Jefferson City businessman Reid Millard finds solace from thrills on the fast track.
OK, let’s see a show of hands. How many of you can say you’ve beaten Tiger Woods in a round of golf or LeBron James in a game of one-on-one? Hm, I see. How about beating Tom Brady in a passing competition? Michael Phelps in the 100-meter butterfly?
I’m not seeing many hands. What about beating Carl Edwards in a race? That’s what I thought. Well, we have one in our midst, Reid Millard. His hand is raised — or at least it should be.
Donnellson, Iowa, 2007: “The last time I raced Carl, I beat him (in a dirt track race),” Millard says. “Well, I came in ahead of him, anyway. I won the heat race, and he was in the heat race with me, and then I came in ahead of him in the main race. We must have had a good car that day.”
Beating Carl Edwards: You would think that would be Millard’s top racing highlight. But when he was asked about highlight No. 1, that wasn’t it. And no, he’s never beaten Jimmie Johnson.
Brunswick, Ga., 2005: “It’s a five-eighths [mile] track,” says Millard, 54, who’s been dirt track racing since 2000. “There were 38 cars in the feature. Thirty-four really belonged in the race, and there were probably four of us who really shouldn’t have been there. But we hit a speed of 174 down the back straightaway. That’s fast.
“Normal speeds in this area are around 100 mph, just because they’re smaller tracks,” he continues. “Our cars have as much horsepower as a NASCAR race car, but they weigh 1,000 pounds less, so we can get up to speed a lot quicker on a smaller track. When the car is working well and you can move forward in a race, it’s a lot of fun.”
Not all of it has been fun, however. LaMonte, Mo., 2004.
“The accident started out down to the left of me,” Millard says. “The car beside me turned a car around down on the inside, and it turned it around and came back at me. When I hit it, I was in full throttle in turn 3, and it just ejected me [while still in his car] out over the track and upside down and down over the side. I flipped a couple times, it crushed the top down, and I just sat and waited my turn for them to get me out.”
Millard suffered a fractured back.
“There was some incredible pain,” he says. “When you’re in that position, you just have to calm yourself down because you get so excited. You’ve just got to breathe easy and focus your mind on other stuff until you get out of there. I can’t remember what I was thinking about; I know I was just trying not to think about how bad I was hurt.”
He was Life Flighted by helicopter to St. Luke’s in Kansas City, the start of a three and a half-month recovery. Millard was 49 at the time, so was enough enough? Nope.
“I wasn’t going to quit,” he says. “If you’re playing football and you get hurt, you keep playing. That’s all. It’s going to happen; it’s part of racing.”
Millard grew up in Brilliant, Ohio, on the eastern edge of the state, close to Pittsburgh and Wheeling, W.Va. “I grew up around dirt track racing in the Ohio Valley,” he says. “Dirt track racing was a huge sport. Being close to Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh International Motor Speedway and so many others…they were all up and down the Valley.”
After attending Wheeling Jesuit University, Millard earned his degree in mortuary science from Commonwealth College of Sciences in Houston in 1981, graduating at the top of his class, before moving to Jefferson City in 1990 and purchasing Houser Funeral Services. He now owns eight funeral homes around Missouri, including the now Houser-Millard Chapel in Jefferson City.
He does what most of us wouldn’t want to do.
“It can be tough sometimes,” Millard says. “The young people, that’s when it’s really tough. That’s why I took up racing. I needed an outlet of energy, so to speak, to get away. A lot of people golf or fish; I love racing.”
Millard actually started in 1990 by sponsoring Vic Bentlage and Crump Racing before he began racing 10 years later. He races between 30 and 50 races a year, starting with a swing through Florida, Alabama and Georgia in February.
“I really enjoy the camaraderie of the other drivers and their families,” Millard says. “We have a great time and enjoy the fans. All the different tracks we go to and all the people you meet, it’s just a lot of fun. I really enjoy the competition. It’s just like anything else; when your golf game’s good, it’s a lot of fun. Racing is the same way. We’re going against guys who race 130 races a year. That’s their livelihood. But we’ve finished well in a lot of those races.
“I like NASCAR, but I like dirt racing even more,” he continues. “I think the competition is different. … We’re not allowed to have spotters, we don’t have mirrors, we don’t have radios. So you’re on your own out there.”
That’s not to say he’s alone. Millard’s mechanics and pit crew include Mike Crump, Mark Crump, Chet Mackney, Gordon Wilson, Chris Carter and Chris Cox.
“Those guys take care of things, and they do a great job,” Millard says. “In order to finish the race, you have to have a good car. In order to win the race, you have to finish the race. Those guys are a real part of the recipe that makes a difference for our team. … We’re able to compete pretty well because our car stays together.”
Millard is also a fixture on the local sports scene and is seen frequently at high school and college events. He was instrumental in founding the Blue Tiger Quarterback Club to help Lincoln University. “My goal is to try and get a better working relationship between the community and Lincoln’s sports programs,” says Millard, who was also a driving force behind the school’s new state-of-the-art weight room. “And I think we’ve done that.”
We’ll end with this: We’ve all had to deal with the death of a loved one and know how painful that process can be. Millard is surrounded by this sadness and pain on a daily basis, 24-7, 365 days a year. But he’s cultivated an outlook we should all embrace.
“In every person’s life, every day is a gift,” Millard says. “You should take the time to enjoy the things you like to enjoy and spend time with the people you like to spend the time with, people who care about you, because life’s just too short.”