The What’s Up Doc Racing team of Grove has been claiming victories since the 1950s and is not planning to slow down.
Braxton Miller, 20, the youngest member of the team, received the Fred Miller Award in June at the American Power Boat Association (APBA) Modified and Professional Nationals on the St. Joseph River in Constantine, Michigan.
The Grove High School alumnus said the award means he earned the most points out of about 800 drivers who competed in the championship weekend, June 23-25.
Braxton also placed first in the 350 cubic centimeter hydroplane class, second in the 400 cc and 500 cc modified hydroplane classes and fourth in the 350 cc runabout class.
Crew chief Leonard “Len” Miller, a retired Grove dentist, said What’s Up Doc Racing is the top-winning hydroplane and runabout racing team in the world, holding more than 100 national championship titles.
Braxton said he is the fourth generation racer of the team, but the generations are only partly biological.
Len's late father, Kenneth Miller, started the team in 1953. Len retired from racing when he was 55, and Dr. Rick Miller continued the team.
Though Len considers him a son, Dr. Rick is not his biological son, and he said he did not adopt him, either.
“He adopted me,” Len said. “He changed his name to Miller at 18.”
Dr. Rick, a Grove dental surgeon, has won multiple racing awards. He was inducted into the American Outboard Federation’s Hall of Fame in 2000 and the APBA National Hall of Champions in 2009.
But Len did adopt Braxton.
At 14, right before he started seventh grade, Braxton joined the Miller family. He did not even have to change his last name.
“It’s funny ‘cause my biological family’s name was Miller and my adoptive family’s name is Miller,” Braxton said. “I have been, and always will be, a Miller.”
Braxton said most people think Dr. Rick is his father, but he calls him “Uncle Rick.” And though Len is technically his adoptive father, he considers him his grandfather.
He said he considers Len’s wife, Donna Miller, his mother figure.
“She’s my grandmother,” Braxton said. “She bakes me pastries and makes sure I have matching socks on when I leave the house; all the good things a mother should do.”
Braxton started racing when he was 10, and it was clear from the start he was gifted.
In his first hydroplane race, he earned second place in the first heat, first place in the second heat and won overall. He said he went undefeated in his first season.
“But I was only racing one class, so, it’s not too hard,” Braxton said.
As for the danger of boat racing, he said he tries not to think about it.
The phrase “kneel and pray” adorns the sides of all 10 of the team’s race boats. Although some might interpret it as a threat against competitors, Braxton said it is directed toward the team.
“You know, you kneel to pray," Braxton said. “Our chaplain, Charley Holman, prays for us before every race because it’s dangerous. Each time might be your last time out.
“It’s not if something happens, it’s when and how bad.”
Of the 25 crashes he has experienced, Braxton said his first was the worst.
He said he was 12 when he T-boned a competitor’s boat that had spun out in front of him on a racecourse. He was thrown from his boat, and it landed on top of him, the propeller still turning.
“Every time I pushed away, my lifejacket would float me back up into the prop,” Braxton said. “My leg got all cut up, and we had to take a trip to the [emergency room].”
After multiple stitches, he returned to the sport.
As of July, Braxton has won 39 national championship titles. He even beat driver J. Michael Kelly, whom Len described as “the top driver in the sport of hydroplane racing,” in two heats at the APBA Nationals.
He won his 39th national championship the weekend of July 14 in Pineville, Louisiana, at the National Boat Racing Association (NBRA) Short Course National Championships.
Lynn said Braxton broke his glasses on the first race, but won the NBRA D-Class Runabout National Championship after he put his contacts in.
Braxton finished first in three classes and second in one on Sunday, July 16, and second in two other classes on Saturday, July 15.
Braxton attended Northeast Technology Center in Afton for two years, where he was certified to build boat engines, and currently attends Tulsa Technology Center’s Riverside Campus in Jenks, where he is learning to build jet engines.
He said he wishes he could race for a living, "but there are only 10 boats in the world that make money."
Beyond his accomplishments, he keeps his pride in check.
“I just don’t feel like I’m better than anyone else, honestly,” Braxton said. “Everybody’s got their thing. Me, I can’t read or spell, but I can work with motors.
“I have to run with my talents.”
Boat Racing for Beginners, as Explained by Braxton Miller
"Imagine driving a skipping rock," Braxton said. "You're trying to guide it more than drive it."Hydroplanes appear to fly above the water, whereas runabouts push through it The boats, normally made of wood or carbon fiber, are light enough to be towed out of the water by a person Drivers kneel in both types of boats to drive, and shift their body weight to help steer Drivers steer with one hand and hold the throttle with the other Race classes are based on drivers' age, combined driver and boat weight and type of motor Inspection of the motor and weigh-in comes after the race To make weight, some drivers wear a weight vest or attach weights to their boats To weigh a boat, the team picks it up and sets it on a scale, and the driver gets in with all of his or her gear on
"The clock is 90 percent of the race," Braxton said.There are about 12 drivers in each race and 2 heats per class, each about 5 minutes long After drivers launch, there is a buoy that counts down from 3 minutes to zero Drivers try to pass the buoy to begin the race when it hits zero If they pass it before it hits zero, they are disqualified If they pass it after it hits zero, they are behind Drivers complete three laps of the course
"You will never race the same course," Braxton said. "The water is always changing."Many factors play into the level of difficulty of a course: smooth or rough water surface, wind level and direction, etc. The boats kick up water into a spray behind them, and Braxton said only the driver in front of everyone else can see Speeds reach upward of about 85 miles an hour Braxton keeps a Ping-Pong paddle in the front of his boat so he can paddle out of harm's way if his boat stalls