Whether you’re into motorsport or not, it’s hard not to be excited by the rise of Townsville-born-and-grown Jack Miller. Just two years ago, he was just about ready to say goodbye to any motorcycle racing career hopes he had. Now the 19-year-old is being touted as the next racing prodigy after narrowly missing out on winning the Moto3 World Championship this year and historically skipping a class from Moto3 to MotoGP – the big league. With Jack home on his family’s Kelso property for Christmas, we had the privilege of catching up with the Millers to find out how Jack is feeling ahead of his momentous progression and how the dedication of his parents – Peter and Sonya – has helped to take him all the way.
“We’d say to Jack after each [crash], ‘Are you going to give up?’ He’d say, ‘No, just put me back together and I’ll go again’” – Sonya Miller
I have a confession to make – I know very little about motorbikes and motor racing – but ever since that win at Phillip Island, I’ve been captivated by the Jack Miller story. There are just so many things to love about it: A Townsville kid, who’s had only a fraction of the opportunities of his European peers, totally dominating on the international stage; the faith of his parents who mortgaged their property, sold assets and did everything they could because they believed in him; and the fairy tale come true of being headhunted to historically leap-frog into the world’s premier motorcycling championship and ride for the team he was so keen to be a part of, against some of the biggest names in the business.
In the first part of this story we caught up with Jack’s parents – the very lovely and down-to-Earth Peter and Sonya – to find out about Jack’s progression to the top and what it’s been like for them to watch their son on the international stage.
In the second part of this story, we recruited one of our Goers – Struan Smith – an avid motorcycle racing fan – to put five key questions to Jack. Check out the video below.
SONYA + PETER MILLER
How are you feeling about Jack skipping a class from Moto3 to MotoGP next year; especially as it’s never been done before?
Sonya: I think he has the right people behind him. It was a decision that wasn’t easily made, but with HRC [Honda Racing Corporation] behind him and with the no-pressure year, and all that sort of stuff, I think it’s the right decision. You don’t look a gift horse – a MotoGP ride – in the mouth.
Peter: I would have loved for him to win the Moto2, but he had to move out of Moto3 anyway this year – he’s getting too big – and his learning at this age is like a sponge and the change is nothing. He proved that the first day of testing on the big bike – he was like a duck to water on that Honda. I was watching him and saw this helmet just go ‘whoosh’. He came back into the pits and said, ‘Phew… you don’t arrive at the corner, the corner arrives at you’.
Sonya, you’ve never liked to watch Jack race – do you still get nervous? And does it worry you even more now that he’s got more power?
Sonya: I shit myself!
Peter: No-one knows where she is!
Sonya: At Phillip Island it was good as I could still use my App on my phone. I watched the first two laps, and then I just went to watch it on my App in a tent out the back. I’m like a lunatic! It was better when he was racing in Townsville because I used to be part of the Townsville Motorcycle Club and I’d keep myself really busy volunteering so I wasn’t looking. If I had a job at the GP it would be perfect (laughs)!
So, incidentally, how many broken bones is Jack up to now?
Peter: He’d broken 28 bones at 14. I don’t know if he’s still keeping count, but he’s definitely done a wrist and three collarbones since then. The doctor was really worried about it last year – he had to have a bone graft due to the calcification going through the bone.
Sonya: I think it takes special people not to be affected by crashes and injuries. It’s a special mental deficiency I think (laughs). We’d say to Jack after each one, ‘Are you going to give up?’ He’d say, ‘No, just put me back together and I’ll go again’.
Have you both been to every race of Jack’s?
Sonya: I lived with him in Europe for three-and-a-half years and last year we alternated as we were trying to get a new business off the ground too. Plus we’ve got another two kids. I wanted to get Maggie through Grade 12 and we’ve done that, then she’ll get into Uni for nursing next year; and our other son – Fergus – did an apprenticeship through our last business and he was 23 this year; so we’re just about there. Hopefully we’ll get to a few more [races] this year, but I don’t know if I want to go now – we’re better off staying home I think; or at the hotel actually (laughs)! In saying that, I’ll probably watch with greater ease next year because the pressure is not on as much.
“This guy’s been left alone in Europe since he was 16. He is just such a mature head and that’s probably what’s getting him where he’s going now” – Peter Miller
Have there been any races that particularly stick in your memory?
Sonya: Phillip Island in October was the ultimate [Jack won the Moto3 race in front of a home crowd]. Qatar was special as it was the first one, but with Phillip Island I just felt like the whole weight of Australia was on the poor bugger and to pull it off was just phenomenal.
Is Jack increasingly feeling the pressure as he becomes more successful in the sport?
Peter: There is a lot of pressure, but if you know Jack, you’ll talk to him and think he’s 25. This guy’s been left alone in Europe since he was 16. He is just such a mature head and that’s probably what’s getting him where he’s going now: The fact that he does have independence, has a mind of his own, and thinks more maturely than a lot of other riders do who get to go home each weekend. Jack doesn’t. Jack gets to go training and he gets to be with the rest of the team. He’s probably got more time on his own to think about how he deals with the pressure.
Sonya: He knows it’s his job and he’s watched Valentino [Rossi] and Casey [Stoner] and how they manage themselves and he’s worked out the better way to manage himself. Although he didn’t come across that well at the end of Valencia [when Jack lost the Championship by two points to Alex Márquez)!
Peter: That’s just his competitiveness coming through…
“He was devastated by it: That’s not what he worked the past four or five years for… he could’ve been a bit more gracious… but I do understand” – Peter Miller
Do you think he does wear his heart on his sleeve?
Peter: He does – you’ll always know with Jack.
Sonya: My sister summed it up perfectly when she said how you see footballers sitting down crying on the field because they’ve lost a grand final.
Peter: People said, “Oh but he came second” – bullshit; he lost. If there were only two teams on the paddock he would have lost – that’s exactly how he sees it. He was going for the Championship and lost it. He knows he was the best rider on the day and knew he lost the Championship because he didn’t stay on the bike twice. He was devastated by it: That’s not what he worked the past four or five years for. If you see a World Cup soccer team or rugby team – they miss by one point in the final and they’re not jumping for joy and doing handstands for the team who won it. He could’ve been a bit more gracious and he definitely pissed us off, but I do understand.
You put a lot on the line financially to give Jack opportunities in Europe. Did you ever have your doubts it wouldn’t work out?
Sonya: There were a lot of doubters and people thought we were stupid I’m sure, but we discussed it and said we didn’t want to say, ‘What if?’ with people saying your son could have…
Peter: If I was 60-odd years old and someone said, ‘I watched your son race years ago and he could have gone all the way’, I’d want to go and shoot myself if I hadn’t given him the opportunity. We were lucky that we could – sure; we discussed it – quite well!
Coming from Australia, has it been harder for Jack to get that break?
Peter: The kilometres we’ve had to do here so Jack could compete… in 2009, the year he started riding road bikes in Australia, we did the Southern Downs Championship, we did the Australian Super Bike Series and we did the MRRDA – which is an Australian junior development series. I’d leave the van in Brisbane and every weekend Jack and I would fly to Brisbane and drive from there and we still managed to do 63,000km in a year. Jack was bloody lucky we could do that and had the time to do it. Before that, we’d drive to Brisbane and I’d do 1,400km on a Friday night: I’d pick Jack up from school at 3pm and have him down there at the racetrack by 6am in the morning. I’d say I’m going to sleep now, get your stuff out and go racing! I’d sleep half of Sunday, he’d finish his finals, climb in the van and I’d get him back for school on Monday. It’s what you had to do. With that 63,000km of travelling in 2009 he did 1850km on that bike. Compare that to the week before the second race of the CEV Moto3 International Championship [Jack’s first European championship] – he did 1450km on that track. Plus race weekend you do 600km. So in Europe you’re on a 5.5km track and they have all the facilities – you just need to rock up and pay a fee for the day – it was spectacular. What an easy way to get bike time! We need more complexes and places to ride in Australia – that’s what’s going to affect the upcoming juniors.
Sonya: That’s what Jack loves about living where he lives. He’s just south of Barcelona and in half an hour there are 10 tracks he can go to – there are just tracks everywhere.
Do you think it shows his talent – coming from such a difficult country to develop in as a junior – to where he’s come to?
Sonya: I think so; when you see what the others have.
Peter: That’s why I say you’ve got to go when you’re younger. And that’s probably what Casey [Stoner] did. They left around the same time – he went overseas about a year before Jack at 14 [Australian law says you need to be 16 for road races]. Australia is very over-regulated and we are lucky we have the dirt tracks, as it’s the only thing that’s feeding into the sport. It’s really interesting now because a lot of the top riders are practising on dirt track now.
So, for other up and coming motorbike riders, do you think the dirt is the key?
Peter: You look back to when Jack came through his dirt track and we’d go to these southern meetings and be riding against the guys like Darcy Ward [two-time Speedway World Champion] and lots of other guys who are riding Speedway in Europe now. Jake Allen is going really well and he and Jack used to battle it out. There was a big talent pool and they all rode dirt bike together, so they were all battling each other, pushing each other, and helping each other along.
“He’d race a whole weekend and he’d come home on a Sunday afternoon… he’d get that bike off the trailer and it wouldn’t be washed straight away would it?” – Peter Miller
There’s no doubt Jack has talent, but how much has been hard work?
Peter: He’d race a whole weekend and he’d come home on a Sunday afternoon – it would be about 3pm and you would have driven 500km. He’d get that bike off the trailer and it wouldn’t be washed straight away would it? While there was still fuel in that tank he’d take it straight down the back to the motocross track and ride it around till it was dark, and then the lights would be on while he was washing the thing. That’s the sort of thing that kid would do – he lived to ride and still does.
Sonya: He never had the best of everything either. They’d say to Peter, ‘What have you done to the bike?’ – they never gave the kid credit, because these Gold Coast people were spending thousands on pipes and motors.
Peter: They did a fuel test once and came up to me and said, ‘For God’s sake… can you give your son a chance?’ (laughs). They couldn’t believe I was using the fuel from the servo down the road.
Do you think that’s why he’s got such a good attitude now?
Peter: He’d ride a cardboard box if you’d put him on it. All I ever did was get a new bike, put a pipe on it and get it jetted so we knew it was right for North Queensland and wasn’t going to blow-up. I’d never touch it or change a jet; he’d just ride it.
Sonya: That was the story of his life. He’d ask Peter, ‘One day do you think I’ll get a fast bike, or will I always get the donkey?’
Peter: I’d say, ‘When you can get it going around corners properly mate, you’ll get some more horsepower’. It worked because over the past two years look at how fast he goes around corners. He had to work out how to use something with no horsepower; he’s had to do that his whole life.
Until now! He’s already done so well in testing on the new Honda with all that extra power…
Peter: And he hasn’t even ridden with electronics yet. He said, ‘Dad, I was having a bit of trouble controlling the spin the other day, but it’s fu*king awesome’.
Sonya: That’s another reason why we are so happy with the move this year: the dynamics change again in 2015 because they are all going to get controlled electronics.
Peter: So this is the last chance he’s going to get of going into the GP class and actually having a bike to learn on. You look at that and think would you want to spend a year on a Moto2 learning that, then have to completely relearn this other thing, or you could start on an open class and ride and get yourself up there, then the following year everyone’s going to be on the same electronics that you are already running, so all the big guys will have to come back and relearn all those electronics and they’re all going to change tyres. So they’ll be more on a level playing field.
Sonya: Also, the team that he’s surrounded by is amazing and the skills sets they bring in for him is phenomenal. He is truly lucky with all that. He’s in the best hands, and caring hands. I’ve learnt a lot in the last four years of the GP sharky world and I can pick the good people.
What have been the most challenging parts for you?
Sonya: The political side of it all; definitely. Then there’s social media: There was something on Twitter today that said, ‘I hope you die Jack’. Jack replied: ‘I’ll do my best, but I can’t promise anything’.
Peter: The second person to like Jack’s reply was Jorge Lorenzo, and all of a sudden the ‘who’s who’ of the Twitter world has jumped on board.
Sonya: I asked Jack, ‘does it get to you?’ because it got to me the other day, and I try not to let it affect me. Jack said, ‘Geez Mum, don’t get on YouTube if you’re worried about that stuff’.
Have you experienced any ‘pinch yourself’ moments over the past four years?
Sonya: All the time. We were watching TV with my Mum and Dad from New Zealand and the next minute we see him on there presenting trophies at the Spanish Championship…
Peter: … And they say, ‘We have Moto3 legend Jack Miller here to present the trophies’; four years ago I didn’t believe I’d ever be seeing that… I had another one of those moments when he was testing the other day in Malaysia when he and Rossi did a couple of laps together; that was pretty good watching that.
Sonya: There’s been so many of them and it’s pretty unreal. We’re so proud of him that he’s stuck through it as he thought he was going home a year or so ago.
Your advice to other parents of talented juniors – how do you know when to back them all the way, or back off?
Sonya: You need to go with your gut instinct – it’s all you can do. They need to show potential.
Peter: Yes, they need to show some potential and really show that they want it more than anyone else; it’s their life. Maggie [Jack’s sister]: What does Jack do other than ride bikes?
Maggie: Annoys me.
Peter: If he can’t ride bikes he is very annoying isn’t he? He’ll organise friends and say, ‘Let’s Go!’ He’s got everyone’s bikes under his house, so he just gets the van, loads it up and picks everyone up. Otherwise they’ll all say it’s too hard. Plus he doesn’t want to go riding alone anyway – he wants to blow them all away. That’s what it’s all about: Show them up and make them look stupid – that’s his specialty (laughs).
Do you think Jack’s got a chance of winning MotoGP next year?
Peter: I don’t know about winning, but I’d like to see him on the podium. Regardless, it’s going to get very interesting in a few months. Everyone’s waiting and everyone knows it’s going to happen [the rivalry between Jack and Marc Marquez playing out on the track]. There’s no doubt that the bosses at Honda are grinning from ear-to-ear at the moment: They are just loving the fact that they’ve got someone who’s so eager to work – he’s like plasticine.
We caught up with Jack Miller while he was home for Christmas to find out what it’s like to ride a MotoGP bike, the changes to his training regime going into next year, growing up racing in Townsville, the rivalry with the Marquez brothers, the continuing support of his family and the power of his mighty mullet.
This interview was conducted by Struan Smith – one of our Goers and a big MotoGP fan – and the video was made by Clare Powell.
MotoGP cheat sheet
- Marc Márquez is the current MotoGP world champion. Jack was beaten by Marc’s younger brother Alex Márquez this year in the Moto3 class by just two points; making Alex and Marc the first brothers to win world motorcycle racing titles.
- In late 2014, Jack Miller became the first rider to skip the Moto2 class, going straight from Moto3’s 250cc engines to the 1000cc power of MotoGP.
- He will now compete against the likes of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, and – excitingly – defending champ and rival Marc Márquez.
- Jack tested the bike he will ride in MotoGP 2015, Honda’s RC213V-RS, in Malaysia in November and already impressed the team big wigs and engineers with his handling.
- The MotoGP season starts on March 29, 2015 in Qatar.