Chet Miller

19/7/1902 - 15/5/1953

Record updated 19-Jul-06

Chet Miller was a famous racing driver who appeared at the Indy 500 19 times. He was killed in a Turn One accident during practice for the 1953 race.

Chet Miller
Born in Detroit, Chet "Dean of the Speedway" Miller lived in Glendale, California, USA, and was a famous racing driver who was killed in a Turn One accident during practice for the 1953 Indy 500.

He is one of the only two drivers to have set new qualification records on two separate qualification attempts within the same year. On May 24, 1952, Miller established a new one-lap record on an incomplete run and then returned two days later to successfully qualify for the race with a new four-lap record. The other driver to do this was Leon Duray in 1928.

Chet raced at the Indy 500 for the first time in 1928 with a Miller 91. However an accident in qualifying prevented him from taking part in the race. he had to wait two years to actually take the start. That was in 1930 driving the Fronty Ford of Paul Bost he finished 13th, 40 laps down on Billy Arnold who won the race.

He was back in 1931 in a Hudson. During the race he was forced to hand the car over to Bryan Saulspaugh, who brought it home in 10th on the same lap as winner, Louis Schneider.

In 1932, an engine problem forced him out after 125 laps and the following year, he handed the car over to Shorty Cantlon to drive relief but a broken rod put them out of the race.

In 1934 he was driving the Bohnalite Ford but after just 11 laps he crashed, going over the south west wall. Earlier in qualifying, Pete Kreis and mechanic Bob Hahn were killed on the south west turn when their car went over the wall and wrapped itself around a tree. Miller was luckier and was back the next year undaunted.

In 1935 he drove the ex-DePaolo 1927 front wheel drive Miller. Repaired from it’s fourth crash, Miller qualified in 17th and finished a respectable 10th.

Mike Boyle bought the old car in 1936 and made it part of his stable for its tenth appearance at Indianapolis. Boyle’s mechanic, “Cotton” Henning updated the car with a big new 255 cubic inch Miller/Offy engine. The old car responded well and Chet qualified third, behind Rex Mays and Babe Stapp, and came home in fifth, the car's best result since 1930.

Superchargers were back in 1937 and it appears that Henning thought that the old 151 Miller eight might still be a threat with a blower. The Offy was removed and the straight eight installed along with a new supercharger. After starting 13th, a magneto died on lap 36 leaving the car in 30th place. However pole-man Bill Cummings needed Chet to drive relief for 9 laps and finished in 6th position.

n 1938 the cars returned to single seaters and an easing of fuel regulations allowed for the use of alcohol in the supercharged engines. Back to Offy power and a new body to take account of the changes saw Chet qualify in 5th and then bring it home in third behind Lou Moore and Wilbur Shaw. An amazing result for a twelve uear old race car.

In 1939 the old Miller-Hartz, now the Boyle Special was near its end. Chet Miller was back and qualified it well, starting in fifth place for the second year in a row. In the race Bob Swanson was driving in relief for Ralph Hepburn in the Hamilton-Harris car when he lost control at the exit of turn two. Much like the 1955 accident that claimed Bill Vukovich’s life, 1938 ‘500' winner Floyd Roberts hit the out of control car at the start of the back straight and flipped over the wall and into a board fence. Miller was also caught up in the accident and was seriously injured along with Swanson. Davis died after being thrown from the car.

Again he came back and in 1940, he drove the Alfa Romeo of Henry Banks to 17th. 1941, overshadowed with the propect of war, saw Chet drive the Boyle Miller to a 6th place finish.

Then the United States entered the war and all racing stopped until 1946.

When racing returned to Indianapolis so did Chet, qualifying in 17th. In the race Louis Tomei drove relief before handing back to Chet who then retired with an oil leak.

He didn't race at Indy in 1947. After qualifying he handed the car over to Tomei and Ken Fowler. In 1948 he qualified the Don Lee Mercedes in 19th though in the race another oil problem caused his retirement.

In 1950, the Indianapolis 500 counted in the Formula 1 World Championship. But driving a Kurtis Kraft with a Novi engine, he failed to qualify.

In 1951 he qualified the Purelube Kurtis Novi but retired with electrical problems and 1952 was a similar story only this time the supercharger failed.

On May 15, 1953, Chet was back at Indy again. Two months shy of his 51st birthday, he crashed in practice and was killed. Finally putting an end to a remarkable career.