Mark Miller of Westminster has been involved in motor sports since he was a teen-ager. The 42-year-old has done everything from working on cars to being a major sponsor.
Most of the time, Miller has been low-key in his involvement. But as much as he likes staying out of the limelight, Miller is finding it more difficult to stay in the background since he became part owner of Susquehanna Speedway.
Next Sunday, Susquehanna will have its 1995 opener. It will be the third season of operations under the new owners -- John Wertz, Steve and Rick Schroll, Glenn Hyneman and Miller. The businessman are looking forward to their best year at the three-eighths-mile clay oval.
Located in Newberrytown, Pa., off exit 13 of I-83 in York County, Susquehanna Speedway has had several owners. Until Miller and his associates purchased the track, it raced regularly on Sunday nights featuring sprint cars as its main division.
Shortly after the purchase, Miller's team shocked the racing world by announcing that it was changing not only the nights of operation, but also the format.
"We knew the track couldn't survive as a Sunday night sprint car track," said Miller. "The sprint cars were becoming more expensive and the car count was dropping. We knew we were going to have to do something.
"We knew that if you had to pick a night, Saturday night was the best night to race. But we couldn't continue to run sprints on Saturday because three tracks were already racing them. Friday nights were out because we couldn't go against Williams Grove. Sunday was out because people were spent out by the time Sunday was here.
"Race fans can't afford to go two or three times a week anymore. With John's and Glenn's background in modified racing and the fact that there was only one place to race modifieds on Saturday night, we thought modified racing on Saturday night was the way to go."
The decision was a tough one. Many race fans expressed their doubts about the direction the new owners were taking.
"It was a struggle at first," said Miller. "When I looked up in the stands that first night and only saw 300 people, I was beginning to wondering why did I get in this."
But the owners never gave up. They all had been involved in
different aspects of racing and felt that they could offer drivers both an alternative and a place where they would be appreciated. It wasn't long before the car count began to increase.
Miller first became involved in racing in 1968 when he was a teen-ager working as a crew member on the Jay Myers sprint car team at Lincoln Speedway. He left racing a few years later when long hours in his construction job in Washington made it difficult to find time to work with the team.
In 1976, he went to work with Vass & Hastings in Westminster, a general contractor that specializes in interior renovation of existing department stores. Miller worked his way to the top of the company and became a part-owner in 1981. In late 1986, Miller became sole owner of the company, which has more than 55 employees.
He returned to racing as a sponsor in the late 1980s with Jeff Shepard. The young Finksburg driver was just starting out in the sprint car ranks, and Vass & Hastings began to support his motor program as a sponsor.
A few years later, Miller worked with Bill Brian Jr. With Miller's support, Brian beat the World of Outlaws at Lincoln Speedway. Recently, he supported Barry Fitzgerald when he raced at Daytona International Speedway last month.
Miller has been a sponsor genuinely interested in the team he supports. He enjoys racing and helping promising young drivers get started.
L Being a part owner in a speedway has taken more of his time.
Next Sunday, Susquehanna will start the season with a 100-lap feature paying $4,000 to win. A large field of the top names in modified racing is expected.
After three weeks of bad luck, Cris Eash of Woodbine led every lap to win the 25-lap super sprint feature at the Lincoln Speedway last Saturday. Greg Messersmith of Hampstead slipped under Denny Hahn coming off the fourth turn of the final lap to win his second thundercar feature. Eash also did well at Williams Grove Speedway, placing seventh in the Jack Gunn Memorial.
David Parrish of Westminster took the lead on the 16th lap to win the 25-lap micro-sprint feature at Trail-Way Speedway last Sunday. Brad McClelland of Westminster was fourth. In the eight-cylinder division, John McDonogh of Finksburg was second, Mark Shorb of Westminster seventh and Roy Warehime of Hampstead ninth. Jeff Young of Westminster was runner-up in the four-cylinder division. Matt Barnes of Westminster was fourth, Mike Falls of Taneytown ninth and Craig Mann of Westminster 10th. Randy Enos of Westminster was fifth in the street stocks.
In the late models at Hagerstown Speedway, Gary Stuhler was third and Charlie Schaffer of Hampstead 10th.
Judd Shepard of Finksburg was back for the first time at Lincoln Speedway since a violent flip there over three years ago. Shepard has been racing go-karts. His brother Jeff set fourth fastest time on opening night of the World of Outlaws Spring Nationals at Devils Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, Texas, finishing fourth in the B-feature.
Drag racing got under way last weekend. Ray Lewis of Woodbine was the winner in Class I at 75-80 Dragway. Brian Nieodomonski of Monrovia was third. Jeff Meleo of Keymar was second in Class II competition. Jim Peddicord of Westminster traveled to Capitol Raceway in Crofton and was runner-up in Class I. At Mason-Dixon Dragway, Buddy Wilson was runner-up in Class I and Joey Smith of Mount Airy was runner-up in the Jr. Dragster division.