When Robin Pemberton joined NASCAR as head of competition in 2004, the sanctioning body couldn’t have found a better fit. A veteran of the racing game, including serving as a crew chief, Pemberton knew all the tricks – both legal and against the rules – that teams and crew chiefs use to try and get an edge on their opponents.
Pemberton was instrumental in so many aspects of the NASCAR of today, particularly in the development of the Car of Tomorrow and its successor, the Gen 6 car. He was among the most important NASCAR officials in the sanctioning body’s continual striving to keep the playing field as level and even as possible.
He was known for his openness to listening to all sides in settling disputes, had a wry sense of humor and never put himself or his office above the sport. Pemberton will also go down in NASCAR history not just for the improvements he made to the sport, but also for his now-infamous “Boys Have At It” decree in 2010.
Those four words helped revolutionize the sport, forcing drivers to self-police themselves. In theory, Pemberton’s edict worked well. But when drivers crossed the line, he and the rest of NASCAR’s top officials were not far away to reel in the drivers, crew chiefs or teams that got out of hand.
Pemberton is in the final weeks of his role with NASCAR; his resignation is effective at the end of the month. Where he goes from here and what he does remains unclear. While he likely could retire, he’s too competitive of an individual – and too young – to just sit on the front porch in a rocking chair.
But something tells me that when Pemberton does resurface – and I’m betting that will only be a matter of months after he leaves NASCAR – it’ll be a significant role. Who knows, he may even wind up buying into a team and become a part-owner, much like Tony Stewart is with Stewart-Haas Racing.
Pemberton’s announcement that he was leaving NASCAR was not a total surprise. It had been rumored since early in the 2015 season.
In fact, NASCAR had publicly advertised for a new competition head several times over the last several months.
But when Pemberton made his pending departure official, NASCAR acted swiftly to find his replacement, needing only one day to name Scott Miller as the man who will fill Pemberton’s shoes.
In a sense, Miller’s ascension to replace Pemberton as Senior Vice President of Competition is somewhat déjà vu. Just like when it came time to hire Pemberton, NASCAR was looking for someone who had been in the sport for a long time, someone who had held a number of positions (including crew chief) and someone who is not afraid to put his own stamp on his role.
Miller, who most recently served as Executive Vice President of Competition for the now-defunct Michael Waltrip Racing, is a multi-faceted and multi-talented individual – and perfect for his new job.
He began his motorsports career on two wheels as a motorcycle racer. He subsequently became a team owner/driver in the old NASCAR Winston West Series, then spent a half-decade working as a chief mechanic in the IndyCar world, before moving back into the NASCAR world full-time in 1995.
He’s been in NASCAR ever since, a 20-year tenure that included serving as a crew chief for several drivers – most notably, Jeff Burton – and was pivotal in the success of both MWR as well as his preceding role at Richard Childress Racing.
Much like Pemberton, Miller is known as a fair individual, which will be a key asset in his position. While he won’t take any guff from competitors, at least drivers, crew chiefs and team owners know they’ll be getting a fair shake, particularly when situations arise that may be controversial.
Miller also has seen racing from all sides, just like Pemberton, as both a racer, mechanic, crew chief and team executive.
But I think the biggest key about Miller’s ascension to his new role is that his passion and love for racing has never wavered. He’s as excited to be at the race track today as he first was when he ran his first motorcycle race back in the early 1980s.
He also has leadership skills and qualities that will serve him well in his new position, while he also knows how to acquiesce with those ahead of him in NASCAR’s corporate office such as Brian France, Mike Helton and Steve O’Donnell.
Also important, just like Pemberton, Miller will not be afraid to voice his opinion – even if it isn’t necessarily in lockstep with the thoughts of France, Helton, O’Donnell and others. He won’t just rubber stamp something because others think it should be done one way if Miller feels it should be done another way.
It’s not every day that you find yourself without a job, and then the next day you are suddenly tabbed to become one of the most significant and powerful individuals in NASCAR.
But that’s what’s happened with Miller and I anticipate he’ll do a great job. He’ll pick up the ball from Pemberton – who himself has been an excellent steward of the sport in his own 11-year tenure as head of competition – and keep things running smoothly and efficiently.
Part of Pemberton’s parting legacy is the introduction of a low downforce aerodynamic package, which will be implemented full-time for the entire 2016 season. The package, which tested well in several instances during the 2015 season, is expected to make racing more competitive and put more control of the race car in the drivers’ hands.
From early indications, drivers are excited and looking forward to the new package.
But perhaps the best part of Pemberton’s departure and Miller’s hiring is the response from those same drivers and teams that may have run afoul of Pemberton at times during his reign.
Everyone has been laudatory and applauded the job Pemberton has done for the last 14 years, and I believe they’ll be equally in favor of how Miller will conduct business.
That there were no negative comments about Pemberton’s departure tells me one thing – and it’s something Miller will likely take to heart: he was fair, he put the spot first and honestly and truly did all he could to make NASCAR a better entity when he leaves than what it was when he began in the corporate office more than a decade ago.
If that is indeed the way Pemberton’s legacy will be remembered and judged for its effectiveness, there is absolutely no question he was a big success, was one of the best things that ever happened to the sport, and will definitely be missed.
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