The BME
Top Fuel Drag
Race Team

 
The BME Top Fuel Dragster Bill Miller Engineering Top Fuel Dragster and Race Team
Bill Miller Top Fuel Dragster

Bill Miller is one of the last true independents in Top Fuel drag racing.
 

One of the last competitive, self-sponsored racers in Top Fuel  drag racing is Carson City, Nevada's Bill Miller.
Image: BME Ltd.


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. Image: Autoimagery.com

What 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 Racing Series.

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.. it's persistence."
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 race."

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 4.59/323.

 

Meet the Driver, Troy Buff, Click Here!     Support our Sponsors Click Here

 

Tim Gibson at the wheel of the third BME dragster at the Winternationals in 2001. Image: BME Ltd

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: BME Ltd.

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.

If '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.

A huge 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 down nozzle."

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 Blog.

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 three DNQs. .

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: BME Ltd

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.

BME#1, the 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 ergonomics improved.

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.

Bill 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, Ltd.

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 way.

"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.

The BME Bulletin

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 of interest.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE BULLETIN:
 

 


The BME/Okuma/Red Line Oil Top Fuel Team at Pomona in February of 2008.

Left to 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

 

 

    Special Report: The truth about Top Fuel and Funny Car Chassis !
 

 


Mr. Bill



Bill Miller Engineering, Ltd, 4895 Convair Drive, Carson City, Nevada 89706
Phone: 775.887.1299 FAX: 775.887.0390
Email: bill@bmeltd.com
Last Updated: May 7, 2014  Copyright © 2014 Bill Miller Engineering
Web Page Maintained by: CV World Internet Publishing