy on nitromethane at National
Events, but at the end of '98, with the cost of staying
competitive with the Chevrolet out of control; he put a
Keith Black Hemi in his eight year-old chassis. Eventually
the KB-powered version of the second BME fueler went
Tim Gibson at the wheel of the third BME dragster at the Winternationals in 2001.
Once upon-a-time, Bill Miller raced a Chevrolet-powered Top Fuel
Dragster. For many years, it was the only blown Fontana/Chevy on
fuel at National Events.
Image: BME Ltd
Another of the reasons Bill Miller races a Fueler is it's a
rolling test and validation tool for his line of aluminum
connecting rods, racing pistons and wrist pins. Here Miller,
himself, examines a set of BME Rods which came out of the engine
in the BME Top Fuel car.
Image: BME Ltd
Bill Miller makes all the tuning decisions on
his Top Fueler. Like all professional drag race teams, the
BME/Okuma/Red Line Oil Dragster has an on-board, multi-track
data recording system. The data it stores on each run is the
lynch pin of the tuning process. One of a blown-fuel tuners many
tasks is making sense out of the myriad of data each drag strip
pass provides. Here, Bill Miller, reviews a pass from the '08
Winternationals in the BME race team trailer's lounge. Image:
In 2004, Miller debuted a new car which played a key part in the
Team's best ever performance in the '06 season and saw the start
of a two-year run for '03 Top Alcohol Champion, Alan Bradshaw,
as BME's driver. The Team ran 13 events, set best-ever e.t. and
speed, 4.545/326.32 mph, and finished 15th in points. The
high-point came at Chicago in June. Bradshaw qualified the BME
car 16th. He beat No. 1 qualifier and World Champion, Tony
Shumacher, in the first round and took out J.R. Todd in the
second before losing to Melanie Troxel in the semis. Of T/F
teams running partial schedules, Bill Miller Engineering
finished best behind 14 full-time, touring pros. "2006 was a
very good year," Owner/Crew Chief Miller told BME Blogger,
Rick Voegelin. "Finishing 15th in the Championship after
competing in less than 60 percent of the races was quite an
accomplishment. It's a testament to what can be done by an
enthusiastic and talented team of volunteers who put their
hearts and souls into Top Fuel racing." For more on '06, see
the BME Blog.
This is most of the BME/Okuma Top Fuel Team.
It's a small, closely-knit and experienced group of people who
work together and communicate very well. They are preparing the
BME/Okuma/Red Line Dragster for its third qualifying run at the
'08 Winternationals. Image: BME Ltd.
'06 was great, '07, well...it kinda sucked. Much of the season was
spent developing the Gibson/Miller Mark II Supercharger which
performs better than other Roots superchargers used in drag racing.
Any change to a Top Fuel tune-up results in a temporary lack of
consistency and that plagued the BME Team for a while. The newfound,
but difficult to manage power from the Mark II not only influenced
engine and clutch tuning but aerodynamics as well. "The motor's
making more power." Bill Miller said. "Because the car
accelerates so hard, it lifts the front end early in the run.
There's no steering with the front wheels in the air, so the driver
either keeps his foot in it if the car goes straight or shuts off. A
bigger front wing can keep the front wheels on the ground. Yeah,
there's a drag penalty later in the run, but that isn't enough to
negate its benefit early in the run. A Top Fuel pass is 4.5 seconds.
To half-track, is 3.1 of those seconds–70% of the e.t. Once you get
past 150-175 miles an hour, the driver can't react fast enough. That
happens at about 250 feet, so the car has to be going straight prior
to that. We changed to a full-width front wing rather than the two
canards we had before. That extra downforce helps keep the front
wheels on the track."
The BME/Okuma/Red Line Oil Team just prior
their second qualifying run at the '08 Winternationals. They've
just started the engine and are making a few adjustments prior
to Troy Buff's rolling forward for a burnout.
Image: BME Ltd.
Bill Miller was a critic of NHRA's late 2005 rule change
allowing heat-treated tubing in Top Fuel and Funny Car
Chassis. During 2007, Bill Miller Engineering and its Top
Fuel Team were instrumental in scientific research which
proved the hazard of heat-treated tubing in a race car
chassis. An article by journalist, Jon Asher, posted in
October of '07 on Competitionplus.com and in January
of '08 on this web site, investigated Top Fuel and Funny Car
Chassis Failures and relied on BME's research. Please click
here to read this BME Special Report.
Mark II Supercharger development and the distraction and
tragedy brought-on by the heat-treated chassis problem which
plagued the whole sport of drag racing, resulted in seven
DNQs for the team. It was BME's worst season in many years,
but the Team's persistence would pay off the following year.
turnaround for BME came in 2008. True to his tradition of hiring
successful blown alcohol drivers, Bill Miller signed former TAD racer
and second generation dragster driver, Troy Buff, to drive the
distinctive, black-and-yellow, BME/Okuma/Red Line Oil racecar. Buff
brought three things to the Team. First, he weighs less. A rule of thumb
in Top Fuel is: each 15 lbs. out of the car is a hundredth off the e.t.
In a class were wins can depend on a thousandth of a second, 20 pounds
less in the driver seat is huge. Second, Troy Buff had Top Fuel
experience with another team and before that, he ran Top Alcohol.
Lastly, a dragster gearhead since childhood and an engine builder by
trade, Buff is a perfect addition to a team where everyone, even the
driver, works on the car.
During the '07/'08 off-season, the BME Dragster was back-halfed
with the larger diameter, "normalized", 4130 Chromoly tubing
required by rule changes NHRA made after the heat-treated
tubing fiasco. New front bodywork was built which provided
more front downforce. Changes were made to the engine's fuel
system to support the additional airflow available from the
Gibson/Miller Mk II. "We had to increase the fuel flow,"
Miller said, "but, for the first six-or-seven races
(in '07) I was not prepared for the amount of fuel it
took to keep the motor from backfiring. To get more fuel
into the motor, Kent Enderle and I designed a new type of
The improvements paid off generously. The team qualified for
all 15 events it entered in '08. It went to the second round
three times and ran a best of 4.603/308.28 mph during the
first half of the season on a 1/4-mile track, and
3.840/309.27 in the second part which was run to NHRA's new
Pro class standard, a 1000-foot track. The high-point was
the World Finals where BME qualified 14th then squared off
with Hillary Will, No. 2 in the world at the time, in the
first round. Troy Buff dispatched Ms. Will with his
career-best 3.840/309.27 mph, giving the BME Team a 14th
place finish for the year. It was the second time in three
years BME finished highest of any Top Fuel team running a
partial schedule. For more on BME's '08 season, see the
The BME car uses an 8000-hp Brad Anderson
Hemi. Atop the BAE Hemi is the Gibson/Miller Mark II
Supercharger. Image: BME Ltd.
Now here's a picture right out of science
fiction movie. Because nitromethane exhaust is not so good to
breathe, when the team warms-up the motor in the pits, they all
don these gas masks. The guy just to the right of driver, Troy
Buff, is Car Owner. Bill Miller. Image: BME Ltd
Drag racing can be like the stock market: volatile. After a
great 2008, '09 started out pretty rough with a DNQ at the
rain-fouled Winternationals, a weekend which NHRA should
have renamed "Waternationals". The Team's fortunes improved
through the middle of the season with BME qualifying at
every race it entered. The high point came just past
half-season at Seattle's Northwest Nationals. In the first
round, Troy Buff left on Cory McClenathan by .007 then ran a
quicker 3.921/298.54 to Cory Mac's 3.929/304.36. In the
second round, Troy sent Shawn Langdon packing with a
3.999/290.19 to the Lucas OIl car's losing 4.083/281.48. In
the semifinal, Buff staged the BME car against six-time Top
Fuel Champion Tony Schumacher's U.S. Army dragster.
Schumacher was up in smoke and pedaled it twice to a win.
Buff had a fuel line break which caused the the blower to
backfire. From there, the season went down hill ending in
EVERYONE on the
team works on the car between runs...even the driver. Troy Buff's
tasks are supercharger maintenance, care and mixing of the
90% nitromethane fuel and parachute packing. Here, he's
fitting the drive assembly to the BME Dragster's
Gibson/Miller Mark II Supercharger. Image: BME Ltd.
Perhaps the most
labor intensive part on a blown-fuel car is the clutch.
Any fuel team has a dedicated "clutch guy" and many teams
have more than one person working on clutches. On the
BME/Okuma Team, Ed Litke is the clutch expert. The Team has
half a dozen clutches and it's a full time job to "rebuild"
them after each run. Here Ed uses an air grinder and an
abrasive disc to refinish a clutch pressure plate. Image:
In 2010, one big change for
the Team, which undoubtedly had an influence on it's performance, was a
new race car which debuted at the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. This
time, rather than going with a Don Long chassis, since Long retired,
Bill Miller decided to build his own car at his company's manufacturing
facility in Carson City, Nevada. He purchased Don Long's tooling then
hired Fabricator, Bob Tobin to construct "BME #1".
There are important
differences between the car Miller ran since 2004 and the new, in-house
racecar. The first is the foot box–the front of the cockpit where Troy
Buff puts his feet–is 12-inches shorter. A cleaner design and that Buff
is not as tall as Miller's previous driver enabled that change. This
allowed the flexible part of the car's chassis, which acts as a
"suspension", to be longer and that increases weight transfer when the
driver stands on the gas.
fifth in the line of BME Top Fuel cars, in the staging lanes
at Pomona in early 2011, flanked by Bob Vandergriff's fueler
and the Funny Car of John Force. Image: BME, Ltd.
The engine is four inches
farther forward. That moved the car's center of mass forward, putting
more weight on the front wheels. The old car had an annoying habit of
lifting the front wheels in the early part of the run. While that
tendency was mitigated by the change to the front wing made in 2008, the
car still was pulling the wheels at the step. Moving the engine forward,
put even more weight on the front and allowed Miller to use a more
aggressive clutch set-up just as the car leaves the starting line.
The last key improvement was
a revision of cockpit packaging. The seating and placement of pedals
were optimized for Troy Buff. The steering wheel was lowered to improve
his vision. Various controls were either repositioned or had their
The debut of BME#1 was part
of why Bill Miller Engineering Top Fuel team returned to "best partial
schedule performer" status in 2010. Bill Miller ran 14 events, qualified
at 12 and sent Troy Buff to the second round three times, at Pomona,
Phoenix and Bristol. The Team finished the year in 12th place behind 11
other teams which ran a full schedule. 2010 marked the third time in
five years Bill Miller Engineering has been the class of
partial-schedule, Top Fuel independents.
Troy Buff charges off the Pomona starting line in Top Fuel
qualifying. The BME Top Fuel Team got in the show in the
14th spot, but was eliminated in the first round by 7-time
Top Fuel champ, Tony Schumacher. Image: BME, Ltd.
Miller owns the Team, is the Crew Chief and works on the car, himself.
The BME Race Team aren't quitters nor do they look for the easy way to
success. They're a persistent bunch of racers who meet challenges
head-on. "When you look at the mountain we have to climb: to be
competitive in Top Fuel," Bill says of the Team's challenge,
"it's a tough climb for a crew of three full-time guys and seven
part-timers, competing against crews of 10 to 12 working full-time. But,
we have the right parts. We've got virtually the same engine set-up as
the full-time pros. Our new car has all the current chassis technology.
There's a psychological effect, too. The entire team's attitude is
bolstered by the state-of-the-art equipment we're running
Among other things, the
teamwork necessary to the BME Team to be persistent requires
communication and leadership skills. Bill Miller, at right
center, confers with members of his team in the staging
lanes just prior to the first Top Fuel qualifying session at
the 2011 Winternationals at Pomona, California. Image: BME,
What's Miller's secret
to being Top Fuel competitive on a budget that's about 15% of what
most touring pros in the nitro class spend? Bill told Drag Racer
magazine, "I work my ass off. Also, I'm careful with the money I
have. With some teams, a tremendous amount of money gets wasted.
Also, because I'm in the rod and piston business, I talk to my
customers, many of whom are nitro class racers, all the time. We
talk about the car, motors, clutches and everything about Top Fuel
racing. I pick-up a tremendous amount of valuable information that
"At this point, Bill
Miller Engineering puts-up most of the money. We're, also, pleased
to have Goodyear, Autolite, Fram, ARP, XRP, and Red Line Synthetic
Oil Corporation helping us out. We're going to keep our schedule to
about 15 or 16 races in 2011."
If you're at an NHRA
National Event and you want to meet some of the last independents in
Top Fuel, stop by the BME trailer.
During your visit, no
doubt, you'll learn a little bit about persistence.
Find out more details of recent BME/Okuma Top Fuel Team
history by reading our bulletins from 2004-2008. Written by
veteran drag racing writer, Rick Vogelin, this collection covers
most of the NHRA National Events the Team has entered in those
five years. You'll find race results, comments by Team Owner,
Bill Miller and BME driver, Troy Buff, along with other topics
CLICK HERE TO READ THE BULLETIN:
Line Oil Top Fuel Team at Pomona in February of 2008.
right are: Mr. Bill, Ron Hixson, Troy Buff, Scott Bowen, Bill
Miller, Larry Wolyniec, Adam Schultz, Ryan Blaire, Robert
Howard, Ed Litke and Ed Litke Jr. These guys are the hardest working
crew in Top Fuel. Stop by the
BME trailer at a National Event and watch them prepare the BME/Okuma/Red
Line Oil Dragster