Chuck Miller: Executive, Family Man, Motorcycle Rider
|Chuck racing at Day In The Dirt|
What is your ‘official’ title with American Honda?
I’m the Manager of the Motorcycle Sports Department. I primarily oversee American Honda’s motocross and road racing departments.
What does your position involve?
It’s never a dull moment for sure (laughs).
Budget issues, negotiation issues, and personnel issues can take up most of the time. It averages 60 – 70 hours per week. Mostly in the office if it’s a week when we are not racing.
If it’s a week that we are racing, then a lot of that time will be travel-related, and out at the event. Race weekends are tougher than some people might realize. We start at 6:30 in the morning, and can sometimes go until midnight.
With road racing they work on the bikes later into the night. Motocross might be less hours in the day, but there are many more race dates. It’s equal though to the amount of time I spend with each.
Who do you work with and communicate most with at Honda? Who is underneath you? Who is above you?
|Chuck, Italy, 1986, Six Days|
Well, first I’d say that no ones works under me. Everyone works with me, … we all work together. That’s what has made our program so successful this year. There are 48 people here on the racing team. That’s riders, crew chiefs, suspension experts, chassis experts, and more.
Above me are quite a few people that I report to. And they are a buffer between corporate management and ‘real world’ racing.
How about Honda of Japan. Do you communicate with them?
Yes, we communicate with them on a daily basis. Mostly e-mail, and occasionally on the phone. Both road racing and motocross engineers from Japan are here off and on all year long.
For motocross, two or three engineers will be here for the first four or five races of the year. They might go back to Japan, but they will fluctuate back and forth over the year. For road racing, this past year we had a liaison with Japan from HRC that stayed for all the events. The benefit of that is if there is a problem at the track, he can just dial the phone back to Japan to get a response.
|Ron Heben on left, and Chuck – France 1984|
For the first supercross of the year at Anaheim, and first road race at Daytona, we have a whole group of people on hand, and they’ll provide lots of feedback to Japan. We’ll get to meet them and know who they are. That way, when we have a question for the chassis expert in Japan, or the engine expert, we can call on them specifically.
How long have you been associated with Honda, and when did you start?
I started with Honda in 1983 as a contracted rider and racer. Myself and Bruce Ogilvie were hired to race the XR 500 four-stroke. We rode all the big off-road races. It evolved into two roles starting in ’85: as a contracted racer, but also with the ATC racing program. I was working with Dean Sundahl, Mike Coe, and Steve Wright.
After that, I took an eight month hiatus, and went to work for Suzuki’s ATC racing program in ’87. And that’s about the time that ATC’s started to go downhill because of government regulations, and sanctions in racing.
I started back with Honda as an employee in 1988. I was in the Service Department. Then I went into Rider Education. I helped put on seminars and riding demonstrations. We taught people how to ride, and I was an MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) instructor. And that evolved into the Honda Riders Club. I coordinated all the truck activities and logistics for Honda Riders Club. And then I was involved in Honda Motorcycle Advertising. I oversaw all the national shows and displays for the Honda Motorcycle Division. And finally, I’ve gone from Motorcycle Advertising back to the Race Team.
|Bruce Ogilvie on left, and Chuck, 1979|
I’ve been in this position for two years now. When Gary Mathers announced his retirement, somehow my name popped up (laughs). I was fortunate enough to work with Gary for eight months to get my feet wet on the job so to speak. It’s grown a bit from there … and I’ve been in hot water ever since (laughs).
Is there any one thing you can pinpoint at the greatest experience in your career at Honda? What has brought you the most joy?
Honestly, each area has had some great moments. And all those things have helped me to be in the position I’m in now.
When I was racing, certainly winning the Baja 1000 with Bruce and being part of Team Honda was a highlight. Each department that I’ve been in I’ve been lucky to work with new and great people. That has helped me develop as a person professionally, and is a highlight as well.
Now, being involved in the decision process of picking riders, and negotiations, is part of what I do. Sometimes it can be very painful, but it also brings a great deal of joy. An example is Ricky Carmichael.
|2002 AMA Supercross Champions!|
Getting Ricky to come to Honda is something we are very proud of. It took a lot of different people to make that happen. Just being involved in that process was very exciting. In the last year, we’ve formed the team we have now, and watching everyone mature and become successful has been a highlight for sure.
Why does Honda race?
Actually, there are a lot of different reasons. One reason is that it’s our Marketing and Sales platform. We race to help sell motorcycles. We race to help sell the brand image.
Brand is important. Honda sells motorcycles. And automobiles. Generators. Lawn mowers. Outboard motors. Water craft. High performance cars. That’s part of the reason why we invest the money in racing.
What we hope for is that when you go to a supercross, or a road race, or a motocross, we’ll have success. There are tens of thousands of spectators at those events. Not all of them have CR’s or RC51’s. But those fans do own automobiles. They own lawn mowers. And many of them do own motorcycles too.
We want to portray a positive image, and a quality product. That’s our goal. When someone goes to purchase that new motorcycle, lawn mower, automobile, generator or water craft, we want them to think of Honda first because of our racing.
And we didn’t just dream this up in the past few years. This was Mr. Honda’s dream and vision from when he started the company. That foundation of racing was set from the beginning with Mr. Honda. We are just continuing what he started.
We also race because it’s an engineering exercise to develop new and better machines.
Looking into the Honda ‘crystal ball’, what can we expect to see down the road with new technologies in motocross bikes?
In general terms, I can say there is a lot of different things on the drawing board.
Five to eight years ago, the industry wasn’t as strong as it is today. Things coming out of Japan back then were slower than what’s being developed now. Because sales are strong now, that warrants investing monies in development and technology.
In the future, there are some exciting new technologies that will be coming out. Within the next five years, you’ll see some brand new design in the engine, and chassis. Ground breaking things that haven’t even been considered yet.
One of the neat things about Honda is that the company never rests, and doesn’t sit back on it’s laurels. Honda is always looking for opportunity to expand it’s horizons.
The process for implementing these technologies into production motorcycles has really improved too. Right now, in both motocross and road racing, new technologies can go from the race teams to production in one model year.
I can’t give you any specifics right now, but I can say the pipeline is very full for development in the next five years and beyond. You’ll see that development in racing, and ultimately the consumer will benefit with new products.
How about your family? Are they involved in motorcycling?
Yes. My wife Bonnie, and our kids Ryan (age 15) and Erin (age 11) all ride motorcycles. And water craft. We try to do a little bit of everything (laughs).
Complete this sentence: I love motorcycling because ….
I love motorcycling because …. it’s been a part of my life for 43 years. Ever since I was a little kid … my dad rode, and still rides today. Our entire family rode. Motorcycling is a family sport.
Whether it was riding as a kid back then, or riding with my buddies today, it’s a great part of my life.