Robin Miller 1949 – 2021

Photo: Michael Levitt / Motorsport Images

Originally posted to RACER.com by Editor Mark Glendenning.

IndyCar journalist, broadcaster and advocate, and RACER senior writer and friend Robin Miller has died at the age of 71.

The Indiana native, who passed after a long fight against multiple myeloma and leukemia, carved himself a reputation as one of American racing’s most authoritative voices during his five-decade career as a writer. He told stories from inside the paddock with an unfiltered honesty that got him into trouble with more or less every person involved in the sport at some point, but which also earned him a fundamental level of respect from drivers and teams that set him apart from his media peers.

Miller’s relationship with Indianapolis Motor Speedway began when his father took him to the track in 1957, and snowballed when the pair sneaked in without tickets so that the then-nine-year-old could soak in his first Indy 500 in 1959.

That passion for Indy blossomed further when Miller’s hero Jim Hurtubise gave him a job as a gopher on his race team in 1968. The limitations to his skills as a mechanic were revealed almost immediately, and having ascertained that his true calling lay elsewhere, he joined The Indianapolis Star as a journalist that same year. Miller continued to moonlight as a hired hand for assorted race teams at the Speedway during the Month of May through most of the 1970s –  although notably in roles that didn’t require him to actually touch the cars.

Around the same time that he was establishing himself as a writer, Miller also tried his hand at driving. He bought a Formula Ford from Andy Granatelli in 1972, and then acquired a midget from Gary Bettenhausen in 1974, which he campaigned across the Midwest. His career highlight came in 1980 when he qualified fifth out of 93 cars for the Hut Hundred at Terre Haute. Miller was running third when his engine died.

“It was amazing,” Miller said when reflecting on that time. “Here I am. I’m stooging on IndyCars. I’m writing for the Star. And I’m towing my midget to IndyCar races – we’re racing USAC races the Friday night before at just about every track we go to, because it was all ovals, of course.

“I’m living at Larry Rice’s house, who was the co-rookie of the year with Rick Mears. I’m living with him and Chuck Gurney and a couple different IndyCar guys – it’s like the YMCA for racing. We ate lunch and dinner together; we were together every day. We played softball at night during the summer. And I towed my midget to a race, and (Johnny) Parsons and Rice and whoever – Tim Richmond, for a couple years – we’d all get on the road together. You can’t have a better education than I had about driving, and how things went, and who got a good break, and who got screwed and who you could trust.”

Don Brown and helper Ray Kuhltheau flank Brown’s “No.1 pain in the ass” in Miller’s words, in 1976. Robin Miller Collection

By that point, his work with the Star had already established him as one of IndyCar racing’s most prominent voices. He’d started out at the paper doing menial office tasks before being moved to the sports desk, where one of his first assignments was as a traveling reporter covering the Indiana Pacers. Miller’s interest in the Pacers never dimmed, and in 2017 he co-authored a book on the team’s formative years titled “We changed the game.”

One of his most often-told stories from that era of his IndyCar coverage of the Star illustrated both his reach and his ability to ruffle feathers. During the Month of May in 1981, he called out A.J. Foyt in one of his daily newspaper columns. “Taking on a legend is never easy but there are some things about Anthony Joseph Foyt that have been kept in the closet for too long and it’s time to let them out,” he began. From there Miller painted a portrait of a figure lost in his own ego and surrounded by groveling ‘yes men,’ and rounded the column out by listing occasions where he believed Foyt had benefited from running to a different set of rules to the rest of the field.

He was rewarded with a clip to the head by Foyt as soon as they crossed paths in the paddock, and the newspaper subsequently published a retraction. However, that same column also noted that Foyt could berate somebody one moment and joke with them half an hour later, and while it look a little longer than that for the ice between the pair to thaw, they went on to become exceptionally close friends and confidants.

Miller landed squarely on CART’s side when the series split in 1996, and became a regular and vociferous critic of Indy Racing League and Indianapolis Motor Speedway boss Tony George – a stance that ingratiated him with the CART faithful, but at the cost of his relationships with the various pro-IRL factions around Indianapolis.

Miller and Foyt didn’t always see eye to eye, but the pair became close friends. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

His 33-year tenure with the Star came to an end in 2001, whereupon he joined ESPN and appeared on shows such as RPM 2Nite and SportsCentury, and wrote for the Champ Car website. After departing from ESPN in 2004 he joined the Fox-owned Speed Channel as a regular contributor to the Speed website, SPEED Center and the immensely popular call-in show Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain. He remained at Speed until the brand was absorbed into Fox Sports, whereupon he and fellow Speed contributor Marshall Pruett joined RACER and became the cornerstones of the brand’s IndyCar content.

By that point he’d also become part of the broadcast team at Versus/NBCSN, and he remained a constant presence on both NBC Sports and RACER until his death.

Miller eventually became as large a figure to his readers as the drivers he wrote about. Any given race weekend would find him peppered with requests for photos and autographs as he strode around the paddock or down to the Honda hospitality unit, where he’d sometimes be greeted with special “off the menu” lunch items that catered to his near-total aversion to vegetables. The extent of his folk hero status with his readers was evident towards the end of his life when he began to go public about his illness, and an invitation from RACER.com to send get well messages resulted in a Microsoft Word document that ran over 200 pages.

Miller made his final visit to the Speedway during the IndyCar/NASCAR weekend earlier this month, when he became one of the very few media members to be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame. Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Much of Miller’s appeal to his many fans could be traced to his willingness to tell things as he saw them, regardless of the cost. He had an authenticity that set him apart from the very beginning, and that quality became increasingly pronounced as the rest of the world began to present ever more edited versions of itself via social media. But equally rare and valuable was his undying enthusiasm for the sport, and for every driver and team who stepped up to the challenge of racing at Indianapolis. While he was recognized as a link to the “golden era” of technical innovation and drivers who raced in the face of ludicrous dangers, he was equally passionate about contemporary racing. He recognized that the cars were more interesting “back in the day,” but had little patience for any suggestion that today’s safety standards are detrimental to the show, or that the quality of racing was better in the 1960s. A letter to his hugely popular weekly mailbag about Colton Herta or Alexander Rossi would be answered with as much thought and enthusiasm as one about Swede Savage or Johnny Rutherford.

His cancer was first diagnosed in 2017, but aside from short breaks for treatments he continued working as normal until his disease began to progress rapidly in early 2021. Even then he continued to work as much as he was able – writing about racing, he often said, allowed him to feel like himself while he was dealing with the effects of his illness and treatments. Some of his last columns and mailbags were written from his hospital bed.

Miller’s decades-long contribution to the sport was recognized when he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America as part of the Class of 2021. Knowing that he would not be well enough to travel to the official induction ceremony in Michigan in September, organizers instead arranged a special ceremony at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the recent IndyCar/NASCAR double-header weekend. Miller spent the day holding court at his favorite place on the planet, surrounded by hundreds of friends from the sport he’d dedicated his life to covering. It was, he told RACER later that afternoon, the best day of his life.