In 1959, the late Cliff “Squeak” Miller embarked on a local racing career, against the wishes of his wife.
“We just had a baby and we had just bought a new house. He knew some guys who were talking about building a race track in Shiocton and he was real interested in that,” said Percy (Miller) Suprise, Miller’s wife. “I told him, ‘Please don’t, we just got this baby and we just got this house.’ Well, I didn’t win. All of a sudden he was gone that first day.”
Miller’s racing career didn’t get off to a spectacular start, as his race car ended up on top of another race car during his first racing encounter.
“I wasn’t there, but when I got these pictures I just about died,” Suprise said. “I just begged him to quit, but there was no stopping him, he was determined.
“He had a lot of buddies and they’d always find these old cars. Some of them they’d drag home were real nice and maybe worth some money today. Then they’d cut them all up to make a stock car. But he had some really junky looking things.”
Suprise said Miller raced for 16 or 17 years, and started when he was around 28 years old. And once he got started racing, there was no stopping him. He’d race up to five nights a week, racing at Shawano, Shiocton, Apple Creek, Seymour, Oshkosh and occasionally at De Pere.
For a wife who didn’t want her husband to race, Suprise was heavily involved in Miller’s racing career.
“It seemed to always be the Fourth of July, he’d smash up every Fourth of July, and every Fourth of July I’d have to go buy him a new radiator,” Suprise said. “I was home with the kids, I wasn’t working at the time. He’d get home and whatever parts he needed, I’d always have to get it for him, and then we’d work through the night changing piston rings and pistons and all that, in a little, tiny garage. That’s all we had. We’d work all night long with a light bulb and I’d have to hold the light. I was his helper. We’d work all night long, then he’d go to bed for awhile, get up and go to work. He worked at Miller Electric in Appleton. He’d work all day, come home and get ready to take off again.”
Since most of the tracks he raced at were quarter-mile tracks, it took some work getting the car ready to race at the half-mile Shawano Speedway, and then getting it ready again for the smaller tracks.
“On Sunday morning we’d always have to change rear-ends,” Suprise said. “We’d lay out in the driveway and switch those rear-ends so he could go back to the quarter-mile tracks. In about an hour or so we’d have it.”
Racing on the half-mile track in Shawano was the track that Suprise worried the most about.
“That was scary because it was much faster,” Suprise said.
Suprise said local stock car racing was a lot different back then.
“Those were the fun days because nobody had any money,” Suprise said. “We were all as poor as church mice. If you had $100 in a car you did pretty good because everything came from the junkyard.”
She said even the tires would come from junk piles and then they would recap them to save money. He also bought a welder for $50 and taught himself how to weld.
“He kept practicing and practicing until he learned how. And that’s how he got into welding at Miller Electric,” Suprise said. “Then with the stock car, there was no end, he was always welding and fixing.”
Before working for Miller Electric, Miller worked for Outagamie County. While working for the county he raced under an alias, Roger Konrad, who was his half-brother.
“They were going to fire him because he drove a stock car. So for awhile he drove under Roger Konrad’s name just so he could keep his job,” Suprise said.
“Roger never sat in a seat of a race car but he won a lot of races,” said T.M. Miller, Cliff Miller’s son, who also went on to race himself.
Miller had his most success racing in the mid-1960s when he raced the “Little Green Chev No. 51” coupe. It was also the car Miller was most proud of.
And why was the car green?
“Someone gave us a can of old green paint and that is how it ended up being that color,” Suprise said. “We painted it and trimmed it in white. The motor was a roller Bearing Special, the product of experimentation by himself, George Stilen, a local mechanic, and Roger Paul. The basic motor was a 1956 Cheverolet six cylinder with a 235 cubic inch displacement.”
Miller eventually sold the “Little Green Chev.” Not long after selling it, it was totaled in a wreck and never raced again.
Miller finished his racing career racing for other car owners, including Lee Rouse from Belle Plaine.
“They were wonderful to us and did everything,” Suprise said. “He and Lee decided that when the car no longer ran, then it was time to give it up, which they did and that was the end of racing for Clifford “Squeak” Miller.”
Miller’s racing career ended in 1974. He passed away in 2007.
Miller was inducted into the Shawano Speedway Hall of Fame on Saturday, July 28. It’s an honor that Suprise knows her late husband would have been proud of.
“He loved to race,” Suprise said, “that was his thing.”