Harold Miller remains the Godfather of EV

Published 4:10 pm Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Like most of us who have reached age 70 and beyond, Harold Miller doesn’t maneuver on two legs as well as he did years ago.

However, put him behind the wheel of a vehicle and watch his eyes light up. And if it’s an electric vehicle, he would have to lower the driver’s side window in order to accommodate an extremely wide grin.

Harold was my auto mechanics teacher at Northampton County High School. Today, I’m not much of a mechanic, but I remember all the basics he taught myself and others in his class.

Long after I graduated from NCHS in 1971, Harold Miller parlayed his deep understanding of how vehicles operate with his quest to protect the environment by launching an electric vehicle program. He was an EV proponent long before the current shift to produce more and more electric vehicles as well as to set up a grid of EV charging stations that are available to the general public.

Thusly, Harold Miller appropriately and rightfully earned the title of “The Godfather of EV.”

I had a chance to talk to Harold on June 29. He was one of three former NCHS teachers to attend our class reunion held at the Cultural and Wellness Center in Jackson. He shared some great news that an effort is now underway to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the EV program at NCHS. That event, he said, will be held later this year.

If you have enough time, Harold will happily explain to you the benefits of electric vehicles and how they outweigh their gas counterparts.

During the earliest part of his career, prior to finding his true love as a teacher, Harold worked with the big automakers. It was during that time where he saw how gas pollutants harmed the environment.

He arrived at NCHS in 1969. By the time 1976 rolled around, Harold witnessed a more relatable need for electric cars with the oil embargo that had an effect on gas supply and prices. I remember that embargo all too well. The lines to purchase gas were long, even here in Ahoskie, so much to the point where the numbers on your vehicle’s license plate were used to dictate what day you were allowed to get in line. Plates ending with an even number lined up one day and plates with an odd number the next. It was crazy!!

It would take 17 more years before electric would eventually win big in Northampton County.

In 1993, John Parker, then assistant superintendent of Northampton County Public Schools, came to Harold to learn more about an electric vehicle he had always heard him talk about.

At roughly the same time, Virginia Power (now known as Dominion Energy) was gearing up for an electric vehicle competition to be held on a NASCAR track in Richmond, VA. John told Harold that NCHS (then Northampton-East) could do it but would have to combine resources with schools in neighboring Halifax County.

Then and today, Harold still tells me that it was John Parker’s vision that created NEAT (North East Automotive Team).

But back to the story of those small first steps. Harold – working alongside Eric Ryan – a physics teacher at NCHS-East – provided the mechanical advice with his students along with those from NCHS-West, Weldon High School and Northwest Halifax High School. They transformed an old Ford Escort (aptly named “The Shocker”) for the EV Grand Prix competition slated for spring of 1994. Local race car driver Keith Edwards helped to teach the team how to be competitive with the car.

Being from a rural area, NEAT had limited financial resources at their disposal, but what they did have in their back pocket were creativity and a hunger to succeed. They represented different backgrounds….racial, cultural and academic. They weren’t handpicked to be the cream of the crop and that, as it turned out, was advantageous.

They learned design and then applied that to acceleration, handling, and braking. It all fell under the purpose of why they were in school….to receive an education.

And what was even more thrilling to yours truly is the fact that Harold Miller and NEAT took this newspaper along for the ride. We were allowed complete access to what was taking shape inside the auto mechanics shop where “Shocker” was coming together piece by piece.

And then came the big day at the Richmond International Motor Speedway….site of the 1994 EV Challenge. There were multiple EV teams taking part in the event, most representing larger high schools who benefitted from bigger financial investments.

In what could best be described as a David vs. Goliath storyline, NEAT rolled into Richmond and left with the overall championship. In the different categories of the Grand Prix, NEAT claimed first place in the range event and the race, and placed third in their educational presentation.

The little school from a farming community had literally “shocked” the EV world. Their victory at the EV Grand Prix led to stories in national publications, to include Parade Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. A parade was held in the team’s honor in downtown Raleigh.

The NEAT program was also the subject of a 2004 book – Electric Dreams, written by Caroline Kettlewell, which tells the story of a team of high school students from a poor school district in North Carolina competing with other more affluent schools to build and race an electric car.

NEAT went on to host several annual EV competitions of their own, first at Tri-County Airport and later at the North Carolina Center for Automotive Research, a premier testing track near Garysburg. The partnership between the modern facility and NEAT is cutting edge, bringing the roots of electric vehicles together with the most recent technology in the field of automotives.

Even though Harold has long since retired from teaching, he continues to educate others of the benefits of electric vehicles as well as “green energy” as a whole. I’m looking forward to attending the EV reunion and hearing the “then-and-now” stories of those involved in this ground-breaking program from 30 years ago.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

email author More by Cal