If there’s a more BangShifty story from the world of 1980s top fuel racing than that of Illinois racer Diamond Dave Miller, we have no idea what it is. A cool guy, a car that defied every known convention in the book and eventually, despite its own freaky nature became damned competitive, it is just awesome.
The 1980s were a seminally awesome decade for top fuel racing and the development of nitro engines. The young bucks of the 1960s had matured into the brilliant minds of the 1980s and along with their performance knowledge also came business acumen and an appreciation of professionalism in the sport. The shape of the sport had been hewn from their hard work over previous decades and it was refinement and development that spurred on the great minds. It also spurred on those that were not all that well known. Before the rule book was as thick as it is today, there were gray areas, empty holes, and “missing language” that still allowed the dreamers and unconventional thinkers to really get after it with a product based on their own theories and imagination.
Speaking to the sense of humor that Miller had, these words were painted on the cowl of his dragster, “There is no anguish known to the human race than the pain of a new idea.”
Dave Miller did not build the chassis of the car you will see him driving in this video. That fell to a man named Dennis Rollaine out of Wisconsin. In an effort to test his ideas about how a short top fuel dragster would perform, he got with Miller and the plan was set. The car debuted in 1984 and it was met by what the racing world typically meets new ideas with, skepticism and derision. Miller was not new to the game, having been around the nitro world for several years before this program started so he did not lack in driving or tuning experience. He may have lacked in funding as compared to the biggest names in the class but this was an exercise in innovation and creativity so job number one was seeing if the car would actually work.
This thing was about 8-feet shorter than the typical top fuel dragster of the day. Adding to the odd look was the forward driving position, the gap between the engine and the driver, and the small wing on the back. This would look odd as a super comp car today, let alone a top fuel dragster. There was a company called Land Shark that built short rear engine dragsters in the recent past that we immediately think about when we see this car, but we digress.
According to a cool NHRA story written by Phil Burgess that was published on the car years ago, tech inspection was a five hour affair at the first NHRA event that the car raced it. The event was the 1984 NHRA Gatornationals. They went over every inch of the car and while the history books will say that it passed inspection, we’d say that it did not fail. That’s not a knock on the car, that’s typically how this stuff works. There was nothing on the car strictly prohibited by the book, so the stamp of approval was given and Miller was quite literally off to the races.
1984 was a year of wheelies and mechanical experimentation to get the car to work properly and by the time 1985 rolled around, Miller had a program that was competitive if not world beating. Fans loved the car, loved the underdog nature of the whole package, and they really loved it when he qualified, especially at the US Nationals.
The video below was shot at Indy 1985. Miller ran 5.73 to qualify for the race and while he fails to advance there, his expression and words during the top end interview speak volumes about what an accomplishment that was.
Later in 1985, Diamond Dave Miller would lose in the semi-final round of the NHRA Fall Nationals, the best appearance the car would make in NHRA competition. Miller would run the 1986 NHRA season and then rules changes made the car illegal. He continued to run IHRA and match race circuits for years afterward.
The car managed to reach the 5.30 performance zone before the end of its career. Dennis Rollaine has passed away but Diamond Dave Miller is still around and the car is in the hands of a guy named Don Garlits down in Florida where it will someday be displayed in his awesome museum of drag racing.
Oh, and top fuel dragsters today have to be at least 280-inches long, per the NHRA rule book.