Robin L. Miller, a longtime motorsport fan who became one of the sport’s most recognized and influential media figures, died on August 25 in Indianapolis. He was 71 years old.
A native of his beloved Southport, Indiana, Miller rose to prominence as an Indianapolis Star sports writer, turning his love for many sports into the more than 50 years of communication that defined his life.
Known primarily as a writer and columnist covering the Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR SERIES races, Miller became a TV personality first with ESPN, then SPEED and more recently NBC. He has also had long stays at all of the Indianapolis television subsidiaries over the years.
Miller’s journalistic career began at The Star in 1968, and he never retired from writing about racing. His stories and columns have been featured in Autoweek, Car and Driver, Sports Illustrated, and RACER, among other notable publications and websites, and for years he hosted shows on Indianapolis radio stations as he was a master storyteller.
Miller first visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with his father, Bob, in 1957, competing in his first “500” two years later. In 1968, at the age of 18, he began working for his racing hero, the hapless driver Jim Hurtubise, running the pit table and assigned to various non-mechanical jobs. However, the stint was short-lived as Miller ruined some of the paint on Hurtubise’s car.
Miller was hired at The Star a month later and went to the sports department, where his first duties were to answer the phones and gather information on box office results alongside Jeff Smulyan, who later owned the Seattle Mariners, and future Star columnist Bill Benner.
Miller, a Ball State dropout, got his first chance as a newspaper writer when The Star needed a reporter for the still young professional basketball team, the American Basketball Association’s Indiana Pacers. . Spirited coach Bobby Leonard took a liking to Miller, allowing the lean but lively 19-year-old to join the squad, which would be unheard of for today’s sports writers. Many of the ABA players of this era – Bob Netolicky, Mel Daniels, Roger Brown, and Billy Shepherd – have become among Miller’s closest friends.
Miller tried his hand at racing cars in the early 1970s, buying a Formula Ford from Andy Granatelli. Two years later, Miller bought a midget from Gary Bettenhausen to start a 10-year race as a USAC competitor. With the help of his racing buddies Larry Rice, Johnny Parsons and the Bettenhausen brothers, Miller grew into a driver fast enough to qualify fifth for the 1980 Midget Hut Hundred race on the Terre Haute Action Track, a prestigious dirt event with 33 cars lined up in 11 rows of three. However, an engine failure forced him to quit the race.
Miller admittedly did not have a mechanical bone in his body and has long enjoyed telling stories about his racing naivety. For example, he bought a trailer that was too narrow for his race car – it had to be loaded at an angle – and he survived a crash in a telephone pole in the parking lot of the Indiana State Fairgrounds when he started the car. without buckling his seat belt. The throttle stuck, throwing the powerful machine unexpectedly and dangerously forward.
In an even more serious situation, Miller suffered a head injury on hot laps during a 1975 midget race in Hinsdale, Ill., When he knocked the car over against a concrete wall, tearing the cage of his car.
However, a decade in a race car gave Miller a unique perspective on the sport and the drivers it covered. Over a span of 50 years, Miller befriended many of the biggest names in racing, regularly engaging them at lunches and dinners he hosted. He was particularly close to “500” pilots Tom Sneva, Parnelli Jones, AJ Foyt, Dan Gurney, Bobby and Al Unser, Tony Bettenhausen, Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan, and the late television icon evening and INDYCAR SERIES team owner David Letterman. Still, he seemed to know something about everyone involved in the sport and he could court court with the best of them.
For years, Miller was the animated host of the Last Row Party, the Indiana Press Club Foundation event that traditionally muddled the three slowest qualifiers of each “500.” He especially enjoyed the event when it included Gordon Johncock, Steve Chassey and Pancho Carter, other close friends of him.
In 2019, as Miller covered his 50th “500” amid declining health, Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced the creation of the Robin Miller Award, which will be awarded annually to an unannounced person who has brought unbridled passion and ethics. of relentless work to enrich the sport.
Miller, a longtime bachelor, is survived by a sister, Diane, and nieces Emily and Ashley.