Robin Miller – A Different Perspective

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Over the past couple of days, we have all read, heard and seen some beautiful and heartfelt tributes to Robin Miller, who sadly passed away early Wednesday morning. I am quite certain that I cannot add anything that would be near as eloquent or significant as what you and I have already seen. But I feel it would be highly neglectful and grossly inappropriate if I wrote about anything else  besides Robin Miller today.

We’ve all heard from his closest friends and co-workers over the last few days sharing similar stories about Miller’s tenacity, honesty, self-deprecating humor, big-heartedness and how fiercely loyal he was. Without trying to sound like I was friends with Robin Miller, I wanted to share my own personal experiences with the man.

When I was a child my father used to subscribe to The Indianapolis Star every May. Growing up in Jackson, Tennessee in the sixties – news from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway rarely trickled down to a small town in the south. We would usually get our Indianapolis papers two to three days later, but that was the only way for us to get any news from the track at all – even if it was a few days old.

As an adolescent, I was always pretty good about reading our local paper. I always kept up with news even as a kid. Of course, I paid particularly close attention to the sports section. That also applied to our Month of May subscription to The Star every year. Two names with The Star stuck out to me – Bob Collins, because I always wondered if he was related to Sid Collins (he wasn’t); and Robin Miller, because at that time I had never heard of a man named Robin.

When Robin Miller’s name was becoming more prominent in The Star in the seventies, I remember my father talking about how he really liked his stories. My father was never one to read the sports section of the local paper, so to hear him comment favorably on a sportswriter made an impression on me.

When I was a semi-young adult, I started my own subscription to The Indianapolis Star in the Month of May in the early nineties. Bob Collins had retired by then, but I was happy to see that Robin Miller was still around. As I read through each paper, I realized that not only was he still around, he was a major voice in motor racing. Best of all, he was a major voice who spoke bluntly and had an amazing sense of humor.

It didn’t take me long as an adult to realize that any article or column in my May subscription written by Robin Miller, had to be read first. His columns had an irreverence about them that I quickly learned to appreciate. What struck me early on in those days was that Robin Miller did not take himself too seriously. He could take on the most serious of subjects on one day, and then write a hilarious column about Bobby Unser and Sam Posey the next.

I broke down and bought a computer in January of 1998, because it finally dawned on me that this internet thing was more than just a passing fad. His mailbag at The Star was one of my earliest online experiences. It was more random then. I would check it every day to see if there were any updates, since it didn’t follow an every-Wednesday schedule as in recent years.

In those days in the late nineties, I sent in a couple of questions. Both times, Miller did not hesitate to let me know what a stupid question I had asked. Looking back and knowing what I know now – he was right, they were stupid. They were so stupid – I won’t print them here. Most of you would lose all respect for me for asking such dumb questions, even a quarter-century later.

In fact, as I look back over the decades – Robin Miller was right on practically everything. Whether it was a sponsor leaving a team or a driver about to lose his ride – Robin Miller was plugged in and knew what was going on before anyone else did.

I’ve often used this example, but it certainly applies here. Back in 2009, Robin Miller reported that IndyCar President and CEO Tony George was about to be ousted from his position by his own sisters. A couple of weeks passed and nothing happened. Social media roasted Miller, saying that he had lost it and was so desperate for relevance that he was now making up outlandish lies, just for a story. Then about two weeks after Miller broke the story that everyone laughed at – it came true, just as Miller said it would.

Did he puff out his chest and say “I told you so”? No, he just went about his business uncovering the next big story.

When I launched this site in May of 2009, I knew my place from Day One that I was a lowly blogger. Then when I was credentialed for my first IndyCar race at Barber in 2010, I was intimidated to be around those journalists whose IndyCar articles I had been reading for decades. I knew my place and never pretended to be one of them. Who intimidated me the most? Robin Miller.

I had been reading his writing for decades. Then I was seeing his matter-of-fact and bigger than life personality on full display on RPM2Night on ESPN2. When he moved to SPEED, his interaction with Dave Despain on Wind Tunnel made Miller seem even more outrageous, but he was always right on whatever he was reporting.

Back in the early 2010s, there were a lot of IndyCar bloggers on the scene. Most of us were not well thought of, by the mainstream or deadline IndyCar media for several justified reasons. First of all, we were considered amateurs at best, or mostly just wannabe hacks. Then there were those bloggers who considered themselves to be in the inner-circle simply because they had credentials, and incorrectly saw themselves as peers to the Curt Cavins, the Marshall Pruetts and the Robin Millers of the world. They butted into conversations in the media centers and made a general nuisance of themselves at press conferences. In the pits, they were constantly pushing boundaries and invading the private space of the teams and drivers. They caused problems for all of us as the series started imposing more and more restrictions on all media.

Those that were considered halfway legitimate, were looked upon as semi-threats to the livelihood of those who worked for the mainstream media. Those bloggers were doing for free, what they were doing for a living. How secure did that make them feel, especially those that worked for dying newspapers?

Whatever the case, bloggers were looked upon mostly with disdain and I understood why. I got it. Now, there are just a very few of us left.

In my own mind, I perceived the outspoken Robin Miller to be leading the charge of those that hated bloggers. Every day, in every media center we went to – Robin Miller would hold court wherever he was sitting. I was fortunate enough to be sitting nearby and listen to these sessions many times, because they were absolutely hilarious – but I never joined them, mostly because I was a lowly blogger.

It wasn’t until about 2016, when I was in the IMS Media Center talking to a friend of mine, when Robin Miller walked up to talk to him. My first instinct was to walk away, but we were talking about something racing related (I don’t remember exactly what it was), so I stayed. As the conversation went on, I found myself throwing my opinion out there. To my surprise, Miller responded to me with “Amen, brother!”.

After he walked off, I confided with my friend that I had always been a little intimidated by Robin Miller in the media center. He told me I had no reason to be. He assured me Miller had a heart of gold and liked to help anybody out. He explained that Miller may bark loudly, but he was a puppy dog inside.

Later that summer, I was in line for the buffet in the media center at Pocono. Who should walk up and join the line right behind me? Robin Miller. I made some light-hearted joke about someone (who will go unnamed) up ahead who had loaded up his plate enough to feed four people. Miller thought it was funny enough to yell the same joke up ahead so that the glutton could hear it. We spent the rest of our time in line chatting away about this or that and he was a riot. After we loaded up our own plates, we went our separate ways.

I don’t know that Robin Miller ever knew my name or what exactly I was doing in the media centers. But at least I got to where he would nod my way and speak when we saw each other. Later on, I would learn from others that he never gave bloggers a negative thought. He considered everyone up there an IndyCar fan and that’s all that really mattered to him.

The last story I’ll share, isn’t even mine. When the news broke on Wednesday morning that we had lost Robin Miller, I talked to my longtime friend John McLallen, from the old One Take Only video days. We were talking about what a void this would leave in the IndyCar world. John told me of seeing Robin Miller in the pits on Race Morning at Indianapolis one year. John was on the other side of the fence, but yelled “Hey Robin, who’s going to win the race?” He said Miller went to the fence, motioned for him to get close like he was going to tell him a closely guarded secret. Speaking slowly and softly, Robin Miller leaned in and told him “Whoever finishes first.” John thought that on Race Morning, with everything Robin Miller would have going on – for him to take time to crack a little joke like that was about as cool as it gets.

The words and stories from Robin Miller’s friends are the ones that mean the most to us. They knew the man, and the man hardly differed from the persona we saw on television or read in his mailbag. There is nothing I could say here that could add to what his closest friends have already told us. But I thought a couple of stories from my viewpoint as a kid, a young adult and finally as a lowly blogger might give a slightly different perspective to what we’ve all already read.

AJ Foyt said it best. There will never be another Robin Miller.

George Phillips

12 Responses to “Robin Miller – A Different Perspective”

  1. I started reading the Star in the fall of 1993 when during my freshmen year at Indiana University – Bloomington. Like you, my newspaper reading started by promptly turning to the sports page. There I discovered this guy named Robin Miller who wrote columns about IndyCar. The South Bend Tribune in my hometown always covered IndyCar during the month of May, but this guy wrote articles about the series year round. I never saw something like that. His columns are what got me paying more attention to the series and not just the “500.” From there I followed him to ESPN. I followed him to SPEED.. I followed him to RACER. There have been many great contributors to various sports over the years who have retired and/or passed away. We miss them, but the sport carries on and doesn’t really miss a beat. IndyCar will carry on as well, but unlike those other sports, I just can’t imagine IndyCar coverage ever being the same again without Robin Miller.

  2. I don’t think I ever talked to Robin in person, yet it feels like I’ve known him forever. I always wanted his autograph but I heard he didn’t like to sign autographs because he didn’t consider himself anyone special. I would sometimes email him a question or comment not meant for the mailbag and he always responded as if I was an old friend. I appreciated how he always spoke highly of my favorite driver Simona. You are exactly right when you say there will never be anyone like him. IndyCar has lost it’s biggest supporter.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Robin has long been my answer to the silly icebreaker question “If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be?”… which would then often require me to fumble through explaining who he was. A proper explanation of who Robin was, though, would take much too long to be wedged into a dinner party icebreaker game; conveying Miller’s passion for racing (and especially for racing’s people), his humor and his flair for entertaining, his usually well-intentioned abrasiveness, his ability to coax answers out of folks he had thoroughly pissed off mere days (if not hours) before… I could go on and on. Those who knew him personally could go on hours more than I could I’m sure.

    I relayed the news of Robin’s death to an acquaintance of mine who stopped following Indycar cold turkey a little over a decade ago, frustrated with spec cars, push-to-pass, and seemingly rudderless leadership. He was sad to hear the news, of course, but he also speculated that perhaps Robin had lost a lot of passion for the sport as he had, that perhaps Robin simply covered the sport out of obligation. I disagreed, because Robin’s passion for Indycar racing was not rooted in the machines or the rules or the tracks or politics… it was rooted in the people. Not just the drivers, but the owners and mechanics and other journalists and, especially, the fans. Robin clearly missed the old days and loved writing about them, but as I saw another media colleague say about him yesterday, he never discussed Indycar’s past at the expense of its present. He was as happy to field a question in his mailbag about Colton Herta as he was about Bryan Herta… as he was about Jim Hurtubise. As many have noted, he responded to practically every e-mail sent to his mailbag whether it was printed or not.

    I talked to Robin, if you can even call a brief “hello” talking to him, three times: once when I walked past him at the Houston NRG Park course paddock, once in the pits at Texas Motor Speedway, and once near the pagoda at IMS. Every single time I greeted him, he looked straight at me, returned the greeting, and then said, “thanks for being here” before going on with his work. Like most sportswriters, he was an advocate for the sport to its fans, unlike most, he was also an advocate for fans to the sport. We will miss him badly.

  4. Bruce Waine Says:

    Often times as not individiuals receive accolades unfortunately only following their passing and thus are not aware of the extent that they were cherished…….

    Cherished is a word that Robin would disagree with if talking about his status.

    So it was indeed very much spot on that the powers to be inducted Robin into the Racing Hall of Fame (the only journalist to have been inducted) .

    Reading Robin’s sincere comments about the award, one knew that he had received the equivqlent of the Borg Warner trophy for winning the 500.

    It was fitting that Robin was able to know that everyone that he had touched during his lifetime genuinely could call him friend……….

  5. James T Suel Says:

    George I have been a Robin Miller fan forever, and a Fan of yours. Glad to hear you also appreciated him. There will be a big void left with no Robin Miller. In my opinion you just can’t replace a guy like him. He always said just what he thought and told you right..

  6. Tom from Lake Forest Says:

    Tributes to Robin Miller have been great and well deserved. What strikes me now, however, is the void his departure leaves in the Indycar media world. Robin was not only a terrific journalist, but he was a passionate advocate for our sport with a reach and an influence earned over decades. Talented journalists will come and go but it’s difficult right now to imagine such an effective and consequential media advocate ever again.

  7. Robin is the reason i found your blog.
    Robin answered every single one of my emails.
    Robin made me a bigger and better fan of Indycar.

  8. I was crushed when I saw on Racer Wednesday that Robin had passed. I knew it would happen someday very soon and I thought I was prepared for the inevitable, but I was still surprised. I already had an email draft question in my head for this weekend.

    Robin is the reason I became an ardent IndyCar fan. His enthusiasm for the series was catching. I just wished I had paid more attention sooner. His reports on the Sunday Speed news show and especially his appearances on Wind Tunnel hooked me. F1 took a back seat in this house from then on.

    I still remember Robin answering my first email with a question about Fontana. I will admit that making the Mailbag was always a thrill, but receiving an email answer from Robin was even better.

    Robin had an amazing life. I am happy we all had a chance to enjoy his talents as a journalist and broadcaster and maybe share a few minutes at a race just to say hello or shoot the breeze (about racing of course).

  9. Growing up in the Indianapolis area and reading his articles for as long as I can remember, I always knew that I was a fan of his. I did not understand how big of a fan until these past couple of days. I’m sad well beyond what I had imagined. I will truly miss him in this sport. He was an incredible fan and voice for Indycar racing! Thanks for writing this today George, and for sharing your memories.

  10. Great perspective George. This will be a bigger loss than most of us probably realize. For years we got used to Robin as an integral part of the racing weekend. The way his time ended at The Indianapolis Star was certainly not the best, but this is where he really made his niche to a great journalist/reporter/announcing career. There were some great writings from the month of May reports in The Star. Losing Bob Jenkins and Robin Miller this past month leaves a big hole in our hearts.
    Was also good to hear you mention your buddy John McLallen. I haven’t heard you reference him in quite some time. I actually enjoyed the two of you together in “One take only”.

    • You do realize that they are all still archived here on this site, don’t you? Up on the right-hand side, under “Pages”; every one of them is archived under “One Take Only”. – GP

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