This is the third of an eight-part series on "Driven: An Autobiography" about the life of Larry H. Miller written by Deseret News columnist Doug Robinson in collaboration with Miller. Each begins with Robinson's personal observations and experiences from the project, followed by an excerpt from the book. "Driven" is available at Deseret Book.

This is part of a chapter that begins with a story well-known to anyone acquainted with Larry H. Miller. Originally, I wrote this as a later chapter in the book, but its placement troubled me each time I reread the manuscript. Finally, halfway through the writing of the book, I faced up to it, even though it meant extra work: I reworked the chapter and moved it to the front of the book for the opening chapter. Larry liked the move. The reason we did this is explained through Larry's voice early in the chapter.

I can remember precisely the moment my life changed forever. I had an epiphany one morning while I was at work, and nearly every detail of that moment is burned into the hard drive of my brain. It was March 1971, and I was at work, managing the parts department at a Toyota dealership in Colorado. I had just taken a 21-line Corolla crash parts order over the phone from a body shop, and I was checking to see what parts I had in stock when, like a bucket of cold water, it hit me.

Here I was, soon to be 27 years old, married, with two children and one on the way, and I was responsible for raising and supporting those children, providing food and shelter and college and housing and much more, while preparing for old age and retirement, and I realized I had nothing to fall back on. I had no college education, no special training. All I had was my energy and whatever talent I had been blessed with.

It scared me. The feeling was so overwhelming that I stopped what I was doing to ponder the matter.

I decided I had to be extremely good at something, and the thing I was best at was being a Toyota parts manager. That night I worked until 10 o'clock. It was the start of my 90-hour-a-week work schedule. From that moment on, I began working from 7:30 in the morning until 9, 10 or 11 at night, six days a week. I did this for 20 years.

Reasoning that other dealers had the same parts and roughly the same prices to offer, I believed service and hustle were the things that would set me apart. I would simply outwork them. I would become so good that I could not be denied. I was obsessed with doing everything I could do and accomplishing as much as I could. It was difficult for me to go home with work undone. I wanted it to be done for the next day. A lot of people go through the motions with little sense of urgency; I had an extreme sense of urgency. A body shop would call and order 21 parts; I'd pull, pick and price them in 15 or 20 minutes. If I can find only 19 parts, I'm ticked off. If I'm five minutes late, I'm upset because I created a system that wasn't more responsive. I became a student of everything — ordering systems, delivery systems, hiring practices, training practices, retention practices. I decided I've got to be incredible in all facets so that I can control the outcome. I needed to become the best.

Well, I wasn't just good at delivering service and parts; I was world-class. I wanted parts delivered five minutes ago. I was a quarterback, running the two-minute offense. It produced results. When I started, the store was averaging $6,500 a month in parts sales, or $78,000 a year. In my first month on the job, sales jumped to $13,000 and increased every single month for 28 months. The parts department grew so big that the dealership didn't have room to store all the parts, so we bought houses around the dealerships and stored them there. In my second full year on the job, we became the first Toyota dealer in the U.S. to sell a million dollars worth of parts in one year, an average of more than $83,000 a month — which is more than the dealership had done previously in an entire year. We were the highest-volume Toyota parts dealer in the nation. We were selling parts in 39 states.

I begin my story this way because it is a useful backdrop for any discussion of my life. It colors so much of what I did and so much of what happened to me. It was central to everything, whether it was working as a deliveryman or building a private business or growing into an entrepreneur or buying the Jazz, or I'm sorry to say, neglecting my family to do all of the above.

I worked and worked and worked, day after day, night after night, dawn to bedtime. I was driven to succeed, and the way I did that is the way I do everything — I overpower problems with work.

I had always been an unusually intense, single-minded person anyway, and this fear I experienced on that March morning in 1971 only added more fuel to that determination. This drive was evident even in my early years. When I was a boy, we played marbles. Not just playground marbles, but serious tournament marbles. I went to great lengths to practice and hone my skill. … I hiked up Capitol Hill behind my house to the police rifle range and gathered large, brass shell casings. Hundreds of them. I arranged the shells upright in 10 rows the width of my room, with the biggest shells — the 21/2-inch 30.06 casings — placed in the back row some 30 feet away, and the smaller .22-caliber shells in the front row. Then I shot at the shells with marbles until I had knocked down all of them. It took accuracy and power to knock shells down from that distance, especially since the marble had to go over or through other shells to get to the big shells in the back row. I did this every day for three years. I won the school marble championship and finished second in the city championship.

This is how good I got at this skill: One day while teaching an entrepreneurial class at BYU, I was telling students that whatever we learn through hard work and dedication will remain with us throughout our lives and benefit us in ways we can't foresee. To make my point, I pulled a marble out of my pocket and pointed to a young man sitting in the last row, on the fourth tier of a four-tiered classroom. I told him that even though I hadn't shot a marble in 30 years, I could hit him between the eyes. I flicked the marble with my thumb and it struck him between the eyes. It was a lucky shot, but I made my point.

The dedication to marbles seems to have been the earliest manifestation of my intensity and passion for success. Later, I exhibited the same devotion to fast-pitch softball pitching. I remember this: I decided as a very young kid that being mediocre is no fun. In my teens I turned that passion toward softball. I practiced pitching every day for years, even if it meant digging a foothold in snow and ice.

I don't know why I'm wired like this. I guess it's the thrill of success, the thrill of the hunt, the high of achievement and competition. Initially, after the epiphany, the insanely long hours that I worked were driven by fear, as I have mentioned, but then the success became intoxicating. Clearly, my motivation to work like that shifted from fear-driven to success-driven. And it was fun doing it. It was fun being as good at it as I was.

Next installment: Miller spurned huge payday to keep team in Utah

e-mail: drob@desnews.com