Miller Time: Q&A with Honda’s Chuck Miller

This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of TransWorld Motocross. Get all this and more delivered straight to your mailbox each month…subscribe!

Nowadays, Chuck Miller is best known as the Racing Teams Manager at American Honda, but the Californian is also a former ISDE gold medalist and off-road champion whose career included full factory rides at both Yamaha and Honda. Miller won countless Baja races during the ’80s, and his list of riding partners reads like a who’s who of off-road: all-time great Larry Roeseler, speedway star Jim Fishback, and Bruce Ogilvie, who heads up Honda’s off-road R&D department.

[IMAGE 1]

Chuck’s rise to what is arguably the most powerful position in American racing was anything but meteoric, similar to a Hollywood press agent that worked his way out of the mailroom. As his own career as a rider was winding down, Miller took a job with Honda as an ATC mechanic, beginning a path of upward mobility that included stints running the riding schools, setting up the hospitality areas at major events, and producing television commercials. When former Motorcycle Sports Director Gary Mathers took an early retirement, the versatile and well-liked Miller was an easy choice for the newly created position of Race Teams Manager, assuming overall responsibility for both road racing and motocross teams. Recently, TransWorld Motocross caught up with Miller for a quick Q&A…

TransWorld Motocross: How much involvement do you have in the day-to-day decisions affecting the motocross team?

Chuck Miller: I’m certainly involved with the major decisions, and Erik (Kehoe) handles a lot of the scheduling and activities for the technicians and riders. I divide my time between the road race team and the motocross team, depending on the activity. I will be at every road race, which will keep me from attending a few of the Supercross and motocross events. There’s no separate motocross time versus road race time—it all kind of blends together. That’s one of the nice things right now with the teams: there’s a lot of unity. Good things are happening right now between the two teams and we’re using this energy to move both forward.

TWMX: So if a guy on the moto team has a question, it’s never “Chuck’s busy with the road race team right now”? If someone wants your ear they can get your ear?

CM: Oh yeah, I walk through the shop all day long, back and forth, and try to be involved with both teams. I probably go to lunch with the motocross team more than the road race team, that’s about it.

TWMX: Regarding Honda’s involvement with the 125 satellite teams, do you participate in the decision-making process or do you just hand over the bikes and tell them to go for it? Also, do you think the introduction of the CRF250 will change things much?

CM: All engine development is done in-house here at Honda. Dan Betley and Andrew Hobson are the development guys that work closely with Cliff White developing the CR125R engine. They actually have the ties and are dealing directly with Japan. Ziggy (Rick Ziegfelder of Factory Connection) and I choose which riders to hire and Honda supplies the bikes, parts and money. Ziggy manages the team and transports everything.

As for the CRF250R, it’s yet to be determined how and when we’re going to introduce it. Whether it’s a Factory Connection rider or one of ours that does the honors will be decided in the coming weeks.

TWMX: Besides the addition of Ricky Carmichael, has anything changed or been implemented which has contributed to Team Honda’s latest success?

CM: A couple years ago we started to look at everybody’s role within the team, what their expertise was and try to position them in that area. The addition of Ricky, Ernesto and Nathan was certainnly the first step in a big change as far as riders go, but honestly we had the cream of the crop before with Windham, Lusk and Tortelli. Despite not achieving the desired results, all three were great role models for our company; they tried hard and we did get some good finishes. I think each team has had its pitfalls, but it’s not to discount the level of riders that they’ve had on their team, and I think that Honda is in the same boat. We had some great finishes with Ezra, Kevin and Sebastien. We were always right there in the mix, but we just didn’t have the championship success that we strive for. Right now we have the top rider and a great team. Ernesto had some great finishes last year, although he kind of got off to a slow start this year with some injuries and crashes, but he seems to be getting stronger. Mike LaRocco represents Honda’s ideals: his image, his persona, and his dedication are the qualities we look for in a rider. Hopefully he’ll remain with Honda for the rest of his career.

TWMX: Given RC’s success, do you sense any resentment towards him by the other riders?

CM: No, not at all. Ricky gets along well with everyone on the team and doesn’t play any mind games. He’s been a huge help to Ernesto and Nathan. They see his work ethic and it makes them work harder. There’s no resentment within the team at all…Ricky’s a great person to be around, he likes to joke around and is a lot of fun…

TWMX: He doesn’t ever pull rank?

CM: Never. One thing about Honda is that we are fair to each of our riders…each rider has the same opportunity for the same equipment, with the same amount of testing. It’s not an area that we skimp on. When you come to Team Honda you have access to the best equipment and the best engineers. It’s a smorgasbord here, and everyone is welcome to use whatever resources are available, whether it’s technicians or equipment.

TWMX: You come from an off-road background, as does Ron Heben and Scott Harden of KTM, Bob Oliver at Yamaha, and your former Baja partner, Bruce Ogilvie, who works with you at Honda. In your wildest dreams did you ever envision that a bunch of desert guys would be running the motocross show at this level?

CM: When I first started racing for Yamaha, Bill Bell was the off-road team manager and Keith McCarty was motocross team manager. I remember I always watched those guys and thinking “what an easy job, man I’d love to have that”. Now that I’m on the inside and in my second year on this job, it’s more difficult than I imagined. I have so much respect for guys like Roger, Mitch, Keith McCarty…the guys that have been around for years. I’ve been fortunate so far, and the success has certainly made it all worthwhile, but the tough part is going to come in the future when we have some difficult or tough times perhaps, and we persevere through those. It’s always fun and exciting when you’re winning. My real challenge will be if and when that doesn’t occur, how I respond and how the team continues to grow and move forward.