In his 17 years of dirt track racing, lifelong Houston resident Rustin Miller has had his share of success.
But 2013 has been a banner year for the 36-year-old racing veteran, and he added to his stellar campaign by winning the 13th annual Cotton Boll Cup on Oct. 12 at Poplar Bluff Speedway, the marquis event on the K & N Filters United Speed Contest Sanction (USCS) Outlaw Modified Series.
To secure the winner’s trophy and $2,000 first prize, Miller beat out a deep and talented 49-car field (a record for the race), starting on the pole and leading wire to wire in the 30-lap contest on the 3/8-mile clay oval. Racing in his first-ever USCS event, he earned the pole the previous night by winning his heat race.
“That’s probably the biggest race I’ve won – it’s kind of like the Daytona 500 of dirt track racing,” Miller said. “There are a lot of cars that go there from all over the place, like St. Louis, and it’s really something for a nobody to come and beat them at their race.
“A lot of the guys there have NASCAR-like stuff, with big semi-trucks with haulers and big sponsors. We don’t have near the stuff they have, and that made winning kind of extra cool.”
This year marked the first time the Cotton Boll was run at Poplar Bluff; the race was staged in Malden for its first dozen years, but that track closed down. After the dust had cleared and everyone realized a “nobody” had taken the winner’s check, Miller’s car attracted plenty of attention.
“A lot of people came over to our pit and were trying to figure out what kind of car we had,” Miller said.
The car is made by Nullynski Race Cars, out of Wentzville, a firm that manufactures a handful of modfieds each year. It’s powered by an alcohol-fueled engine built by Hood Performance in West Plains and sponsored by several local businesses. A team of five people help prepare the car for race day and stand ready in the pits during races, including Rustin’s brother, Kyle.
Before pulling into victory lane at Poplar Bluff, Miller celebrated with a front-stretch burnout, his car kissing the wall much to the fans’ delight.
“The underdog won it this time,” Miller said.
The big win came on the heels of a season of United States Racing Association (USRA) modified competition at West Plains Motor Speedway in which Miller won five times in A-Mod class races, including a stretch from late July to mid-September when he won three straight and four of five. He also finished second twice and placed in the top five on four other occasions on the venue’s 3/8-mile surface.
“We’ve been getting everything right,” Miller said. “I have a great car now, and a lot of good people helping out.”
Miller finished third in the USRA A-Mod season points standings at West Plains, and could very well have been the champion if not for missing a race on Sept. 21. But Miller said he has no regrets whatsoever for taking the week off and marrying his wife, Kristie.
“I would have won the points if I hadn’t got married,” he said. “Missing out that weekend killed me on points. But that’s OK. It’s been a great year.”
Having raced modifieds since he was 23, Miller’s career has him following in the footsteps of his late father, Moe Miller, whose No. 44 car was for decades a fixture at or near the front of the pack on Ozarks tracks. In honor of his dad (who died early in 2011), Miller ran with the 44 on the side of his car this year, rather than his familiar M1.
Miller’s success can in part be attributed to his relationship with a racing cohort, Scott Crigler, of Alton. Despite having the common goal of winning each and every time on the track, the two exchange ideas and experiences, to the benefit of both.
“We’ve kind of teamed up and we share our secrets and do the same thing,” Miller said. “It helps because you know what the other guy’s trying and what works and doesn’t work. There’s a lot to setting up a car – a lot more than most people think – so anything you can do to make that go better is good.
“We’ve got it figured out now.”
Miller’s great year was slow to blossom, as he struggled early at West Plains while his buddy, Crigler, ran up front.
“The best I could do was finish in the top five a few times,” he said. “At the same time, he’s winning races. But all of a sudden, we got it working and started winning everything – heat races and features.”
Crigler continued his own successful year by finishing second at Poplar Bluff after winning the A-Mod points title at West Plains.
When he’s not seated in his A-Mod car, Miller sometimes gets behind the wheel of a B-Mod owned by a West Plains family that helps sponsor him. He also ran in multiple A-Mod races this year at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland.
Next up for the Miller team is another big USCS race Nov. 3 in Memphis, Tenn. The squad plans to wrap up the 2013 season by running in Turkey Bowl VII, Nov. 30 at Springfield Raceway.
“I’m going to try to keep racing for a couple more years,” Miller said. “I’m about burned out on it, but the car’s in good shape and it’s actually working, so I’m not going to quit now.”
Link to St. Louis Racing’s article about the 13th annual Cotton Boll Cup:
Link to USCS website:
Link to USRA website:
There’s a lot to setting up a car – a lot more than most people think – so anything you can do to make that go better is good.”