It often starts with Dad.
Ask any rider how he or she got started on a dirt bike and usually Dad gets the credit. For a select few, that first ride turns into a first race, a first win and then the first sponsor on their way to serious competition.
But Dad never stops being Dad and even if his child is on the cusp of adulation Dad is there to keeps his child grounded. Sitting trackside watching your child open the throttle on a gas-powered machine certainly is exciting but it also comes with certain realities. Nevertheless, it's not easy living the Moto Life for a decade or more until the checkers wave on a once-budding career or the pro ranks look inevitable.
So, what's it like parenting a rising star?
Mike and Michelle Miller know. Their son Max has raced since he was 6 years old and continues to progress through the amateur ranks. Last month, Max raced the Oak Hill and Freestone Amateur Nationals in Texas in several classes. Most notably, he took third overall at Oak Hill in the 85cc 9-13 class and second overall in the Supermini 1 12-15 class. At Freestone, he swept both Motos in the 85cc (9-13) and the Mini Sr. 2 (12-14) classes.
The Millers truck Max and his dirt bikes all over the country, but since Max is just 13, they are still very active in their roles as parents. MotoSport sat down with Mike and asked him about his own past racing dirt bikes, what it is like raising a promising young star and how to live the Moto Life.
What age did you started riding and on what? 5 years old on an Indian 50. Started racing flat track at 6, at 7 got a 1975 XR75 and raced Motocross
What do you ride now? KTM 450
Hometown: Springfield, OR
Career Highlights: As a kid, I got 4th place in the 85 class at Ponca City National Championship and went back in 2012 with Max and won "Best of the Best" Championship. Max and I had back-to-back Moto wins at Oak Hill National and Freestone National and won our Championships in both classes and we were both on the podium together. And that was super cool.
Other hobbies/interests: Hunt and fish, sell real estate, farming
Children: Jack 21, Kate 20, Allison 16, Max 13
1. How did you get your son Max into riding dirt bikes?
In 2006, I hadn't ridden dirt bikes in 30 years and my oldest boy Jack wanted a dirt bike so I bought us some. I rode with my two oldest and then got the youngest ones bikes. Max started by watching his brother ride and when he was three he came up to me and said he wanted to ride Jack's little bike. I told him he was too little. I told him when he can ride his bicycle then he could ride a dirt bike. That night he got on the BMX bike and rode it and he said. "Now go get my 50." From that day on that's all he wanted to do was ride dirt bikes.
2. You have other children. Do they ride, and if so, could you tell something was different right away or did nothing stand out with Max's ability initially?
They all rode, now they have faded off. Max from day one, he was just a natural. He was smooth, it was like part of his body. He started when he was really young so it's almost like it is a part of his body. He's just been a natural his whole life. His body posture and how he rides is just different.
3. At some point Max decides to take the hobby to the next level. When did this happen and were you behind the push?
That's the goal for a lot of families. When he was on 50s and he was riding at a level higher than local kids the next step naturally was take it to the next level. Once you start doing that and competing at a high level it's very addicting. Kids like it and parents like it. It's a great family sport. It teaches you a lot of things and we just went for it. As long as he's really wanting to do it I'll back him. We'll go there (pro ranks) if that's where it takes us.
4. How do you approach it as his father? He's riding motorcycles not playing soccer. Did you have a sit down with him or let him lead and understand risks on his own?
We don't really talk about it in a doom and gloom the sky is falling fashion. He knows the risks. He knows how dangerous it is and has had his share of broken bones. We don't dwell on it. We do everything we can to avoid having major catastrophes but he knows the risks are there. For example at Monster Cup we didn't really want him to ride but Max did. So, we talked with some families and we decided to let him race it. Six weeks before Monster Cup we trained on Supercross tracks so when we got there he was prepared. We don't go do things we think are out of control and puts him in harm's way.
5. Parents worry. Is a significant crash on your mind whenever he races?
Absolutely. I see him going so fast and he's in control and it looks good but he's throwing massive whips and scrubbing. That high speed is spooky sometimes. The facts are it is a dangerous sport. You just have to do the best as a parent and make them as prepared as they can and as safe as you can. The alternative of telling him he can't do what he loves to do is worse.
6. You're still his coach. How does that work?
I'm still Dad, coach, banker and half mechanic. We train off and on with Monty Hill (Josh and Justin Hill's father) and Nathan Ramsey (1999 West Coast Lites Champion and a KTM Amateur riding coach) and Landon Currier (local Northwest trainer and coach).
If he's going to go pro, my job is just to back my son and be there for him for all the support, whether it's coaching, psychological, financial or as a mechanic. It's my job to help filter out the good and the bad and marry everything together for the best interest of my son. We're doing this because we love what we're doing. If we move this further I need to take my wisdom to help my son get through life and whatever comes next.
7. And you're still Max's bank, so to speak. Riding Motocross is not inexpensive. How did you and your wife handle funding what's turned into an expensive venture for your son?
When I was a young man I worked really hard in my business. I was fortunate enough to make a little extra cash so now I am fortunate enough to be able to help my son. It got to the point where it did get very expensive but he's done well enough so we've got help from quite a few companies.
When we first started it was more of a hobby but once Motocross bit us, we just loved it. As Max got better we took him to bigger venues so it cost more money. We budget for our racing, figure out what we need and what we get from our sponsors and manage that in our budget. That's our focus. What we enjoy to do as a family is supporting Max in his races and traveling around going to races.
8. Getting sponsorships is a must-have in Motocross. Are you involved in securing those or is that one of Max's "jobs"?
Ultimately it's Max that gets the sponsors but I work very hard in communicating with the different sponsors and following up on emails. My wife is also instrumental. She's always letting them know about his success, what he's won and sending pictures to sponsors. It shows them we care and appreciate their help and we're getting their name out there. I also look at the various sponsorship contracts and help him decide on who to go with, but he ultimately makes the decision.
9. Do you implement rules? Meaning, if you saw Max not giving 100 percent do you pull the plug? Or if he's not getting results that take him to the next level would you consider talking to him about scaling back the program?
That's never come up. It's one of those things that doesn't need to be said. He's going to the races because he wants to go and win. He knows if he doesn't train he's not going to win. He doesn't want to get second-place. He's there to win and he's all in on that. If he wasn't or just going through the motions I'd think we talk about going fishing instead of riding but it wouldn't be an ultimatum.
10. You've got other kids. How to you balance the attention and focus on Max without alienating your other children?
There always is an issue. But my kids have lived it and they've seen Max accelerate and do well. They're good with it. They'll obviously wish we had some of those family vacations instead of sitting by the creek at Loretta's but they've had a good time with it. There's definitely a sacrifice with it but I think they're good with it. Jack was a first team all-state football player and we supported him in that, for example, but Motocross does take a bit more time.
11. School is always a big issue. How do you work around school and is keeping grades up part of your deal for Max?
We require Max to be responsible and respectful. He's still 13. His grades need to be tip top. Right now we want all A's. If he's going to race and we're going to work as hard as we work to support him he needs to work. We don't want to raise a dummy. When he's done racing he's going to be sharp. He goes to public school. Some parents home school at our level but we're not there, perhaps in high school. He needs to give us 100 percent in school and not smart off and think he's Mr. Big Britches because he's winning all these championships.
We're not raising a crazy, spoiled, mouthy, famous kid. That's not happening in my house. If he breaks the rules we're not going racing on Saturday. But we have not needed to go there.
12. You've invested a lot of time and money. If Max comes to you tomorrow and says "I'm done" what's your reaction?
I would obviously talk to him on his decision and where he's at. I've seen, in the amount of racing we've done, I've seen kids get to a certain level they come to a reality they are going too fast and it scares them. The risk isn't worth the rewards, I've seen that happen. If someone gets to that level they need to quit or knock it down a notch and not do it at that competitive level. If he decides he's not going to do it then we're going fishing.
13. You've been hauling Max, dirt bikes and a big trailer around for several years, sometimes across the country. Knowing what you know now, would you do anything different?
There's lots of little things I would have done differently. Mechanical things. In the beginning I cut corners on equipment and parts. I realize now you are way better off replacing things early and not trying to get a little more life from a part. You end up spending more money by doing that. It operates better, faster and it's safer for your kids.
On the training, I think we've done pretty good. We never pushed him, he's never not wanted to go riding. If he didn't I wouldn't jump all over him. I would never push him because I think it turns negative. If it's up to them to do it I think you get a lot more out of it and they stick with it.
14. What advice would you give parents with a budding Motocross star?
Go for it. And relax. Most newbies are so intense and defensive over their kid and overly proud and worry about each little race and practice when in reality it's big picture enjoyment with your child and mental and physical building with your child. If success is coming, it will come.
Check out our 2013 interview with Max: Profile: Max Miller - A MotoSport Amateur Sponsored Rider
Written By: AndrewT