Mike Schiller: Back on top
■ 1991: Schiller was part of the Carson Valley-based Dick Clark Racing Team that set the B/Gas Lakester world land record of 254.85 mph at the Bonneville Speed Week in Utah. He was in charge of engine maintenance.
■ 2003: He won the International Hot Boat Association Pro-Eliminator championship
■ 2013: He placed second in his class at a Arizona Drag Boat Racing Association event in Parker, Ariz., and while pleased enough with the finish, he emphasized that it was only a step in what he foresees being his return to the upper-eschelon of the sport after a multi-year absence.
■ 2017: And he returned to championship status earlier this month with his Quick Eliminator class win at the World Finals of the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series in Chandler, Ariz.
Needless to say, winning at the World Finals of the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series is special for anyone.
For Mike Schiller, his Quick Eliminator class championship the weekend of Nov. 3-5 on Firebird Lake in Chandler, Ariz., was a matter of defying all odds in his comeback from a serious automobile accident in 2010.
You see, the 62 years young Carson Valley resident feels fortunate to still be alive let alone competing in his drag racing boat at a national level.
“I’m very fortunate that God allowed me to live,” Schiller said. “I’m very fortunate to have the quality of life that I do.
“I’ve had accomplishments in my life and it’s just been a wonderful thing from coming into this town and racing with Billy Jac Shaw to where I’ve come full circle and had my own team. I’ve been pretty lucky because I’m on a national circuit and I race against the best boat racers in the United States.”
Schiller has been to the top of his sport before — winning the International Hot Boat Association Pro-Eliminator championship in October 2003 — and even had a photo of his boat, “Centsless,” up on the wall of the hospital room where he was recovering from a single car accident May 16, 2010, near his Johnson Lane home.
Schiller, a retired local businessman who formerly owned Golden Nugget Automotive in Gardnerville, later found out he lost control of the vehicle he was test driving. He went into a ditch at about 30 mph and flew through the windshield, landing face-first.
Schiller said he woke up with a lame left arm, no left leg below the knee, no front teeth and a severe brain injury. He progressed from using a wheelchair to being able to walk out of the hospital.
“When I woke up out of a coma two months later, there was a picture of my boat on the wall,” he recalled. “I had a little bit of wits about me of who I was, but I had no idea what had happened to me, where I was or anything like that”
That is when Schiller began fighting toward a comeback in which he could race again.
“Every doctor would come in and they’d say, ‘Oh, is that your boat? Boy, I hope you had fun with that,’” he recalls. “And I’d go, ‘What do you mean?’ They’d tell me, ‘You’re never going to drive that boat again’ and ‘You’ll never be competitive.’ I said, ‘I can still drive my boat with one leg. It’s not a big deal.’ Basically, they told me … ‘can’t, can’t, can’t’ …”
After the win on Firebird Lake, Schiller says he has a phone call to make.
“I’m going to call my doctor in the next day or so and let her know that I can. I want to let her know that I won a race. I have been racing since I got out of the hospital, I just have not done it very successfully until now.”
Success didn’t come overnight. First, Schiller and his team had to work through some mechanical adjustments before everything began to fall into place, Schiller explained.
“I’ve really wanted to win since my car accident, but I haven’t positioned myself to win,” he said. “I just didn’t have the right ingredients — there have been a multitude of things — but I knew my day was coming.
“But it doesn’t just happen. You’ve got to be there to win and you’ve got to have something that works good. And I got myself positioned to where I had a boat that I felt comfortable with, it was making good power, it was very tunable and everything was just happy.”
The first step in 2016 was to build a new motor.
“I put it in and it didn’t last very long,” Schiller said. “It got me to a couple of races, but it didn’t run right and I couldn’t quite put my finger of what was going on with it. But it didn’t matter. When it blew up, there wasn’t much left to figure out.”
Schiller’s fortunes took a turn for the better in mid-October when he had a strong showing at the Thunder on the River Lucas Oil series race on the Colorado River in Parker, Ariz.
“I put a whole brand new motor in it and I went to Parker,” he said. “The boat ran really good and I felt really confident. I came home and had a couple of weeks, so I didn’t even take the boat out of the trailer. Everything was perfect and ready to go. I just kind of looked over things and inspected some things and pretty much turned right around and went to Chandler.”
Schiller said the boat got better with each run … all the way to his win in the finals against David Cooper of De Kalb, Texas.
“I averaged right around 150 mph every pass I made down there,” Schiller said.
He added that there are no plans to retire anytime soon.
“It only challenges me more because now that I know I can still drive good when I have a good boat underneath me, I’m aspiring to win one more world championship,” Schiller said.
Nor is winning necessarily the bottom line in a sport he has enjoyed for 20-plus years (he was previously involved with auto drag racing and motorcycle racing). Schiller explained he has a lot of good friends in the drag boat community.
“I didn’t realize what I had stumbled into when I started racing,” he said. “I met and got married into a family of racing. Everybody helps everybody with everything.
“When I got out of the hospital, some of the guys called me and they said, ‘Hey, Schiller, we want you to come and tune our boat,’ knowing well that I couldn’t do that or anything. But I went, and somehow, I would do it and did my part. But the point was, they wanted me not to go home and sit on my butt and not do anything. I’m alive and I’m still doing it … and I want to motivate other people to get up and do things.”