One of Carlisle’s own shares his experiences growing up amid the car shows
Andy Bolig - June 26, 2014 11:00 AM
This photo is from 1982. What started as one show a year has grown into 14 events a year.
Carlisle Events co-founders, Bill Miller Jr. and Chip Miller pose for a minute to get a quick photo in 1983.
When Lance wasn’t eating car-riddled birthday cakes and swimming in his parent’s pool (with a bowtie painted on the bottom), he was helping on the show field of the flourishing Carlisle Car Show.
Lance’s love for Corvettes started early. Thankfully, the sparkle-covered helmets and quilted pants didn’t enjoy the same longevity.
Lance takes a breather during a car show in 1986.
Chip Miller and his wife Judy celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary in 1991. Chip, Lance, and sister Jen, surprised her during the Corvette event with a 35th Anniversary Corvette. As an added touch, the car only had 35 miles on the odometer.
Over the years, Lance, and the Carlisle events both grew. Here, Lance and his dad stop for the camera during an event in 1992.
Amid all the work, Lance gets a few minutes of fun behind the wheel of Gene Schivone’s REAL Grand Sport during Corvettes at Carlisle in 1993.
Carlisle events have always been family-run and family oriented. Here, Lance helps fuel the enthusiasm for some budding enthusiasts during Corvettes at Carlisle in 2004.
Lance and Bill Miller Jr. welcome Richard Petty and long-time crew chief, Dale Inman during Chryslers at Carlisle in 2012.
For many enthusiasts on the early-rising side of the nation, a trip to the Carlisle fairgrounds is an annual event.
The little Pennsylvania town is host to a bevy of automotive shows where enthusiasts can come together with tens of thousands of like-minded motorheads in search of complete cars or parts to complete their cars.
Although most of the events occur on the 82-acre fairgrounds within the municipality, to say that Carlisle is a local happening would be selling it far short of its scope and influence as many enthusiasts make annual plans to visit the Pennsylvania showfield, travelling from their home countries literally halfway around the globe.
Drawing on the universal language of a passion for cars, it’s quite common to share bench-racing stories with enthusiasts from Australia, the Netherlands or the UK. Driven by their enthusiasm, they come in search of a good time and possibly parts for their beloved rides back home.
This thriving venue for enthusiasts was the brainchild of Chip Miller and Bill Miller Jr. The two friends share the same last name and a similar passion for cars, but are not actually related. Early in the ’70s, they noted that most of the shows only honored pre-WWII cars and they felt that enthusiasts of post-war autos would respond favorably to having a venue focusing mainly on the later generations of cars.
On September 26, 1974, on the rented Carlisle Fairgrounds, “Post War ’74” took place. It was the very first car event promoted by the company. In a year still remembered for gas lines and inflation, nearly 600 vendors set up in more than 800 spaces, and 13,000 spectators paid the $1 admission to sample their wares.
Within a few years, the Carlisle Fairgrounds had become a mecca for collector car enthusiasts all over the world. The runaway success of what became known as Fall Carlisle Collector Car Swap Meet & Car Corral led to a similar Spring event in 1977. In short order, they became complete sellouts for vendor and car sale (or “car corral”) spaces. In 1981, after renting the fairgrounds for each event, the Millers purchased the 82-acre property. Since then, literally hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts have flocked to the fairgrounds at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in search of cars, parts, or simply an outlet to exhibit their enthusiasm for all things auto.
Carlisle Events has since branched out in scope, now covering other venues in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, and Zephyrhills, Florida. The fairgrounds have been updated by adding other buildings to house the various exhibits and vendors, as well as paving many of the aisleways, making them better suited for foot, and fueled traffic.
There also have been changes in the leadership of the company once headed by the friendly duo of Millers. More generational than transformational, a second generation of Millers has picked up the mantle, leading this highly successful happening into uncharted waters, using tried and true values of family, fun and friendships.
Bill Miller Jr.’s son, Bill Miller III has assumed his father’s role in leading his share of the company into the future. Sadly, Chip Miller passed away from a little-known disease called amyloidosis. His son, Lance Miller, now carries on his father’s office, working alongside his friend Bill Miller III in a dynamic team much like their fathers had in the formative years of the company. We recently caught up with Lance Miller and asked him some questions about growing up in those early years of Carlisle Events’ history and what we can expect in the future.
What is one of your earliest memories of Carlisle Events?
I recall Carlisle Events always being a part of my life. I was two when my father Chip Miller and his partner Bill Miller started Carlisle Events. Both he and Bill were always eager to get their children involved with the business. My earliest memories include handing out brochures at our events as well as traveling with my dad to other automotive events around the country. My father was all about learning from hands-on experience and working every aspect of a car show.
I remember one car show at the fairgrounds, I think I was around 14, where it was an extremely hot day and I just finished a 12-hour shift. My father called my manager and asked if there was anything else I could do before leaving for the day. My manager asked my dad to please have me empty the trash cans by the food court. I went over to empty this big trash “barrel” and couldn’t budge the trash bag out of the can. I kept trying and trying, I think the bag weighed more than me and was bigger than me – I just couldn’t budge this bag.
People were watching this whole time and laughing. Well, I had to show them, I pulled with all the strength I had and BOOM – the bag exploded with grease and food and drinks completely spilling all over myself and the ground. I calmly picked everything up and put it in the back of the golf cart and delivered the trash. Needless to say it was a bit of a joke they were playing on me, but I’m sure I deserved it!
Did a younger Lance Miller ever work those earlier events and think to himself, “One day, I’ll have to make all these decisions!”?
Not when I was younger, in my early teens, but as I got older I started thinking about what do I want to do with my life. Do I want to continue working here or pursue my own path? When I graduated college, I worked at the fairgrounds in the marketing department. After a few years, I decided to create my own business. My mom was extremely upset and my father was in full support; he knew it would be a good lesson for me.
I started my own business away from the car shows. I started my own web design business. I always loved the car events but I felt that I wanted to be my own entrepreneur like my dad and Bill and try something on my own without my dad’s involvement. But what I didn’t realize at the time, was my entrepreneurship came from my dad and the skills I learned from working the car shows allowed me to never be afraid to try new business ventures and venture out on my own.
It was extremely important to my father to have me learn every aspect of the business. I worked the gates, drove the tram (I got fired from this job … I think it was a speed issue), hammered paper plates into the ground to act as vendor space markers, mowed the lawn and weed whacking (an endless job by the way), polished the floors, customer service, marketing, sales, public relations, cleaning toilets, counting money, and every other job you could envision when setting up and working live events.
There were many times throughout my childhood that I wondered “why do I have to do this stuff?” We have a team and I’m the owner’s son (of course I would never say that to my father). I did what I was told and kept a smile, although there were plenty of times I didn’t want to smile! My father wanted me to work for the team he had in place, and I learned a heck of a lot more than I ever did in school.
When on summer vacation during the later parts of high school and college I would run around with my father during the events. I finally moved up in the world! I would often find myself trying to answer the radio calls that my father would get and answer prior to him in my head. There were plenty of times I was wrong, so I would ask him why he answered the way he did and not the way I thought he would answer.
Most of the time it was simply, “You don’t allow this one person to do it because, once you do, it opens the floodgates for others to do the same thing.” Meaning, if you allow one person to use caution tape to secure an area, everyone on the field will want to do it as well. This occurs so often in life in general – as we all know.
I’ve always admired my father, but today I admire him even more for all of the great childhood lessons he provided me even though I didn’t know they were lessons at the time. I’m thankful he put me through the wringer at work. I believe that I can now relate to every position that a team member holds during each of our events. This provides me with a true education and level of confidence to step back and say “THANK YOU” for the job you’re doing.
I have great respect for every team member at Carlisle Events because I understand what it takes to get it done and done well, due to actually doing it myself. It provides great respect throughout, heck … we have over 200 part-time employees during our larger events and approximately 30 full time staffers and I’m incredibly grateful for each of them. If it weren’t for them and our core team, these events would not be successful.
You’ve driven some amazing cars during hot laps on internationally known circuits, but which is more exhilarating, doing so in a new ZR1 or a solid-axle Corvette?
Wow, that’s a loaded question!! Both are so unique in their own way. The 2012 Carlisle Blue ZR1 is an absolutely amazing vehicle; it’s unbelievably quick, handles like a race car and stops on a dime! Can you tell I love this car?! The ZR1 is such a refined automobile; it truly makes you feel confident like a supercar should. I really enjoy having the A/C blow as I rip around the track in the ZR1.
But, when you drive a solid axle Corvette that’s prepped for the race track, it brings you back to the roots of why you should truly appreciate that refined ZR1 Corvette. The ’59 that I race has similar power to what the ZR1 has, in fact it’s quite scary in many ways. When you’re going down the backstretch at Sebring for instance, the car is really flying and you know it’s an old car! It’s a car that I learned to let off early to ensure it slows down from its own gearing and then lay onto the drum brakes which scare me more than anything else on the car.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I’ve been SPOILED my entire life with great brakes, however I would have never known that, if I didn’t drive the ’59 at speed. It takes you back to the roots; you gain a new found respect for the warriors that used to drive back in the ’50s and ’60s (and earlier). The first time I drove the ’59 Corvette race car, I was intrigued but also scared, although I didn’t want others to know that! I’ve been fortunate to drive race cars ever since my college years (since ’93). I’ve driven a lot of various cars on the track from Spec Racer Fords to newer radicals all the way to GT1 cars. I was never afraid to drive any of them, but the ’59 intimidated me because of the sheer power it produces along with the archaic brakes. I’ve always had brakes when I needed them, but drums just scare me.
But getting back to point, the ’59 helped me respect the early years, again which helped us today create a car that is beyond capable for the everyday driver. The newer generation Corvette is so far above what many drivers put it through, each Corvette that comes out of the plant is truly amazing in so many ways – take your Corvette to a driving school and learn, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about!
I love the ZR1 for what the car is and I love the ’59 for what the car is – I’m torn with saying which is more exhilarating. If you forced me to grab one and go on the track for a day, I’d grab the ’59 race car that Tom Lalinsky and his team built – the car is meant for the track. But I’d cheat and drive the ZR1 to and from the track and maybe sneak in a few laps in at the end of the day.
They say that a successful hobby is one you can make a living at doing. You have obviously done that, but how do you prevent running Carlisle Events from simply becoming “a job”?
My father and Bill paved one heck of a path and I’m grateful to be involved with a business I’m so passionate about – cars and people! Obviously the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. I’m grateful to be surrounded by a loving family and friends who support me in many capacities. I’ve always enjoyed logistics too, the challenge of capturing every detail in an efficient and cost effective manner. My father taught me to always be honest, so here it goes. Some days at work it is a job, but I can look you in the eye and tell you firsthand that most days out of a year, I’m thankful to do something I love so dearly. I truly enjoy what I do and I often look forward to driving into our office to get the day started.
Carlisle Events has enjoyed several decades of successful events at the Carlisle Fairgrounds and recently branched out to venues in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, and Zephyrhills, Florida. Are there any plans to increase the number of events or other venues under the Carlisle Events banner?
We’ve been fortunate through these tough economic times. The car hobby enthusiasts are the most amazing people. They will find a way to continue to support their passion and hobby and we work hard to provide all of our enthusiasts and supporters with the very best automotive shows in the country. With this said, we ventured into the auction business and had the opportunity presented to us to run and manage the Bloomsburg Nationals powered by Carlisle Events.
The Bloomsburg event just felt right! The people behind that event started it because they were passionate about the hobby, they did it just to get their friends together and have a good time. They had some tough times and asked for our assistance in managing the shows. We’re having a good time focusing on unique ways to grow the show; in fact we just locked in a demolition derby for the upcoming event held at the Bloomsburg Fairgrounds on August 8-10, 2014. If you haven’t been out to the show, I’d highly encourage you to visit – but, then again I’m biased!
Zephyrhills AutoFest located in Zephyrhills, Florida, was our latest acquisition. My partner and co-founder, Bill Miller, always had a high interest in potentially running the Zephyrhills AutoFest because he would often attend the events each year due to having a winter home nearby. In fact, he used to talk with my father about the potential of Carlisle Events purchasing the event, however, it never came to fruition.
The previous owners decided it was time in 2012 to talk with Carlisle Events about the potential purchase, so they could retire. We came up with an agreement and now our staff travels to Florida for a couple of long weekends each year. The Zephyrhills event has amazing potential and we’ve seen substantial growth in this area. The auction has done well and the vendor area has seen a nice increase too. We’re very excited moving forward with this event. Check out our website for future updates – some big ones will be coming: www.carlisleevents.com.
Your involvement in the automotive hobby started when you were very young. What advice would you give to those who are wondering how to bring in the next generation of enthusiast?
If you have a car that you love, let a child or young adult enjoy it as well. Let them sit in it, give them a ride, let them know how special the car is to you and why. They will remember these special moments and eventually when it’s their time to find what interests them, hopefully automobiles are the first thing to pop into their head! I’m also a big advocate of bringing children to a car show or a car race, it doesn’t matter how big or small – just take your son or daughter, or a friend’s child or grandchild, nephew or niece.
I often tell people what our business is about and they look at me with a blank stare. I encourage them to attend one of our events. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. The ones that do attend often tell me it’s not about the cars, it’s about the great people that they’ve met; the car just brings them together. We’ve had great success converting non-car people to car people just by having them attend our events. Another very positive element going on now is all of the car programs on TV. It’s GREAT for the hobby. I think the more mainstream our hobby becomes, the better it will be for the younger generations to get involved in the future.
Not that it would ever happen, but what row of the Carlisle Fairgrounds would be best suited for a quick wide-open-throttle blast?
Not that this would ever happen – but “J” row is a good row to blast full throttle down. There’s a large “hump” towards the early stage; once you’re past that it’s clear sailing, however the poles are quite intimidating when you’re in a quick car! On another note, I took my 1960 Cunningham Corvette #3 down J row following my father’s passing with my mother in the passenger seat and sprinkled my father’s ashes as we drove down. It was quite emotional. Of course, the autocross track is also fun, especially after a long stressful day to blow off some steam!
The Chip Miller Foundation has made great effort to get the word out about amyloidosis. Can you tell us about any recent victories against this dreaded disease?
The biggest victory with this disease is the increase of awareness. If this disease is caught early enough, there are treatment options to extend one’s life for many, many years. There is still no cure but there are more treatment options available today than when my dad was diagnosed.
I believe The Chip Miller Charitable Foundation along with the Amyloidosis Foundation and Amyloidosis Support Group have made a difference in the level of awareness and funding for trial programs and research. To me, one of the greatest victories is having someone tell me that because of the CMCF, their uncle, or friend, or spouse was able to go to their doctor and say, hey, I’m having these symptoms, I want to be tested for amyloidosis.
There have been a few cases, where they did test positive for amyloidosis – which you never want to hear but at least they didn’t have to go through a year of misdiagnoses like my father did. Again, earlier detection can lead to better treatment options and outcome. It brings me great joy that my father is still making an impact today, even 10 years after his passing.
The mission of the CMCF is to empower people with the knowledge and understanding of amyloidosis for earlier detection, ensuring a better quality of life for those afflicted with the disease and to help science find the cure. If you’ve read this far, please take a moment to check out www.ChipMiller.org for more information pertaining to this cause and if you’re seeking a wonderful organization to donate to, I’d encourage you to consider the Chip Miller Charitable Foundation which is a 501c3.
Your dad, with the help of friends, had found, restored and intended to return the #3 Cunningham Corvette to Le Mans for the 50th anniversary of its running the famed race. Sadly, he did not see that day, but you were able to complete his dream. As you were being chauffeured around the race course by John Fitch, who is one of #3’s original Corvette drivers of the race in 1960, were you secretly apprehensive, or wishing he could wing the throttle blade open and grab a few apexes?
I personally don’t enjoy being a passenger around a race track, I want to be the one driving. However, having the legendary John Fitch drive me around the track at Le Mans was a big exception. Having John Fitch, the original driver of the #3 car, drive the car on the track for the 50th anniversary was just meant to be! I still pinch myself. I could also feel the presence of my father in the car with us, it really was a magical moment that I’ll cherish for a lifetime.
Michael Brown, who is a dear friend, created a documentary called “The Quest” – to say he and his team captured this effort is an understatement. The Quest is a sensational documentary and captured the essence of what the trip was all about along with the relationships that were formed and tied to the dream, my father’s dream. I was just the son that helped fulfill my father’s dream and I was fortunate to be able to do it for him, after all he was my father and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for he and my mom. I’d highly recommend you check it out for yourself online where you can purchase your very own DVD (and buy some for gifts too!): www.questdocumentary.com. You won’t be disappointed!
No matter how well thought-out an event might be, there are always a million things left to do in the midst of all the activity. Every time we saw your father, he always had time to speak to enthusiasts and share a story and a smile. You exhibit that same quality. Is that a personality trait or something that you learned from him?
I’m not sure. Probably a little bit of both. I deeply enjoy meeting new people, it’s fun learning what others do and what makes them tick. Our hobby is an exceptional way of meeting new like-minded individuals. Not only does it open up doors via networking, but it actually opens doors – meaning I’ve met a lot of great automotive enthusiasts that opened their home to me. I’m not shy, I love getting to know people and what they do. I love learning what other enthusiasts, whether they are doctors, attorneys, teachers, firemen, policemen, business owners, any career has to offer – just ask. Our hobby is all about the people and it’s important to always take the time to get to know them; it helps make the world go around.
While giving my father’s eulogy, one of my remarks was this: There’s a saying my dad and I would often laugh at when people would mention it: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” We used to kid about this saying as we both knew it was the farthest thing from the truth. A true example of how my father lived his life is when he passed on the following words of wisdom to me, “He who dies making the most positive impressions on other people’s lives wins!” – Now I’ve passed it on to you.
Have the internet forums, blogs and chat-rooms affected how Carlisle Events puts on an event? Do those entities influence the individual brands/marques of autos served by Carlisle Events differently?
As I mentioned earlier, prior to becoming co-owner of Carlisle Events, I owned a small web design company. My background was all about technology. I embraced it and truly love seeing all the great things technology has done for our way of living. We love technology. I encourage our team members to frequently visit automotive related forums, blogs and chat-rooms. I push them to post on Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets – it’s important we interact with our customers and potentially invite new customers to become a part of our events. As you can see, I’m a firm believer in how efficient technology has made much of our business – from registering online for the show field to entering a vehicle to be sold at our auction online.
As far as the influence on specific brands and marques of automobiles, you always have a tight-knit group that’s online in every niche. For instance, the demographic audience for Corvette owners is totally different from our Performance & Style event, which spotlights teenagers and 20-year-olds. All in all, there are numerous sites online where people can get information for your particular niche and sometimes it’s difficult to narrow in on the “best” places to find where people are interacting.
What can we look forward to from Carlisle Events in the years ahead?
We’re heavily focused on expanding our auctions. Currently we host four and plan on improving with each one. We recently hired an auction team of five dedicated people to better prepare for our growth. If you or anyone you know would like to sell a car, please have them reach out to us either online or via phone: www.carlisleauctions.com
We take great pride in our honest and passionate reputation within the hobby to further pursue the auction business model. We’re new in the auction business compared to many of the auction houses; however, we’re focused on becoming more dedicated to this arena moving forward, and we’re confident the automotive hobby will support our efforts.
Of course ,we’ll never lose focus on what we do best which is hosting some of the best automotive events in the world. We have an amazing team and we’re dedicated to keep everyone that comes through our gates to come back and tell their friends to join them.