The Interview Issue: Robin Miller

Keywords Interview Issue
robin-miller1-092815epub-15col.jpg Miller interviewed IndyCar driver Oriol Servia in 2011 for the Speed Channel. (Photo courtesy of Robin Miller)

He flunked out of Ball State University and then dropped out of IUPUI.

He was fired from his job at The Indianapolis Star—he says for writing critical columns about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Racing League. And he was dropped from positions at WIBC and WTHR-TV.

But 65-year-old Robin Miller—perhaps the best-known racing writer in the area—doesn’t regret a thing about his career.

The Southport native now covers the IndyCar Series for Racer Magazine and NBC Sports Network, never vacations anywhere outside Las Vegas, and has no plans to retire anytime soon.

“I’m the luckiest guy alive,” he said.

Here’s what else the always-colorful Miller said about covering the sport he loves.

What’s your relationship like with IndyCar brass at this time?

[Hulman & Co. CEO Mark] Miles just doesn’t communicate the way [former IndyCar Series CEO] Randy Bernard did. He’s very secretive. It’s not just me. He doesn’t talk to a lot of people. When I did the rant after the Fontana race about the schedule, he asked, “Why couldn’t we have had lunch or dinner?” I said, “You have my number … and you haven’t talked to me in months other than to stop by my desk in Indy.”

He has to understand: I want to see this thing work. I want to see him succeed. I’m not his enemy.

I go to lunch once a week with [IndyCar President of Operations and Competition] Derrick Walker. I talk to [Hulman Motorsports Chief Revenue Officer] Jay Frye. I have a good relationship with him.

If you could name one person to run all of IndyCar, whom would you hire?

Me. Because I know what I’m talking about and I know what I’d do. I know the people in this sport and I’d surround myself with smart people.

Seriously, I think [Roger] Penske would be my No. 1 choice because he’s so well rounded in the world of business and television and racing. It’s still his passion. There aren’t many people who could do this and the people who could do it won’t go to work for [the Hulman-George family].

Your criticism of Tony George over the years has been well chronicled. What’s your relationship with Tony George right now?

I don’t think we really have a relationship. We occasionally say hello when we’re on the same plane together or we walk past each other in the pits. I’ve met with him and worked closely with him on stories since he was booted out [as head of the IndyCar Series and Speedway]. People ask me if I’d rather have Tony George or Mark Miles as the head of IndyCar, and I say I’d rather have Tony George in there because he’s more of a racer. His heart is still in it.

Did you ever imagine you’d wish for Tony to be back?

No, I didn’t. A lot of people said, “You crashed enough when you raced. The head injuries are starting to kick in.”

I don’t dislike Tony at all. I often thought if he would have started the Indy Racing League in the late 1980s with the concept of all American drivers and oval tracks and American manufacturers, it might have made it because CART was so fractured with the haves and the have-nots.

It’s been said that, with all the negative things you said and wrote about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Indy Racing League and Tony George through the 1990s and 2000s, that you helped tear down American open-wheel racing. What role do you think you played in the downward spiral of open-wheel racing and the IRL and IndyCar Series in particular?

I really don’t think I played a role because, when I was criticizing the IRL or Tony as a columnist, I was still writing hundreds of positive stories about practice and qualifying and features about the Dan Drinans of the world or the Tony Stewarts and the Billy Boats.

So I covered it just like I always had. It wasn’t about the drivers and the mechanics and the teams. They didn’t have anything to do with the split. They shouldn’t be treated any different and they weren’t.

All I was saying in ’96, ’97 and ’98 was, when all the shills were saying it’s the same Indianapolis 500, don’t bullshit people. Are you people stupid? Look what’s going on. We have Tony Turco, Bronco Brad Murphey and Racin Gardner instead of Michael Andretti, Al Unser Jr., Bobby Rahal and Emerson Fittipaldi.

Don’t tell me it’s the same Indy 500.

Sure, it cost me my radio job with WIBC. Eventually, it cost me my job at the Star and working for Channel 13. People were wearing “I hate Robin Miller shirts” and saying I was an asshole and that I hate Indy. No, I love Indy, and that’s why I was so critical.

I knew [because of the CART/IRL split] exactly what was going to happen. And what I said was going to happen is exactly what did happen. By 2004 and 2005, nobody was coming to practice or qualifications. Nobody would buy a ticket. Nobody cared anymore.

You referenced that your stance caused you to lose some jobs. Do you care to explain?

I started at WIBC in ’94. And in ’96 I really started pounding Tony [George], and WIBC was getting some heat from the Speedway about some of the things I was saying on the radio. They were saying, “If you don’t calm him down, you’re not going to be the official station of the Indy 500.”

When they hired me they said, “We want you to be just like you are in the paper. Tell the truth.” But they only wanted the truth if it was nice and vanilla with a little cherry on top.

I’ll say this for Channel 13: They let me work there for another year after I got fired from the Star. But they had a partnership with the Star and they told me, “Hey, we have to start using [Star motorsports reporter Curt] Cavin and [Star columnist] Bob Kravitz.”

And the Star: This was the best story of all. I did a weekly mailbag thing—Ask the Expert. It was the beginning of the Internet. The Star wanted to be business partners with the Speedway … and the lady in charge of marketing at the Star said, “We were told as long as you’re at the Star, the Speedway will never be our partner.”

The day I got fired, the first person that called me was Mario Andretti, and he said, “You know why you got fired, don’t you?” And I said, “I’ve got a pretty good idea.” And he said, “It was Tony George.” The week after I got fired, the Speedway signed a deal with the Star and that business relationship continues to this day. I’ve lost a lot of income and a lot of friends, but I have no regrets. (The Star said it fired Miller for conflicts of interest and sending abusive emails.)

You worked at the Star for 33 years. Do you miss being a writer for a big metro daily newspaper?

Absolutely. I miss writing for Indianapolis. I miss writing about high school and college basketball. I miss covering the Colts and Pacers and having your opinion [in a column] three times a week. I told [then-Indianapolis Star columnist] Bill Benner when we worked there: We have the greatest job in the world. We work in Toyland.

Tell me something about yourself even motorsports followers don’t know?

I have the worst mechanical knowledge in the history of anyone who either drove a race car or worked on a race car. I get technical questions in the mailbag and I just laugh. I have to send them to fellow [Racer Magazine reporter] Marshall Pruett.

Click here for other interviews.

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