Ak Miller 1920-2005
Words by Richard N. Parks
Photos by Roger Rohrdanz
Ak Miller (right) with Wally Parks.
k Miller was a legend among racers. Which means that he didn’t need to embellish his exploits, for we do that for him. Ak did about everything a racer wants to do. He raced the dry lakes, Bonneville Salt Flats, Pike’s Peak Hill Climb and road races in Italy and Mexico. Elected President of the SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) and Vice President of the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association), and a member of the Dry Lakes Hall of Fame, Ak had his share and more of auto racing honors.
Yet he was more than just an award winner, elected official or quick and speedy racer. It was the twinkle in his eye, entrancing smile, ready wit and charisma that got you off balance and made you fair game for this lively and charming fellow. Stories and tales surround him, and grow larger and more complex with the years. This has given rise to a colloquial expression, “that’s Ak,” meaning a story Bunyanesque or too far fetched to be true. But those who say this are mistaken for he never had to create a tale; he lived a life many of us only dream of.
Born Akton Moeller in Denmark in 1920, his family immigrated to Southern California when he was just a small child. He worked in various garages as a youth and for Hannah Nixon (former President Nixon's mother) in their store in Whittier back in the 1930’s. Ak remembered seeing Richard Nixon studying at the old secretary desk in the store, and asking Ak to bring him a candy bar and to “help yourself as well.” RMN was already a practiced politician! Years later, when visiting the White House as a member of a racing contingent, Ak found himself teased and everyone doubted that he had ever known the President. Nixon strode in and grasped the hand of his old friend and said, “Ak, did you bring me a candy bar?”
Ak followed his brothers, Lawrence (Old Dad) and Zeke, to the dry lakes in the 1930’s, and began a love affair with racing. He was a charter member of the Roadrunners, one of the original car clubs that absorbed the remnants of the Muroc Timing Association, and formed it into the storied SCTA, in December of 1937.Ak raced whatever was available, even an old derelict model T that was abandoned in the desert. He would remove the battery after racing the old heap, and was always surprised to find it still there when he returned for the next meet. It didn’t set any records, but it gave his car club valuable points toward the season’s championship trophy.
Miller and El Caballo de Hierro (The Iron Horse). He said that the car did well in the twisting turns of the mountains and at altitude, but bigger European and American cars would go faster on the straightaways.
Ak had wanted to join the Army Air Corp during WWII, but was transferred to the Army and sent to Europe to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. Surrounded, in freezing weather, with no support, he was forced to fight merely to stay alive. He came upon a German officer cooking a steak, cut from the flank of a dying cow, and so overcome by hunger, one having food and the other without, that they shot at each other for the food’s sake. Ak was quicker that day, winning the steak and a prisoner. He was less fortunate when frostbite ended his war and sent him back to England, unsure whether they would amputate his feet.
Returning from the war, Ak rejoined the SCTA and served as its President, and with his close friend and fellow Roadrunner’s club member, Wally Parks, served as Vice President of the newly formed NHRA. But his heart was in Land Speed Racing and he returned to Bonneville, where over the years, the Miller/Lufkin/Carr team set and reset hundreds of records. In 1953-'54, Miller campaigned a modified T-roadster in the Mexican Road Race. Quick on the turns and curves in the mountains, the little roadster would give up its lead in the straight-aways, but still placed 8th in 1953 and 5th in 1954.
Miller left his garage in the 1960’s to work for Ford, and run in the Mobil Economy Runs. He was a terror at the Pike’s Peak Hill Climbs, winning nine times in his class, with Ray Brock as his crew. He and Brock also competed in and won their class in the 1963 Baja 1000 Road Race.