News broke Wednesday morning that longtime IndyCar reporter/writer/broadcaster Robin Miller had passed away. Miller had, of course, endured a multi-year battle with cancer. Recently, he attended the IndyCar race at IMS and was planning a move to Arizona to be closer to his sister Diane and her family. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be. Miller was 71.
Over the past couple days, we have seen numerous tributes pour in for the beloved Miller, most of them from people who knew him best. In the interests of full disclosure, I knew Robin, but would not say we knew each other well. “Hi Brian,” “hi Robin,” we would say as we walked pass each other in the media center. We occasionally exchanged emails over the years following articles each of us wrote, but that was the extent of our interaction.
Therefore, this tribute to the life of Robin will be a little more distance than many of those you’ve probably read. And I’ll be honest: paying proper tribute to the leading IndyCar journalist of the last half-century is no small task. But try I will.
I think any discussion of Miller has to start with this acknowledgement: he was a walking paradox. By always wearing t-shirts of his favorite drivers, cussing up a storm and at times treating the media center like a “frat house,” according to AR1’s Tim Wohlford, Miller could have been seen as conveying a less than serious tone. At the same time, not one person thought his work was anything but serious. His reports were treated as Gospel in the IndyCar world. Yes, some people got mad that he wrote something, but rarely did anyone question what he wrote.
He was Indiana born and bred, and loved IMS as much as anyone. Yet, during the CART-IRL war he became one of the leading detractors of the Speedway and its leadership. While some people find comfort in certain groups, Miller was equally comfortable hobnobbing with aristocracy like Roger Penske or Mario Andretti, as he was shooting the breeze with team mechanics and fans.
He knew he was the leading IndyCar journalist of his day, and to some degree protected his turf. Yet, he was willing to work with newcomers to the business. He despised vices such as drinking and smoking, yet often proudly referred to himself as a degenerate gambler.
And people’s reactions to Miller were often themselves paradoxical. Think about the bitter battles he had with people such as A.J. Foyt, Curt Cavin and Mark Miles. Since his death, those are three people who have offered some of the kindest tributes.
Of course, paradoxes aren’t contradictions, they’re apparent contradictions. And upon greater examination, they reveal a deeper truth.
In Miller’s case, I think his litany of paradoxes are all rooted in an authenticity that was at the true heart of his appeal. He knew he didn’t need to put on airs and be someone he wasn’t when his work spoke for itself. He knew the CART-IRL split was causing irreparable harm to the sport. Instead of simply spouting the party line and keeping things copacetic in his hometown, he called the powers-to-be on their BS. The fact that it may have cost him a job or five along the way, only added to his appeal among fans. Like so many of them who want to take on the man, Robin did. His firings may have cost him some money, but they only added to his appeal among the public.
And it was this golden middle of Everyman who was seriously good at his job that Miller managed to navigate so brilliantly. Because he was Everyman, who wore t-shirts and was a huge Parnelli fan like the guy who has been sitting in the South Vista for the last 65 Indy 500s, he appealed to fans. Because he was really fucking (as Robin would say) good at his job, and his word was treated as Gospel, the big fish respected him. And there were times when you didn’t get the sense he was taking up the time of guys like Roger and Mario. No, they were taking up his.
And to be fair, I could probably go on and on in this vain for hours, and not do Robin proper tribute. But it’s very rare that a sports media member passes and there is such an outpouring of emotion. While many endeavors have their Mount Rushmore of prominent figures, Robin is The Mount Rushmore of IndyCar media for the last half-century. There will never be another.
Warts and all, he will be missed.
May he rest in peace.
Brian Carroccio is a senior columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.