If A.J. Foyt is recognized as the patriarch of driving and Indy car chassis setup, and A.J. Watson the king of the design of front-engine Indy cars, then Steve Miller of Mexico is the master of race car restoration.
Miller, who runs an auto repair and body shop near his home and builds supermodified race cars, is a man who regards himself as most fortunate to live in the right place at the right time.
Of the 23 Offenhauser-powered Indy roadsters Watson built, Miller has restored nearly half of them. More in his shop await his expertise.
The roadster era is considered among the most colorful years of Indy racing. While the restorations are a labor of love and excitement for Miller, they also represent a time of carelessness.
"I was one of those guys in the late 1960s who butchered those beautiful old Indy roadsters, making them into supermodifieds to race at Oswego Speedway," he said.
"Now, rebuilding them is like a curse, punishment for what we did to them 40 years ago," he said. "There's a lot of work trying to put the chassis back to their original configuration, and we have to chase all over to find as many of the original parts as we can or just make new ones."
When supermodified racers began discarding their old Indy car chassis and building their own, Miller realized that the old roadsters soon would become collector's items. He began searching for them and collecting as many of the original parts that he could find.
Last year, Miller enjoyed his painstaking restoration of the Watson-built Leader Card Racers No. 1 "Kaiser Aluminum Special." Rodger Ward drove the car to a fourth-place finish in the 1963 Indy 500.
The car was raced at Oswego Speedway for years as a supermodified until 1978, when it was retired as the last of the Indy roadsters running at Oswego.
McConnell bought and handed the car to Miller, who restored it and hauled it to Indianapolis for last May's special tribute to the roadsters during pre-500 final practice.
"When A.J. (Watson) saw the car," Miller said, "he was a bit indignant and asked me, 'Where'd you get my car? I thought it was cut-up for a modified.' A.J. didn't believe it was original until he looked in the cockpit and saw it still had the original two-speed transmission."
With speedway president Tony George leading, 33 roadsters lined up for a lap around the 2.5-mile track, with Miller starting the Kaiser car in the middle of the front row.
"I was so nervous," Miller said. "We went rumbling down into the first turn and through the South short straightaway, but as we came out of the second turn and started down the back straight I though I was going to have a heart attack.
"I mean, here I was, driving an Offy roadster just like the old days around the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a bunch of cars all around me. I'll tell you, it was the biggest thrill I've ever had in my life."