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Multi-faceted Ada native and veteran races cars, teaches

By Cort Reynolds

Terry Miller, a 1972 Ada High School graduate, has lived a versatile life of adventure, from Vietnam veteran to policeman to car-racing Florida professor. Teaching has allowed him to pursue his great passions of auto racing and the study of criminology.

Born in Atlanta, he moved with his family to Ada in 1960 and grew up with three sisters and their parents, George and Louise. George was a long-time Ohio Northern University education professor who earned a degree from Duke in aeronautical engineering.

"I was born at a time where we raced bikes and trikes," said Miller, regarding the genesis of his love for racing. "It was a normal male competitive outlet. I found I had a talent with cars and reflexes. 

"I went from pushing matchbox cars around to racing. It is humbling to race on the same tracks as so many famous drivers."

The times and his natural instincts helped develop his driving interest early on.

After graduating from high school, Terry left Ada 50 years ago and never looked back. "I chose a different route," he admitted. "My parents were concerned about me going into car racing, but they believed in me."

He moved to Chicago and trained to be a mechanic but was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. That led to an odyssey that has taken him all over the globe in different capacities, including teaching in Germany and Holland.

Miller was in Ada this week to visit his 92-year old mother and then compete at the Mid-Ohio race competition June 24-26 at Lexington. The Indy car season has just ended, so Mid-Ohio is the first event of the new season.

After a stint as a motocross racer, he has been racing cars since the early 1990s. Miller competes in the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association. 

Now living with his wife in Daytona, Florida, he competes in 14-17 vintage car races a year. He races in a red 1986 Porsche with top speed around 160 miles per hour, depending on the course and temperature.

Qualifying at Mid-Ohio is held Friday, June 24, with 30-minute sprint session races on the curvy 2.8-mile course taking place Saturday and Sunday. The course features 15 turns.

One of the oldest vintage racing organizations, and the only one with a national presence, SVRA competition features cars from 200 MPH Indy and Formula 1 to classic Jaguars and Porsches racing at 23 legendary tracks across America.

Sponsored by Rothman's, the 944 series Porsche he drives is not street-legal and is a four-cylinder vehicle weighing about 2,700 pounds. 

"It is a very fan-friendly event with a beautiful course which is about 50-60 years old," said Miller of the Mid-Ohio race. He noted that Greenlight TV broadcasts the event live, while network sponsor NBC shows it on a delayed basis about a week later.

"The course has some uphills, downhills and straightaways," he continued. "I like a tight, close track with lots of turns. The 944 car is like a go-kart on steroids. The fans are wonderful at Mid-Ohio. 

"European cars handle better; the Porsche was made to turn right and left. American cars tend to be muscle cars and do not turn as well," he explained. "I prefer course driving.

"Every car has the same specs to promote a level playing field and develop drivers," he continued. "A car you truly drive takes an effort."

Having the ability to sustain concentration is the key to driving well, he agreed. "Concentration is key to doing anything well," he offered.

"You get in the zone while driving, like in basketball or other sports - you keep your focus and everything goes in slow motion," said Miller. "I concentrate on hitting my marks and break points.

"Accidents do happen occasionally, but car to car bumping is very frowned upon in the Vintage Car series. It's highly competitive but gentlemanly racing.

Back home in Florida Miller also swims, surfs and scuba dives. "As a kid I always wanted to be a dolphin," he recalled. "I love to swim, it allows me to meditate. I have a lot of joyful summer memories from spending my days as a kid at the old Ada pool.

"The renovated Ada pool is very nice, as are the people who work there," he added.

Miller was drafted and served two stints from 1972-75 in the Air Force in Vietnam. He was a boom operator who re-fueled KC 135 airplanes while in flight. The planes carried up to 198,000 pounds of fuel.

"I was in quite a few combat missions," said Miller. "But the guys on the ground had it far worse. War is pretty traumatic. Like the old song said about war, 'What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.'

"Car racing is an adrenaline rush like war, but safer."

Once out of the service, he earned a degree from the famed Florida State criminology department, and then worked for the Lima Allen County Sheriff Dept. from 1978-83.

"I used the GI bill to go to college at Florida State and build a life," said Miller. "I am a firm believer in education. It saved my life after two tours in Vietnam."

He has taught criminology and business law at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida since 1995. Before that he served as a police detective in Jacksonville. He also taught at Nebraska, FSU and in the SUNY college system.

"In class we like to delve into the psychology of crime, its causes," he said of his teaching. "Such as why do people break the law and 'natural laws' people know are wrong (such as breaking into and robbing homes), and how to fix the problem."

About eight years ago, Miller formed his own group called TGP Racing. "Vintage car events bring families together with its emphasis on the past," he explained. The group also participates in several charity racing events each year.

"In our SVRA racing we don't take as many chances, it is more of a low-risk, high-reward mentality," said Miller, opposed to other types of auto racing. 

"We build safe cars and drive safely. We try to outsmart the younger drivers with strategy; we use our brains more than testosterone."

The academic lifestyle has given him a chance to pursue his car racing dreams. 

"College teaching gives me summers off, which allows me to pursue my passion for race-car driving," he summed up. "I am a normal humble person who has had some breaks and made some good decisions."

His team finished a strong third at the 24 Hours of Daytona race in 2021.

"My mom told me recently that my life turned out better than she expected," Miller chuckled. 

All in all, it sounds like a life pretty well lived.