Harness racing is a family tradition

For some, family night at the Auglaize County Fair is an annual tradition. People come out to enjoy truck driving, livestock shows, amusement rides or to eat that deep-fried funnel cake they allow themselves to have once a year.

But for one family the Auglaize County Fair is more than a festival, it is a tribute to their father, a tribute that is now a nine-year family tradition. Every summer the Chiles family makes their way back to Wapakoneta from across the country for the fair.

On Wednesday night, the Chiles family wore matching maroon T-shirts in the grandstands, to watch harness racing.

They watched one race in particular, the Roger Chiles Memorial race, which was created in their father’s honor.

Roger Chiles was a trainer and driver for harness racing for more than 30 years. He went every year to the Auglaize County Fair to race his horses and compete in his quest to be one of the best trainers in Ohio.

One summer in the early 1990s Roger Chiles trained a 3-year-old horse named Good Lover. His horse won at the fair and went on to become a state champion.

Since his life was spent training horses, when he died in March 2004 his family knew exactly how to honor their late father.

The Roger Chiles Memorial race takes place every year at the Auglaize County Fair, and after the race, the winning horse, trainer and driver are awarded a trophy and a commemorative blanket. This year, the horse Big Red won the race.

Every race has a meaning and every person has a story. Meet Devan Miller.

Miller has been training horses to harness race since she was 12 years old. From Troy, she grew up in a family that, much like the Chiles family, loved harness racing. Miller’s love for the sport was inspired by her father.

Her father, David Miller, is a harness racing driver who competes in large-purse races in New Jersey and other east coast states.

In 2007, David Miller became just the seventh driver in harness racing history to guide horses to $100 million in career earnings, a milestone that certainly solidifies him as a world-class harness racing driver.

“It’s weird to think that to some people, my dad is an idol,” Devan Miller, 24, said. “To me he’s just a normal guy.”

Wednesday was a busy day for Miller, as she had three horses competing in various races. One race she had two horses competing, so she suited up and drove for one of them. In that race, her two horses finished in first and second.

Devan Miller’s third horse, Big Red, competed in the Roger Chiles Memorial Wednesday night and won, becoming the ninth horse to win the memorial race.

“It was really cool to go out and win it for the Chiles’ family,” Devan Miller said.

Before moving to New Jersey, David Miller was a well-known winner in the Ohio circuit. He competed at the Auglaize County Fair several times. In the summer of 1992, David Miller drove a horse all the way to a state championship. That horse? Good Lover, Roger Chiles’ state-champion horse.

It’s a strange and complicated circle to follow, but one that ends with a story of two families connected by a single race and a love for a single sport. Devan Miller, inspired to be a trainer by her father, competed and won a race in memory of her father’s friend, Roger Chiles.

Sitting in the first couple rows of the grandstands were Roger Chiles’ three children; Roger Chiles Jr., Darrell Chiles and Barbara Wibbeler. Roger Chiles Jr. made the trip from North Carolina, Darrell Chiles made the trip from Kansas and Wibbeler still lives in Wapakoneta.

“Once dad passed away we said ‘Let’s do this to keep his name alive,’ ” Darrell Chiles said. “How many kids can honor their father the way we do here?”

Devan Miller said it was a very unique experience, and said that the connectedness of the situation made it emotional.

“I’m glad I won it for them,” Devan Miller said.