At the risk of coming across as a bully or a sexist, it’s time for Milka Duno to be parked…permanently. Although I’ve only seen Ms. Duno from afar in the garage area – she comes across as a very nice person. But my mother is a very nice person and she never in her life had any business being in a racecar. Neither does Milka Duno.
Milka is extremely intelligent, as she holds four masters degrees and can speak six languages. Again – these are very admirable skills she has acquired, but they do not qualify her to drive an IndyCar. Nor does the fact that she has the backing of a very large oil company in her homeland of Venezuela, make her the equal of others on the track.
Being the punch line to a lot of jokes has also become rather commonplace for Milka. She was the subject of an infamous Ashley Judd tirade a few seasons ago. That same year, she also incurred the wrath of Danica Patrick. This season, a driver’s wife has started a tongue-in-cheek movement on Twitter to “park Milka”. So it’s not a gender thing, why I’m complaining. While I’m not so much a fan of Ms. Patrick; I am very much a fan of Sarah Fisher, Simona de Silvestro and Ana Beatriz. And I personally like Milka – just not on the track.
Milka Duno will turn thirty-eight tomorrow. She is unique in a lot of ways, but one is how old she was before she ever sat in a racecar…twenty-four, in 1996. That year she drove in the Venezuelan GT Championship, finishing second. Two years later in 1998, she finished fourth in the Venezuelan Porsche Supercup Championship. She has also driven in the Barber Dodge Series as well as the ALMS and Rolex Grand-Am Series – where she benefited from her team’s second place finish,which allowed her to set the record as the highest finishing woman in the 24 Hours of Daytona.
In 2007, Duno made her IndyCar debut at Kansas Speedway with SAMAX Racing – the same team that powered her in Grand-Am racing; as she drove to what now appears to be a respectable fourteenth place finish. I say respectable because it seems that Milka has regressed considerably since her rookie year in 2007.
For the next two years, Milka Duno drove a partial schedule for Dreyer & Reinbold – although there was a two-week pre-season dalliance with Newman/Haas/Lanigan in 2009, that had everyone scratching their head – ultimately Duno re-signed with Dreyer & Reinbold. For this season, Milka seems to have found a home that nearly matches her racing prowess – Dale Coyne Racing.
Actually, that’s not entirely fair to Dale Coyne. Although his team was a perennial bottom-feeder for years in CART and Champ Car, they had stepped up their game in recent years to actually win their first race in 2009. However, the loss of driver Justin Wilson, sponsor Z-Line Designs and engineer Bill Pappas proved to be too much to overcome; so they were forced to adjust their goals for 2010. In fact, Dale Coyne Racing is apparently not the problem, as Duno was more than five seconds off the pace set by her rookie teammate Alex Lloyd, at Barber.
At Long Beach this past weekend, things continued to go further south for Milka. She was so slow in practice; Brian Barnhart wouldn’t even let her qualify because she would slow down the other drivers that were on a hot lap. They allowed her to start the race from the back of the field – nothing different there; but they told her that she would be called in if she were deemed too far off the pace. She was parked on lap ten.
The regression in Milka’s driving skills is what I find so baffling. It’s true that she has never run a full season in the IZOD IndyCar Series before this season – and seat time is so vital for an inexperience driver. It’s also true that in her four seasons in the series, she has always been in second-rate equipment. Dreyer & Reinbold made major strides in this past offseason, but the last couple of years for them were not stellar. Still, one would think she could at least be competitive with the next to last place car. Instead, her times this season would put her near the back of the Firestone Indy Lights grid.
My concern is not for the image of the series. In fact, when Milka is out of the car, she is generally an excellent ambassador for the league. She seems to always take time with the fans and I’ve never once heard her say a cross word about another driver. No, my concern is for the safety of the other drivers. What I saw at Barber was a slow moving chicane causing a major hazard, that drivers shouldn’t have to deal with on a regular basis. To put it bluntly, I’m surprised that she hasn’t created a serious injury situation on the track…yet.
The number of entries will prevent her from making the field in this year’s Indianapolis 500. With upwards of forty entries trying to make the field, some very good drivers will be going home this year. So will Milka Duno. But what about Kansas? What about Texas? Those are two high speed tracks in the immediate future that will have no set car limit to weed her out.
Brian Barnhart strongly suggested to Marty Roth that he find another role in the IZOD IndyCar Series, at the end of the 2008 season. Marty didn’t seem to cause near the havoc that Milka has caused this season. Barnhart has earned the nickname among fans as the “Iron Hand of Justice”. Now is the time for Brian Barnhart to make the tough call to park Milka Duno, before something happens on the track that’s far worse than hurting the feelings of a very nice person.