Southport’s Robin Miller, holding plaque, is with the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race all-time greats, from left, front, Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, and Johnny Rutherford. The occasion was the announcement of the Robin Miller Award at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 2019 to honor an “unheralded individual” who has enriched the “500” and IndyCar racing. Also, it was Miller’s 50th “500” and the 50th anniversary of Andretti’s “500” win. They are holding commemorative T-shirts. They are with, back row, from left, Paul Page, Penske Entertainment Corp. president and CEO Mark D. Miles and IndyCar president Jay Frye.
“Thank God, there’s only one Robin Miller.”
Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt made that comment in May 2019 when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced the Robin Miller Award in a media center ceremony attended by Foyt, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, and Johnny Rutherford. The award is in recognition of an “unheralded individual” who has enriched IndyCar racing.
Miller, a Southport High School alumnus, reveled in the surprise announcement by IndyCar and the Speedway during his 50th anniversary of covering the “500.”
Also in 2019, Miller was inducted into the Indiana Sportswriters and Broadcasters Hall of Fame at the Valle Vista Conference Center in Greenwood.
The irascible motorsports writer from the Southside was a little bit taken aback by his latest honor as one of 10 inductees into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (MHFA) Class of 2021.
He is the media inductee and is among some fast company that includes the late NASCAR ace Davey Allison, three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon Jr., Indy and NASCAR trailblazer Janet Guthrie, 2006 MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden, and the late USAC and NASCAR engine and car builder Ray Nichels of Griffith, among others.
Miller has been writing for RACER magazine and RACER.com since SPEED folded and also is on NBCSN IndyCar telecasts.
He also is a self-described “flunky,” who dropped out of Ball State University and worked with the legendary Jim Hurtubise at the 1968 Indianapolis 500 on the last roadster to be in the race. In his younger years, he has raced sports cars on road courses and midget cars on dirt tracks and the Indianapolis Speedrome.
Miller was hired to answer phones for deadline sports calls and later, thanks to sportswriter Ray Marquette of Southport, became a sports writer where he began covering USAC and IndyCar racing. His early forte in covering the “500” was his ability to write stories about the little teams that came to Indy on a shoestring budget in hopes of being in the race.
He worked there for many years, writing his most controversial stories during the famous CART-Tony George split. A few years later, he was fired by The Star for allegedly violating company policies. He was hired by ESPN and worked on the Wind Tunnel show with legendary motorsports announcer Dave Despain.
Miller accepted his latest honor reluctantly because there are many others whom he considers as far more deserving.
“It’s flattering, but you also feel a little guilty about it,” Miller penned recently in his RACER magazine column. “But what do you say? I flunked out of college, I’m a borderline village idiot, but I got lucky. The Indianapolis Star gave me such a huge platform for over 30 years, and that was the most-read racing paper in the country.”
His tenure with The Star ended in 2001, and he had a frigid relationship with the IMS hierarchy and some city political leaders for many years. His stature on the national stage soared higher as he continued to back CART during the IndyCar racing split and was on several motorsports TV and radio programs.
His run-ins with Foyt and Indy 500 greats are legendary. In 1981, Foyt punched Miller after being accused of cheating. Not too long ago, Miller sat with Foyt for a lengthy TV interview at A.J. Foyt’s Wine Vault in Speedway.
Regarding his MHFA induction, Miller rattled off numerous names that are worthy: renowned motorsports writers Pete Lyons, Joe Scalzo, Gordon Kirby, Al Pearce and Ed Hinton; Despain and original Thursday Night Thunder producer Terry Lingner; dirt racing legend Jan Opperman; modified kings Bentley Warren, Richie Evans, and Brett Hearn; Gary Bettenhausen and Sammy Swindell who are on the 2022 ballot; Willy T. Ribbs; competitive IndyCar racers Sarah Fisher and Danica Patrick; and the late motorsports publicist Bill Marvel.
In recent years, Miller has been battling cancer; but he can still be found occasionally at Charlie Brown’s and the Workingman’s Friend on the westside.
While acknowledging his NHFA honor, Miller summed up his career.
“When you’re a kid and you grow up in Indianapolis, and you’re sneaking into the pits, and you’re stooging for Jim Hurtubise at 18 years old, and you watch Foyt and Parnelli (Jones) and Mario and Hurtubise as they start off in sprints and midgets and make their way up, then you go from being a fan getting their autograph, to writing about them, and then later in life becoming friends with them to where you can call them up anytime … It’s not a cliché; you cannot ask for a better life. If you’re into motor racing, how can you top that?”
“I’ve been friends with Robin since childhood. I was there when he started racing midgets in our early 20s. We have had many good laughs through the years and met many awesome people. It’s a well deserving honor for him.”
– Larry Schmalfeldt, Longtime friend