Tom Smart, Deseret News
Steve Miller is president of the Tour of Utah, as well as director of new and used car operations for the automotive division of the Larry H. Miller Group, which is also the Tour of Utah's title sponsor.
Under his leadership, the Tour of Utah evolved from a USA cycling event to one of just four Union Cycliste International (UCI) stage races. He took up cycling after getting involved with the TOU and is a three-time finisher of LOTOJA (a 206-mile race from Logan to Jackson, Wyo.). The graduate of the University of Utah is married (Jennifer) with four children and lives in Sandy.
Q: How did you get involved in the Tour of Utah? How did this become your baby?
A: Great question and a long story, but I'll try to give the CliffsNotes version. I was running our Subaru store in Sandy in 2004, when the gentleman who owned the race at the time walked into my office and asked me to sponsor the event. I gave him a little bit of cash for a sponsorship and let him borrow a couple of Subarus — literally two cars. And it grew from there.
Q: At what point did you know you wanted to be more than a sponsor?
A: In 2006 the race had grown enough that the gentleman that owned it asked me if, it was growing and he needed more cash and he needed more cars, and I said, you've outgrown this dealership. If that's the kind of growth the race has undergone, this dealership can't fund a sponsorship at that level. So let's take it to the organization at large and see if the Larry H. Miller Group has an interest in sponsoring at a title sponsor level. In 2006 it moved from LHM Subaru to LHM Dealerships. We decided as an organization it was something we wanted to be involved in because it was an organic thing, it was a good thing for Utah, a good thing for the community, it was a good thing for the economy. There were just a lot of things that felt right about it. We got involved around the same time Zions Bank did, and that's what really allowed the Tour to grow.
Q: Why did you want to be associated with the race as a sponsor?
A: It was more the brand affiliation. Subaru was a sponsor of Lance Armstrong, at the time, and Lance was in his heyday, 2004-2005, he won Tours de France numbers six and seven, so it was just the right fit for our organization at that level. As the race began to grow — it was only a two-day event at the time; it was a regional event — as it started to gain in popularity, our involvement increased.
Q: At what point did you become more educated, involved in cycling?
A: I actually bought a bike in 2005, so the second year I sponsored at the dealership level is when I bought a bike. I started riding a bike, started seeing how much fun it was, and you know, it's great exercise, low impact, not hard on your knees or back, and I started having a lot of fun with it. A lot of my friends got involved, and really if you look back, the community, cycling has gotten very popular over the last 10 years, and I think it's a combination of those things — good exercise, we're a healthy community, there are a lot of triathletes, a lot of marathoners and a lot of cyclists in this community. That's part of what's fueled the growth.
Q: At what point did you see the potential in this race?
A: Probably 2008, 2009, is when we knew that there was something to it, there was a bright future for the event. But it was something we knew we couldn't do by ourselves. We wanted to make sure we had plenty of buy-in from the sponsors, the community itself and from the teams. We wanted to make sure that if the race grew and became a world-class event that the teams would come.
Q: Was it hard to tell people (teams) they couldn't participate as the race grew?
A: Absolutely. That's one of the things that I lament the most, the fact that those little regional teams, kind of the semi-pro teams, there is no pro-am anymore, there are no amateurs in this race. Even the lowest echelon of cyclist is still better than the best that used to come. This race has just grown up a lot. Three years ago, we couldn't have invited 50 percent of the teams that are in the race today.
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