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Miller living every young kid's dream

GRANTSVILLE — When I was 11, I was a big thinker. I considered playing in the major leagues until Brad Young's fastball convinced me otherwise. (To my surprise, he didn't make the major leagues, either.)

But I wasn't clueless. I had a plan B, which was to be a sports and entertainment tycoon. I figured if I didn't play professional sports, it would be cool to own a team or two. Maybe have my own movie theater where I could grab Milk Duds whenever I wanted.

As long as I was thinking big, why not have my own restaurant, too? That way I could take my buddies out for all-you-can-eat, right after we finished giving wedgies to the fourth-graders.

The other thing I thought would be cool was to drive a racecar. Have a place where I could bury the gas pedal and see how fast my dad's Ford Galaxie could go.

None of that happened, of course.

I ended up employing plan C, which was to eat someone else's food, watch someone else's teams and see someone else's movies. So I became a sports columnist. But it has its advantages. I don't have to worry about getting hit by a fastball.

Plan B? Larry H. Miller took that. He's doing stuff the rest of us dreamed about all those years ago. And you know what? He's as enthused as, well, a kid.

Ask about his two professional sports teams, his restaurant, his movie theaters, his TV station, his insurance business, his financial services, his sports merchandise stores, his ranch and, of course, his 39 auto dealerships, and he'll say, yeah, they're great.

But ask about Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele County and he's a kid again.

"If I were in high school in 1962 again, I would have said that this is neat, boss, cool and groovy," says Miller.

The Jazz may be his obsession but the still-under-construction racetrack is his passion.

"Come out in October," Miller says conspiratorially, "and we'll have some cars out here to drive."

Sounds like a plan.

Will there be Milk Duds?

Miller openly admits, this one's for him. He spent a quarter century building an empire and now it's time to reward himself. So he built a track. It began with plans for a place where the locals could indulge their curiosity by testing their cars. Now he's anticipating national and world-class races.

That tends to happen when you overspend your original budget by 11 times.

It goes from a nice little track to an international facility. Pretty soon people with French, German, British and Italian accents, smelling of high-octane fuel, start showing up.

International interest is building so quickly that in July 2006 he will host the American LeMans Series, sponsored by the same group that stages the world famous "24 Hours of Le Mans" in France.

Only thing missing will be Steve McQueen.

Miller says he couldn't have considered the $40 million project even five years ago. He had a couple of superstar ballplayers and a just-started movie complex to finance.

Now he can afford it.

He's doing it because he can.

It's his pet project, bar none.

"It really is," says Miller, "and it's kind of hard to admit that because all these 26 years have been a great ride, and I've done a lot of fun and exciting things. But none of them were really just for fun."

Buying the Jazz, he says, was a labor of love. The team was about to depart to Minneapolis, Anaheim or Tumbuktu.

"That," says Miller, "was more of a community thing."

He bought the Salt Lake Stingers last year, too, as a business enterprise and community service, much as when he bought the Salt Lake Golden Eagles hockey club. He built his car dealerships, Jordan Commons, Megaplex 12 at the Gateway, Megaplex 8 at Thanksgiving Point and The Mayan restaurant to make money.

"But this," he says, glancing up at a map of the track layout, "is just for fun."

Isn't that how you plan everything when you're 11?