Bill Miller Engineering's roots in
the hard-core race engine parts business go back more than a generation. In
1970, fresh out of the Navy, Bill Miller worked as Warehouse Manager at National
Speed and Marine in Los Angeles. This speed shop campaigned a Top Fuel Dragster.
In his early years in the automotive aftermarket, not only did Bill Miller get
to know the sales and distribution end of the business, but he learned about
drag racing by crewing on a Top Fuel car.
This is the car that began
Bill Miller's 20+ years of blown-fuel drag racing, the first BME Top Fuel
Dragster. Miller and his car are in front of his second factory in
Torrance, California in early-1984. The engine was a Fontana-Chevrolet and
the driver was Mike Woodard: Image: Hib Halverson/Bill Miller collection
A few years later, Miller worked at
the old Ansen Automotive Engineering where he became familiar with Ansen-s
aluminum connecting rod. The Ansen rod was a leading-edge design but had limited
market success because the manufacturing was in Japan. In the early '70s, this
arrangement didn't work well because lead times were months, sometimes even a
year, and the company could not respond to market changes which occurred in
shorter time-spans. Ansen eventually moved production back to the United States.
About 1974, Ansen changed hands and
was renamed American Racing, but the new owner was interested mainly in the
wheel business. Bill recognized the Ansen rod's advanced design and that it
outperformed other aluminum rods. More importantly, he was convinced of its
potential for market success now that production was on American soil.
These ideas in mind, and influenced
by his experiences with the National Speed and Marine Top Fuel car, Miller
decided to go into business making aluminum connecting rods for drag racing.
Bill went to his new employer with an offer to buy the connecting rod business
and finance the purchase through a split of the profits.
BME: Open for Business
In June, 1975, Bill Miller Engineering, Limited began business in a tiny, 1200
sq. ft. factory in Long Beach, California. BME's first years were a grueling
experience. Bill Miller spent days working at American Racing as Quality Control
Manager and six-to-eight hours each night on his rod business. The initial tasks
were to sell the inventory of Japanese-made rods on hand and set up the BME
manufacturing operation. Miller soon found most of the Japanese tooling
work very well. New machines had to be ordered and new tooling had to be built.
The second BME T/F car, with Russ Collins
doing the driving, at the NHRA World Finals in the late-80s. Image: Bill
The learning curve was steep because, while
understanding the sales and marketing end of the race engine parts business,
Miller was new to the manufacturing side. Bill became a self-taught
machinist, toolmaker and manufacturing engineer on a crash basis. Through
determination, persistence, seven-day weeks and four hours of sleep a night,
Bill Miller Engineering slowly got on its feet.
Through the mid-to-late'70s, BME Forged Aluminum Connecting
Rods became well-known in drag racing circles with racers like Bill "Grumpy"
Jenkins, Bob Glidden and Warren Johnson becoming quick converts and staunch
supporters. By the end of the decade, Miller had paid off his debt to American
Racing and, in the drag racing world, the BME brand had become synonymous with
high performance, outstanding quality, great value and excellent service. Part
of this success comes from the company's mission statement: "Bill Miller
Engineering is dedicated to designing, developing, and manufacturing the finest
aluminum rods in the industry. Our commitment to the racer is total."
By 1978, the tiny Long Beach
facility had become too small. BME moved up the San Diego freeway a few miles to
larger quarters in Torrance. The first half of the 1980s brought more success.
The company thrived now that it had more room. BME Rods continued to take the
sport of drag racing by storm.
Left to right are: Russ Collins, Dale Armstrong (at the time he was
Kenny Bernstein's Crew Chief) and Bill Miller. Armstrong was the first
big-name blown-fuel racer to use BME Rods. In the 20-years since Dale
Armstrong switched to BME, many other drag racers have followed his
lead. Image: Bill Miller Collection
1981, Bill Miller Engineering fielded the first of five of its own Top Fuel
Dragsters, a 240-inch, Don Long chassis with a blown-fuel, Fontana/Chevrolet for
power. Mike Woodard, Bill Miller's racing associate from his prior drag race
effort, a Top Gas Dragster, was the driver of the new, BME Top Fuel car. Since
then, a succession of Bill Miller Engineering Top Fuel Dragsters have been used
to develop and validate BME products. In 2010, the BME Top Fuel Team debuted
the fifth in this line of race cars. For more information on BME's NHRA Top Fuel
drag racing effort, see the Top Fuel race team page on this web site.
In 1982, in a major expansion of its racing engine parts business,
Bill Miller Engineering purchased the old ForgedTrue Piston company. ForgedTrue
was started by hot rodding pioneer, Art Sparks, at the end of World War II.
Sparks was the inventor of the manufacturing process used to make a forged
aluminum piston. When war production ceased in 1945, all of a sudden, Sparks'
friend, aircraft manufacturer Donald Douglas, had a lot of unused forging
presses in his aircraft plant at Santa Monica, California. Art Sparks made a
deal with Douglas to use those presses to make forged pistons for the Offenhauser, four-cylinder, race engine.
ForgedTrue went on to become a
major brand in the premium racing piston field during the '40s, '50s and
'60s. Not only did Sparks have his own successful business, but TRW paid him
a lucrative royalty to use his forging process in its volume-market, forged
pistons which were both used by O.E manufacturers and widely sold in the
aftermarket. Art Sparks retired a very wealthy man.
During the 1970s, ForgedTrue
Pistons changed hands several times. Successive corporate owners, more
interested in quick profits than good products and service, ran the once
famous and respected name into the ground.
In 1981, Bill Miller Engineering begin to
campaign Top Fuel dragsters.
There have been several over
the years. The current BME Top Fueler, sponsored by BME, machine tool maker,
Okuma, and the Red Line Synthetic Oil Corporation, is a Brad Anderson/Hemi
powered, 300 in. Don Long-built race car. Bill Miller has always taken a
hands on approach to his race car, in this case, programming the BME
Dragster's on board data recording system.
At today's BME, quality and teamwork are two key themes. At left, a BME
Team Member runs a quality control check on a Sprint Cup piston using a
coordinate measuring machine and, above, Bill Miller discusses quality and
manufacturing process with another Team Member who works on aluminum rods.
Upon ForgedTrue's acquisition in 1982, Bill Miller had another herculean task
ahead of him. Sales had tanked and the company's reputation was in shambles.
First, the name was changed to "BME Forged Racing Pistons". Then, Bill applied
the same business plan and commitment to excellence that made his Aluminum
Connecting Rod a drag racing benchmark. A key marketing decision concentrated
the business mainly on the piston needs of hard-core drag racers. Later, that
would change but, for the time being, BME needed to narrow its focus to free-up
time and resources to solve other problems. Next, stringent quality control
processes were instituted. Finally, the same good labor relations that bred
dedication and enthusiasm in the employees on the connecting rod side of the
business were applied to the new, piston operation.
Three years later, as the BME
Piston situation began to improve and with the increasing difficulty of
spreading his management team between two distant locations in the Los Angeles
area, Bill Miller combined the rod and piston operations in a new, even larger
factory in Harbor City, California.
During the remainder of the 1980s
and the early '90s, Bill Miller and the hardworking BME employees, brought the
piston business to a point where its reputation equaled that once enjoyed by ForgedTrue, then they exceeded it. In addition, the company continued its quest
for excellence with the BME Forged Aluminum Rod. More team members were hired.
New machinery, including the first of BME's computer numeric-control (CNC)
machining centers, was installed allowing additional increases in quality and
production rates for all BME products.
In 1992, after eight years of solid
growth, Bill Miller Engineering, once again struggled for working space and
began yet another search for more spacious quarters. This time, though, it went
farther than just up the freeway. In the early '90s, the State of California's
increasingly hostile business climate forced an out-of-state relocation.
In 1993, BME selected Carson City,
Nevada as its new home. Once again, a move to larger quarters enhanced BME's
growth and its products. Revitalized by a less restrictive regulatory
environment, a skilled labor force and a pleasant climate, Bill Miller
Engineering continued to thrive.
Bolstered by his company's growth in
its first few years in Carson City, Bill Miller made a significant investment
which would result in a major improvement in the BME's mainstay product, the
Forged Aluminum Rod. In 1996, after a comprehensive research and development
program, Bill Miller Engineering introduced rods made of an new, advanced,
aerospace-derived, aluminum alloy. This new type of aluminum provided an
average, 15% increase in tensile and yield strength along with equal or better
elongation and other mechanical qualities with, most importantly, no increase in
weight and no significant increase in price.
The "new" Bill Miller Engineering
Forged Aluminum Connecting Rod design saw rapid success in the market and, since
then, sales have continued to be strong. Fifteen years after its introduction,
the revised Connecting Rod remains Bill Miller Engineering's core product and
continues to dominate the market for aluminum connecting rods.
Bill Miller Engineering's 1992 move to Carson City, Nevada had it
constructing this factory near the Carson City airport.
BME Moves to
By 1995, the Bill Miller Engineering
Forged Racing Piston was so highly regarded that Hendrick Motorsports, the top
team in NASCAR Winston Cup (now called Sprint Cup) Racing, switched to BME
Pistons. When news got out of which piston Cup Champion, Jeff Gordon was using,
other teams jumped on the band wagon. Over the last 16 years, BME racing pistons
have been used by all the top NASCAR teams racing Chevrolets, Dodges and
Toyotas. Since 1996, six NASCAR Sprint Cup Champions, Jeff Gordon (1997, 1998,
2001) Bobby Labonte (2000) and Tony Stewart (2002, 2005), along with five
Daytona 500 Winners, Dale Earnhardt (1998), Ward Burton (2002), Dale Earnhardt
Jr. (2004), Kevin Harvick (2007) and Jamie McMurray (2010) used BME Pistons.
BME Pistons have won championships
in some of NASCAR's other series, too. The 2008 and 2009 Nationwide Series and
the 2007 and 2009 Camping World Truck Series were won by Teams using Bill Miller
Engineering Forged Aluminum Racing Pistons.
Pistons are always sold with wrist
pins because the two are a matched fit. Because of difficulty in acquiring wrist
pins from outside manufacturers which performed to Bill Miller's standards and
to better control the quality of the pistons delivered to NASCAR teams, in
1999, BME introduced its own line of Wrist Pins. The initial goal was to offer
NASCAR racers a wrist pin of equal durability, better quality and a lower cost
than the pins typically available to Winston Cup teams in the past. With the
addition of pins for blown-fuel drag race engines, the BME Wrist Pin line really
took off in 2001 and 2002. Like BME Forged Aluminum Connecting Rods and Pistons,
the BME Wrist Pins have become a benchmark by which other pins are judged.
In 1996, Bill Miller Engineering
introduced the Gibson/Miller Supercharger. Designed jointly by aerodynamicist
and former BME Top Fuel driver, Tim Gibson, and Bill Miller, the Gibson/Miller
Supercharger is intended for blown-fuel and blown-alcohol drag race applications
and other situations where a high-flow, high-boost, Roots-type, "14-71"
supercharger is required. The Gibson/Miller Supercharger was quickly embraced by
top competitors in nitro class drag racing for its outstanding quality and high
performance. The improved Gibson/Miller Mark II debuted in 2009 with structural
improvements along with a 12% improvement in air flow. In 2011, BME expanded the
its supercharger line by adding 6-71, 8-71, 10-71 and 12-71 sizes to the line
along with high helix rotor sets.
This view of the BME factory floor shows the piston and connecting rod
In the southwest end of the BME's plant are the lines which make
Gibson/Miller Supercharger parts along with BME Pistons and Wrist Pins.
The Gibson/Miller Mark II
14-71Supercharger continues as the most efficient, reliable and durable
supercharger available to nitro class racers and the new sizes and rotor styles
make the Gibson/Miller's performance, quality and durabiilty available to the
greater motorsports community.
Bill Miller Engineering is the consummate American
business success story. It began a generation ago with one man's idea how
high-quality connecting rods for drag race engines should be made. Today, BME
thrives with scores of loyal, quality-driven employees teaming up to manufacture
the best aluminum connecting rods, forged racing pistons and wrist pins that
money can buy.
Advances Drag Racing Safety
In the mid-2000s, one of the biggest
dragster and funny car chassis builders in drag racing experimented with
smaller-diameter, heat-treated tubing in a race car chassis instead of the
normalized, or "Condition N", tubing traditionally used in those applications.
The belief was that lighter, heat-treated tubing would be safe to use.
Heat-treated chassis were immediately controversial with those in the sport who
understood the metallurgy of heat treated steel tubing and its effects on safe
race car chassis design.
The heat-treated versus normalized
tubing debate simmered during the last half of '06, but broke wide-open in 2007.
The January 2007 issue of Drag Racer magazine carried an article about
Bill Miler and his Top Fuel Team. Miller's over thirty years of experience in
metallurgy had him a critic heat-treated tubing.
In the Fall of 2006, Miller told
Drag Racer correspondent, Hib Halverson during an interview for the article,
the use of heat-treated tubing "...didn't make the sport safer; it made it
more dangerous. Heat-treating makes the chassis brittle. Instead of having a
ductile failure, where a tube bends; heat-treated tubing fractures. There's no
warning you're approaching the limits of the part; it just suddenly breaks.
"The Schumacher car at Seattle, last
year, was a ductile failure. The bottom rails broke because they were too small,
but the top rails bent, because they were not heat-treated, and the chassis
stayed together. The failure McClenathan had this year ('06) at Bristol in a
heat-treated chassis, was a classic, brittle fracture. Parts snapped and the car
NHRA seemed to ignore the developing
problem with heat-treated tubing until failure of a heat-treated chassis
possibly killed Eric Medlin in March of 2007 and, then, six months after that,
another failure may have almost killed John Force. Those tragic events made the
heat-treated vs Condition N tubing controversy a high-profile issue throughout
drag racing. Bill Miller Engineering and the BME Top Fuel Team were instrumental
in scientific research done to prove the detrimental effects of using
heat-treated tubing in a race car chassis. An investigative article by drag
racing journalist, Jon Asher, posted in October of '07 on Competitionplus.com
and in January of '08 on this web site, is the truth about Top Fuel and Funny
Car Chassis Failures.
Please click here to read this BME Special Report.
BME Parts are the
Best Money Can Buy
Bill Miller Engineering occupies a
20,000 sq. ft. facility just north of the Carson City Airport. A
state-of-the-art manufacturing facility is divided into four sections, one for
each of BME's major products, Rods, Pistons, Wrist Pins and Superchargers. A
clean, well-lit factory area is loaded with the latest in machine tool
technology including Okuma and Haas CNC Machining Centers and Ikegai CNC Turning
Centers. Located in the same building are warehousing, executive offices and the
BME Top Fuel race team facility.
Bill Miller Engineering is the
consummate American business success story. It began a Generation ago with one
man's idea how high-quality connecting rods for drag race engines should be
made. Today, BME thrives with scores of loyal, quality-driven employees teaming
up to manufacture the best aluminum connecting rods, forged racing pistons,
wrist pins and superchargers that money can buy.
Bill Miller and wife Virgie are supported by dozens of
dedicated team members are what make BME products great.