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Jimmy McMillan: A Motor is Freedom

"Success doesn’t necessarily have to do with one’s technical background, but with attitude as well as confidence."


“Some folks like to say technician. I still like to say mechanic,” Jimmy says, favoring this term in preserving the down-to-earth, dirt-under-the-fingernails spirit he fell in love with when he was a kid.

Jimmy McMillan is an instructor in the Harley Davidson department at the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute (MMI) in Orlando, Florida. He can’t really put into words what he feels when he finishes a bike. But as he stands next to his bike in his shop, there’s no doubt he is in his element. He’s enamored with the idea you can transform a bike from nothing special into something spectacular.

“I grew up with the sound of a Harley in the background of my life,” Jimmy says. His father and uncle were in a motorcycle club. The family drag raced as a team. The roar of engines was the soundtrack of his youth.

Jimmy went to college for a few years. He loved the people but hated the studying. “My heart ran after hot rods.” Though he’d always been involved with motors, his mom wasn’t so keen on the idea of him going to school for it. In fact, she disowned him when he told her. “She was an anesthesiologist and she wanted me to go to medical school.” Jimmy laughs. “I wasn’t kidding myself,” admitting he didn’t have the grades or the attention span for medical school.

Once Jimmy was in school to become a motorcycle mechanic and his mother saw he was thriving, his mom had a change of heart. She was so proud when he graduated at the top of his class. She realized all that he had achieved.

As a kid he loved to take things apart. His grandmother fostered this sense of curiosity telling him there was always someone, somewhere, who knew how to put things back together. This encouraged him to dive in and learn how things worked and to ask for help when he needed to.

Though he had no fear diving in, his mother noticed he never finished projects all the way. There was always something to improve, make more efficient, make more user-friendly, and more comfortable. Though his mom recognized this trait early on, he didn’t see its significance until he was much older. Now he sees the trait in himself every time he’s trying to “finish” a bike. There’s always something else he could do to try to make things better.

Jimmy was one of the people who left his tiny hometown in search of something bigger. When you’re from a small town, everyone might know you and you might even be popular. But once you’re in a big city, you’re suddenly around a lot of people who know a lot. You might feel inadequate because everyone comes in with different levels of experience, sometimes even more than you.

Today, Jimmy’s not picky. He’s not just a motorcycle guy. He’s into anything that has a motor. “A motor is freedom,” he says. Bikes are just lighter and faster and can do a lot more than a car can, which is why he favors working on them.

Jimmy’s job at UTI is a perfect fit for him and he loves watching students take a similar path to the one he did. He says success at UTI doesn’t come in a predetermined package.  “I’ve had students I thought weren’t cut out for it end up being some of the best students out there,” he says. He feels that success doesn’t necessarily have to do with one’s technical background, but with attitude as well as confidence. 

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