The muted drone of distant cheers trickled in through Daryn Miller’s hearing aid as he rounded the last lap of Riverhead Raceway’s charger division race. The nearest threat trailed a full seven car lengths behind. He could hardly believe it. Tears welled up in his eyes. In just a few seconds, the 36-year-old racer would become the first deaf driver to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race.
“It was absolutely amazing,” said his father, Bob Miller, who spoke for his son at the raceway. “I’ve never been to a race where the fans were so involved. People were waving flags, throwing hats. It was just one of those chilling moments.”
Daryn Miller’s victory two weeks ago may mark a singular moment in the history of NASCAR racing. Though NASCAR representative Jason Christley could neither “confirm nor deny” that another deaf driver hasn’t won in the past, NASCAR historian Buz McKim confirmed that his victory is the first on record.
Either way, Bob Miller said, it’s a tremendous accomplishment for any hearing-impaired person.
“Everybody else has a radio and a spotter up in the stands,” he said. “They all have someone to talk to, to give them information, to tell them if there’s a crash or ‘go, go, go’ as the race starts or to pass one guy on the inside and the other guy on the outside. But if you can’t hear, you don’t have that advantage.”
Although the Daryn Miller’s hearing aid does recognize limited sounds, it can’t recognize direction. This may seem like a small problem, but according to his father, a driver who can’t hear direction is effectively crippled during a race.
To compensate for his son’s impairment, Bob Miller invented a system of lights that flash from an electronic shelf on the car’s dashboard. If he ever needs to communicate with his son, he simply manipulates two knobs on an old airplane controller that’s linked to the system.
“We needed a way to communicate,” he said. “So I put together something simple.”
For every race, Bob Miller stands at the fourth turn of the track, controller in hand, manipulating the knobs and waving his arms to communicate visually. A single green light means “go, go, go,” Yellow stands for “caution” and red signals “passing low or high.” If he flashes a red light on the right, Daryn will go high to pass someone on the right. If he flashes a red light on the left, his son will go low.
But the system itself can communicate more than just a few phrases. Any number of color combinations can transmit a wide range of information. For example, if his father flashes yellow combined with red on the left, Daryn will know there’s an accident on the low side.
“It’s all coordination,” Bob Miller said. “I watch him while he does the race, and everything that happens on the track, he just blames me.”
Daryn Miller, who lives in Franklin Square, had always loved to drive fast, whether it was in go-karts or sanctioned drag races. He began racing competitively in 2005 thanks to his father’s stroke of genius.
But winning had always seemed impossible to him.
“Up until last week, he didn’t think he’d ever win,” his father said. “He just didn’t believe it.”
But two weeks ago, a fellow motorhead named Eddy Brinchat walked up to Daryn Miller and told him to just go for it.
“Look,” he said. “You got the car; you got the skills; you just got to start believing you can win … you can win this.”
Two hours later, Daryn Miller’s car was racing across the finish line, beating out every other competitor by a landslide and earning him a place in the history books.
“He’s really good, and his car is really fast,” said No. 56 racer Jay Henschel, who placed second in the race. “If I had to lose to someone, I’m glad it was Daryn Miller.”