The man who drove that car, Dr. Jack Miller, has one of the most interesting back stories in the history of the Indianapolis 500. A practicing dentist as well as racer, he made 22 total Indy Racing League starts between 1997 and 2001. He appeared in the 500 three times, and basically got to do the one thing so many of us dream of doing, young or old--putting together four laps and qualifying for Indianapolis.
Dr. Jack was kind enough to agree to an interview about his life in racing and at Indianapolis. I hope you find it a great look at an Indy name many people have heard of, but few of us really know.
Thanks so much for your time, Dr. Jack. When did you first get involved in American open wheel racing?
JM: 1987 in the SCCA Formula Ford series.
When did reaching the Indianapolis 500 begin to be a goal of yours?
JM: Ever since I was a child, my parents would take my brothers, my sister, and I to the track. I remember one of the highlights was getting free decals like STP , etc. I would place them on my riding lawn mower and in my room. I was totally hooked on the Indy 500 as a child. The sound and speed of the cars was the draw for me for wanting to drive.
Did you continue your dental career full-time during your IRL racing days?
JM: No, I was raising sponsorship dollars, driving the car, meeting sponsorship requirements, show car programs , etc., I was very busy. My wife is a dentist; she ran the dental offices while I was on the road. I did see patients approximately a half day a week. I mainly do extractions, but I did stay current, with continuing education courses.
Let's talk about that Crest sponsorship, which led to one of the more distinct liveries we've seen at Indy. How did the sponsorship come about?
JM: It was difficult to land Crest as a sponsor. Proctor and Gamble was decreasing their motorsport involvement at the time I approached them. I put together a mobile dental clinic program, which included dentists volunteering their time to give screenings throughout the USA. Crest brand loved the idea and sponsored the race program. They were fantastic to work with. The paint scheme and colors made the car an instant hit among fans. Not only did they sponsor the race program, they also paid me to drive. I will always be thankful to P&G for their involvement in my program.
Can you recall the feelings or emotions that came with your driving experience at Indy?
JM: Driving at Indy is the best, period!!! I love the track, the speeds are awesome. Not to sound corny but there is no better place to race a car then at 16th and Georgetown.
When did it first sink in that you were going to get to drive in the Indy 500?
JM: After qualifying. I went out third and solidly qualified 17th. I knew I was in the field and would not get bumped. After the interviews I said to my family I'm starting the Indy 500 I felt like I was on top of the world. That was the greatest day of my life.
JM: I had many friends that I made in the Indy Lights series. I really respect Arie Luyendyk; he was always fast and willing to give advice. It was an honor to race against him. I also respect Scott Goodyear; he did such a great job at Indianapolis.
You made your last qualification attempt at Indy in 2000. Did you ever consider another shot at Indy after that?
JM: Yes, in 2001 I was driving for Olympus Cameras. I was involved in the huge crash at Atlanta one week before opening day at Indy. A rookie started the crash that took out 13 drivers. I got the free helicopter ride to the Atlanta medical center. I had some injuries that ended my driving career.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment from your IRL/Indy 500 days?
JM: Having secured great sponsors. Being the only Nissan to make the field in 1998, qualifying 15th. Most important is that I achieved my lifelong goal of driving Indy cars and racing in the Indy 500 multiple times.
Of course, the novelty of the dentist in the 500 gave rise to nicknames such as "the driving dentist". Do you remember hearing any of that at the time, and what did you think of it? Was it something you embraced, or just generally ignored?
JM: I was taught by great parents to follow my dreams and never give up no matter what. They taught me there will always be someone out there trying to discourage you. The advice they gave me was ignore them stay focused and keep moving forward. No the racing dentist didn't bother me at all. People knew who I was and that was great for the sponsors. I am proud that I received my dental degree eight years of college and dental school was well worth it.
Do you have any general involvement in racing or the Indy 500 these days?
JM: No direct involvement but I do have many friends that are current drivers like Alex Tagliani and Jay Howard that help coach my son in go-kart racing. My son will race Indy cars and with the help of many people along the way will win the Indy 500. I started racing at age 26; he started racing at the age of 3.
Looking back at your IndyCar and Indy 500 career, how would you summarize it?
JM: I loved my Indy car career. I didn't win but I had the time of my life. The speeds are so much fun. You are in total control of the car, what an awesome feeling. I did the best I could do with what I had to work with, I am having as much fun traveling across the United States with my son racing go-karts as I did racing myself. God has given me a great life.