All Charged Up!

by Rob Dilbone Looking out over the big hole in the backyard that would soon become his new swimming pool, Norm Miller began to wonder what in the world he was doing. The work was about half-way completed and he was already thinking of what he could do next. He remembers thinking, "I could tear down that brick wall and put in some French doors. And then all of a sudden I thought, `What in the world are you doing, Norm? You haven't even had one party out here and already you're changing things.' I just remember thinking. `What's life all about?'"

Norm Miller should have been happy. He was making good money as a traveling salesman for Interstate Batteries, a thriving, though relatively young, replacement battery company, but there was a constant emptiness inside. He had a beautiful wife, a big house, and nice cars, yet something was missing and he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

Then, early one morning while driving home from a party, Norm was pulled over and charged with driving while intoxicated. Not long after that he received a second DWI charge. However, it was not until he was pulled over a third time that the light finally went on. Norm talked his way out of a third DWI (or as he tells theological groups when he has occasion to speak to them, "By the grace of God I lied my way out of it"), but when he woke up the next morning he realized he should have been in jail. He recalls lying in bed and blurting out something like, "O God help me, I can’t handle it anymore!" It was at that moment that he realized he had become an alcoholic like his father before him.

Norm Miller grew up around cars. His dad owned a service station with a four bay garage. He repaired cars, pumped gas and stocked and sold parts, “almost like an auto parts store today,” he recalls. His dad was a good salesman and worked hard. Norm remembers his dad checking someone’s tires while they were getting gas or selling them a new muffler before they took off down the road. His mother was also involved in the family business, and Norm learned early on that if he was going to amount to anything in life, he would have to work hard. “I guess I was raised with this ethic that you’ve got to do whatever it takes to get the job done,” he says.

His home was not what he would today consider "Christian," although the family did go to church regularly and prayed before meals. However, that was about the extent of their faith and he doesn’t remember the whole experience meaning much to him. His dad

was an alcoholic but got "on the wagon" when little Norm was about eight or nine, and eventually became a deacon in the church. Although Norm memorized scripture some and won a few awards, he says, "It all just kind of went in one ear and out the other and I just did my thing and left."

Norm decided as a kid that he was going to have fun in life. He grew up wondering what life was all about and finally decided the purpose of life was to be happy. The way to be happy,” he rationalized, “was to have fun.” So as a kid his objectives were to have fun, be happy and party. Galveston was the perfect spot to do all three. In those days the small port town in southern Texas on the Gulf of Mexico was wide -open. There was gambling and drinking 24 hours a day, open prostitution, and rock-n-roll set the tone. Growing up in that atmosphere proved enchanting for Norm and he started drinking at the age of 14. “My whole game plan was to have fun, party and `kick em up.’ That’s what my friends and I did, and it was easy to do in Galveston.”

Upon graduation from high school Norm decided to go to college. Prior to leaving home he established his goals. First, he decided he wanted to make a lot of money so he needed to get a decent job after college. Not just any job either, but a good job wit h not only money but prestige as well. Next, he set his sights on a new car. Back in those days most people married while attending college, so he started searching for a pretty girl (He decided if he was going to get married, his wife should be pretty.) He wanted a nice house and car for his wife. Money to party and travel, and two children, one of each, rounded out his list of goals. “I remember thinking all that would surely make me happy,” he says with a laugh. Norm not only continued to drink through college, but at one point he actually got into the “booze” business with some enterprising fraternity brothers.

Their college was situated in a “dry” county, so he and his buddies decided to sell alcohol out of their house. They figured they could make easy money and have some fun by driving to Dallas, buying the beer and liquor, and then selling it back at school to fellow students at a profit. They formed The High-Low Club and sold tickets for a dollar a piece, threw parties for members only and charged everyone for the drinks. Things were going great until their little venture grew too big and became hard work. They decided to close the club down and concentrate on finishing school.

After completing school, Norm returned home and went into business with his dad who had started drinking again - though not nearly as much as when Norm was growing up - after being sober for nearly a decade. His dad soon sold the service station and asked Norm to move to Memphis and go into business with him as distributors with Interstate Batteries. Business was pretty good, but after a couple years, Norm decided to take the opportunity to move back to Texas and work for Interstate’s founder, Mr. John Searcy. He traveled around the country selling batteries and opening franchises. His drinking and partying continued but seldom interfered with his business.

After completing school, Norm returned home and went into business with his dad who had started drinking again - though not nearly as much as when Norm was growing up- after being sober for nearly a decade. His dad soon sold the service station and asked Norm to move to Memphis and go into business with him as distributors with Interstate Batteries. Business was pretty good, but after a couple years, Norm decided to take the opportunity to move back to Texas and work for Interstate’s founder, Mr. John Searcy. He traveled around the country selling batteries and opening franchises. His drinking and partying continued but seldom interfered with his business.

Norm met his wife Anne while in college. Anne was also from Galveston, however she was four years younger than he and they had never met growing up. They were engaged during the summer of 1962, but three months before the wedding Norm was “called up” for active duty with the Air Force Reserve due to the Cuban missile crisis. Their plans were put on hold until the crisis ended. Finally, they were married on December 29th. In the beginning things were good, but by the time they moved back to Texas, Anne h ad grown weary of Norm’s drinking and partying and decided that one day she would leave him. She simply had to wait for the right time.

Norm worked hard at Interstate and the company was growing at a steady clip. Unfortunately, so was his thirst for alcohol. By the time he was stopped a third time for driving drunk, he was blacking out once a week on average from too much booze. After his backyard philosophical revelation and the subsequent DWIs, he decided to try Alcoholics Anonymous. “I went to AA meetings for about 6 or 8 weeks, but I didn’t even read the book,” he recalls. About this same time a friend happened to start mentioning t he Bible. He told Norm it was the Word of God and in it were many truths by which he could live his life, “I told him to prove it to me,” he recalls. “If you can prove it is the Word of God I’ll pay attention, but as far as I’m concerned it is an old boo k written by a bunch of old dudes from long ago and I don’t need it.”

Over time the friend supplied Norm with enough information to convince him of the Bible’s validity. He remembers that three areas nailed it down for him: archeology, antique manuscript validity and fulfilled prophecy. “I started reading the Bible and going to a Bible study. I came across the scripture in Galatians (Galatians 5:22) where it talks about the fruit of the Spirit being peace, love and joy. I remember saying, `That’s what I want.’” Eventually Norm prayed and received his salvation at a Bible study one night and he has never looked back.

Today, home is just Norm and Anne. They have two grown children, who each live only about five minutes away, and five grandchildren. Both Anne and Norm are very involved in a variety of different ministries. A couple years ago Anne started a mission in Dallas called Women of Vision Dallas and Norm is active in, among many others, prison ministry. He also keeps busy with the business of Interstate and racing. While evangelism is his passion, racing is certainly more than just his hobby.

In 1991, Joe Gibbs, the former coach of the NFL champion Washington Redskins, approached Norm about sponsoring his car on the NASCAR circuit. The two have been racing ever since. Their team won the Daytona 500 in 1993 and the relationship has been a win-win-win for Gibbs, Interstate, and Norm. The two men have found common ground not only in their enthusiasm for racing, but in their faith as well. Gibbs says, “Norm shares his personal relationship with the Lord with his employees and others who come in contact with him. It is evident to everyone that Norm is honest and fair with his employees and business associates.”

Norm is now Chairman of Interstate, and his brother Tommy is President. He doesn’t spend as much time in the office on a day-to-day basis as he used to, but is still intricately involved in the planning and direction of the company. Norm Miller is probably best described as a racing, businessman evangelist. When he stepped down as president at 52 years of age, he remembers thinking, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life? One day I am going to stand before God and have to give an account from now until then. I could say I sold more batteries than anyone, and He would say, `Well so what?’ I want to be part of millions coming to Christ. That’s my prayer. That’s where I have placed my efforts and time.”

I guess you could say Norm Miller is “All Charged up and off to the races!”


Rob Dilbone is Editor for The Christian Businessman Magazine in Gainesville, Florida.