Ms. speed demon
Middle schooler makes a name for herself in the world of Junior Drag Racing
Imagine strapping yourself into a drag racer. Not one of those Indy 500 behemoths, but a real hot rod. Needle thin, an inch off the ground. A rocket on wheels, reaching speeds of over 70 miles per hour in the space of a few moments. Shooting down a 1/8-mile raceway in eight seconds, the scenery a blur with only that checkered flag in sight.
Now imagine you're an 11-year-old girl doing all that, and you've just met Mychele Miller. The Alamo preteen has made a splash in the last several months on the local racing scene, driving her own drag racer in events put on by the National Hot Rod Association's Junior League.
Drag racing wasn't something Mychele ever really considered, but fate conspired to introduce her to that world through two separate events. The first being when her father Dean brought home a dragster that he'd picked up from a friend.
"I didn't know what we were going to do with it," he said. "I thought maybe she could practice with it in the driveway."
Mychele said, "It was a surprise for me. He was like, 'Do you want this?' And I said, 'Yeah!'"
Next she saw a made-for-TV Disney movie called, "Right on Track." The film was about Erica Enders, an 8-year-old who learned about drag racing from her dad and went on to become a champion racer in the NHRA Jr.
"It just looked really interesting," Mychele said. "It's the speed. They go really fast."
Dean Miller was excited that his daughter was showing an interest in the sport, but Mychele's mother, Andrea, was less enthused initially.
"I immediately called my pediatrician to find out if it was safe," she said.
When the pediatrician didn't warn the family off, they began working on the process of getting the car ready to race and giving Mychele the time to practice. But the road to competition was not without a few bumps.
"I didn't know anything about the sport at that time," Dean said, "and the car we had wasn't the right car for Mychele." The car they had ran on gasoline and could only get up to speeds of around 40 miles per hour. In order to be competitive it needed to go nearly twice that fast.
Dean worked on the car, learning what he needed to know in order to convert it from running on gasoline to running on alcohol. But once it was ready to go, they ran into another snag.
"Mychele was growing by leaps and bounds," recalled Andrea. "Seven inches in two years. We found out she was too big for the car."
This didn't stop them from taking the refurbished ride out for some test runs. Last year, Mychele went to the Sacramento Raceway and ran the car six times to get used to handling the vehicle and understanding how to keep it straight on the track.
Then the family purchased a new car and last March, Mychele competed in her first race in Bakersfield, the NHRA Jr's 10-12-year-old class, and she came in second place.
Mychele has since competed in a number of races both at her home track in Sacramento and other tracks around the area and is ranked No. 6. She said that part of the fun of competing has been the actual races, but she also enjoys getting to know the other drivers.
"They're like a second family," she said. "We stay up late, we talk."
An interesting dichotomy in the young Stone Valley Middle School student is that even though she drives dragsters, it's not all she's about.
"I'm not a tomboy. But, I'm not a girly girl either," she said. "I'm somewhere in the middle."
She dances, and was on a competitive team but had to sacrifice it for driving. With a smile, she talks about the things she enjoys: the color pink, shopping and designer brand names.
Since beginning her training in dragster driving, Mychele has been down the track more than 100 times. And both parents say it has been a deeply enriching experience for the youngster.
"It's teaching her so much," said her mother Andrea. "It's teaching her to take driving very seriously. She's seen what can happen and she's very careful."
Dean said that the change he has seen is in her approach to the sport. "She turns into this focused, serious girl."
Most of the racing is done with Dean and Mychele. He said he enjoys that one-on-one time with his daughter.
"Just watching her grow, and getting that time to hang out with her," Dean said. He then added, "I hope she wins, but that's not our goal. Our goal is to have fun."