Duno Following Heart, Not Danica
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
There is a pretty-fair-sized list of reasons why Milka Duno has opted to give driving stock cars a whirl. Not on that list, she stresses, is the desire to do it simply because Danica Patrick is doing it.
In fact, it might not be wise to even bring up the subject of chasing Danica around Duno.
“Please,” Duno said during a telephone conversation this week. “Do you think I have to do that? No. It really offends me when somebody says something like that. They have no brain.”
Duno’s reasons for moving to fendered cars are quite a bit more traditional and they are all built around the concept of facing a challenge, she said.
“As a driver, I like to drive any car,” Duno said, “because a driver likes to drive anything. Yes, it’s a challenge, you know?”
Just as every other stop along the auto-racing road has been for her.
And there have been quite a few stops.
Duno, a native of Caracas, Venezuela, was working as a naval engineer in 1988 when a friend invited her to a Porsche driving clinic. She went and the hook was set.
Though not as well known as Patrick, Duno shares a similar background. Both worked their way up through the lesser ranks to get to where they are. And both have had their successes along the way; successes they can wave like flags when people accuse them of being unqualified – or worse.
To wit: In 1999, Duno won her first series championship. It came in the Panoz GT Series. In 2001 she was vice-champion in the LMP 675 Class of the American Le Mans Series.
Duno also scored a 2nd-place overall finish in the legendary 24 Hours of Daytona.
In the Rolex Sports Car Series, Duno had three overall wins – twice at Homestead-Miami Speedway and once at Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant in Quebec. During her time competing in the Rolex Series Duno earned seven podium appearances, 10 top-five finishes and 18 top-ten finishes.
In the American Le Mans Series, Duno was the first woman to drive the fastest car in the series – the Le Mans Prototype 900 – now called the P1. While competing in the ALMS, Duno had five wins in the LMP 675 class – including the prestigious 10-hour Petit Le Mans. She got a second Petit Le Mans class win in 2004.
Duno has several starts in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Duno made the step up to the IndyCar Series in 2007. Her debut came at Kansas Speedway and it came with a lot of rolled eyes from fans and even some other competitors.
But even though she qualified last, she steered clear of trouble and finished 14th. That was eight spots behind Patrick but ahead of veterans like Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti.
A month later, Duno drove in her first Indianapolis 500, finishing 31st after crashing on lap 65.
Since then, Duno has driven in 25 more IndyCar races with a best finish of 11th at Texas Motor Speedway in 2007.
Now 37 years old, Duno’s plans for 2010 were in limbo when she began talking to Todd Braun, whose Braun Racing is the most successful independent team in the Nationwide Series, over the current off season.
They decided to put Duno in Braun car for the recently-concluded ARCA test at Daytona.
Braun indicated that if Duno wants to ever try NASCAR, the first step is an ARCA test.
It was different, she said.
“Not an easy car to drive,” Duno said of the 3,400-pound ARCA car. “It’s a car that is very heavy. It is moving a lot, has no downforce. It is more about the driving, about the driver. All these things make if very difficult. The car is moving all the time and you don’t know where the car is going, you know?”
The owner of the car said of Duno’s stock-car debut, not bad.
“Milka’s put on an excellent performance,” Braun said. “She demonstrated her ability to transition from driving an open-wheel car to a stock car and shows a lot of promise.”
Duno said this week, “I think we did good, no?”
After missing the first day of the three-day test, Duno posted respectable times. On the second day, she was 13th among 63 drivers. She was faster than Patrick, who was also making her stock-car debut in the test, that day.
Duno sounded as though she would like to end the comparisons with Patrick right there.
Duno knows that people are saying that she is simply following Patrick to stock cars, but she sure does not think they should be.
“Please. This is the most dumb thing I can hear from somebody, really,” she said. “What is the important thing about her? Tell me. Do they think I have no personality to do the same thing as her? No.
“This sport is not about exclusivity of her. There were many women before her doing the same thing.”
While Patrick’s immediate future in stock cars is pretty much determined – she will drive in the ARCA race at DIS and then a dozen or so Nationwide races – Duno’s is not.
She said that she, too, would like to drive some Nationwide races, but right now, has no deal with Braun.
Braun has not yet said if he will field ARCA or Nationwide entries for Duno.
If he does, no doubt she will be up for the challenge.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.com Comments