I haven’t sat down to write anything in a very long time, but considering how many times Robin had to type out answers to questions about so many drivers in his mailbag, I feel like I owe it to him!
There was something so special about Robin that many people across the internet who were lucky enough to interact with him have been posting about. I figured this out at a very early age when I met Robin through my Dad. I was a young aspiring race car driver, and Robin Miller was the guy I knew I had to impress. I would see him on TV, I would read his articles, and I knew he would tell people exactly what he thought of you. I respected that about Robin. There is so much going on below the surface in the racing world, and Robin knew that side of things as a former racer himself.
I would say most people see everything that goes on at the track from a grandstand-type view. You see the results sheet, maybe some drivers that crashed into each other, and that’s it; you move onto the next race. Robin would always go much deeper than that. Robin knew every team owner, every engineer, and he would ask the right questions. He would know if you finished 12th that day, there was a reason why, good or bad. There often isn’t time to write those types of stories when covering a race: people care about who wins and maybe who crashed.
I was a fan before I reached a professional level of motor racing, and I loved going a step deeper – what happened in the middle of the race when one of the drivers fell back, or how on earth did one of the drivers start 24th and finish in the top 10? Who was out-performing their equipment? I loved learning these things, and Robin knew it all.
When I got back from racing in Europe I was in a tough spot in my career. I did not have a full-time seat in anything, I was fighting to get an opportunity and Robin would always make sure team owners knew he thought I was ready for that chance. He followed my career close enough to know how hard it was winning the Road to Indy championships and winning in Europe. He believed in me. It was a true joy seeing him smile after my first road course race in an IndyCar with Dale Coyne Racing at Long Beach in 2015. He wanted to do an interview and post the video all over the internet.
I think I finished 17th after getting in the car late in the weekend after Rocky Moran Jr got injured during first practice. Robin greeted me in pit lane as if it was almost a win! We had set something like the second- or third-fastest race lap and made no mistakes, getting all the laps in. The rest of that season he was pitching me to almost every IndyCar team, even though I really had no budget to bring with me. After a couple different races with different teams that year, I finally got a shot at going full-time in IndyCar in 2016 with Coyne, and I have to think what he had written about me helped more than I initially realized.
When you see a person in the paddock who is truly friends with almost everyone, you know there’s a reason why. Robin was absolutely that guy. At the end of 2016 I was again seeking a job opportunity in IndyCar, and I would chat with Robin weekly about what opportunities were out there. When I look back at my texts with Robin from during that time we talked about so many teams: would I go to Andretti? Schmidt? Was there an opening at Foyt? What about re-signing with Coyne? Robin had such a great relationship with A.J. Foyt, and every week Robin would say he was bothering A.J. about me. I have to think that again, he was a huge help in getting me close to the Foyt team, and my eventually signing with them to drive. I really enjoyed interacting with A.J. and Robin when they were together – two incredible personalities. It felt like Robin was part of the team with us at times!
He also paid very close attention to what went on that year and the reasons why we struggled, along with some of the mistakes I made. He noticed everything that went on under the surface. Things that some fans on the outside just dismissed and didn’t understand, I always knew I could talk to Robin about, because he understood everything about IndyCar racing.
I could write a paragraph about every year of my career and have a story where Robin contributed in a positive way. I’ve had a very strange career, full of ups and downs, and Robin was always there to motivate me and make sure people knew what was going on. Whether it was barely making the Indy 500 field in 2018, or getting the chance to drive the Harding car that year when he knew we didn’t have the best equipment possible. Everyone knows he could be a little too honest about some things sometimes, but in the end he was speaking from his heart, and his love for what it takes to compete at the highest level in IndyCar.
As I keep scrolling through my texts with Robin, which now serve as great memories, one thing remains pretty consistent: “Hey kid, as your PR I need to know if you’re driving for this team this weekend, and let me know if it will help if I write a story about it?” I’ve driven for almost all the IndyCar teams in the paddock after being a substitute driver for most of two years, and Robin was always the first one to find out who I’d be driving for next!
It’s hard to look back on all these things, but it brings me a lot of joy to think how many laughs we have shared over how crazy our sport can be at times. I feel like I could write a book about how much Robin has done, for not only my life, but many other drivers around me, as well. Robin found the time to text me after this year’s Indy 500 during a time when I know he was very sick: “Hey young man, wanted to wait until everything calmed down but great job Sunday and you made all your believers proud.” Robin always believed. Through the good and the bad moments.
Just a couple of weeks ago it was fantastic to see Robin at the race track one last time. He was surrounded by so many friends, Indy 500 champions, race team owners, fellow racing enthusiasts and journalists. I told him it was great to read his latest article on RACER because it was emotional and so very ‘Robin Miller’. His last message to me was simply, “Go win Gateway”. To the very end, he was supportive.
I can only hope I make as many friends as Robin did in the racing world, and to be able to tell stories like he did. He will never be forgotten. As I suit up on the IndyCar grid once again in Portland in a couple of weeks, I will without a doubt be wishing I could get a thumbs-up one more time as he walked the grid. I will be thinking about all the times we got to go to the Indiana State Fair to throw basketballs at unfavorably-shaped hoops and eat grilled cheese sandwiches with Tony Kanaan.
When all those memories flash through my head, there will be one thing left to do for many drivers on the grid, and that is to make Robin proud.