Milka Duno signed with Dale Coyne Racing for the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season - a race seat that could have gone to Graham Rahal (Photo: St. Petersburg Times)
There is a time and place for everything.
There is a time to vent one's frustrations, and there is a time to keep those frustrations to oneself.
There is a time for righteous outrage, and there is a time for sober objectivity.
Today, I'm advocating the latter option in both situations. Someone needs to, especially today, because advocates of the former in two separate instances are making complete fools of themselves - and it really should stop.
Where to begin? Let's start with Gordon Kirby. Many of you readers may know Mr. Kirby from his writing - much of it in respected racing outlets like Autocourse and Autosport. He's a writer who has very, very strong opinions and very, very strong biases which have a worrying tendency to creep into his work.
Mr. Kirby was a guest on fellow racing journalist Michael Knight's radio show recently along with ESPN's John Oreovicz. The interviewee was Terry Angstadt, president of the Indy Racing League's commercial division. At about the 30-minute mark in the show, Mr. Knight presents Mr. Kirby with the opportunity to offer Angstadt the first question.
Instead of asking a question, however, Kirby launches into a minute-and-a-half diatribe on the state of IndyCar racing, loudly condemning Angstadt and the rest of IndyCar's management and accusing them of "15 years of mismanagement."
It was great radio, as they say in the entertainment industry, but it was a shocking and reprehensible lapse in professionalism from a man who - considering the length of his CV and his career - really should know better. It was an accusatory, vitriolic outburst that might issue from, say, a blogger or irate fan - an outburst that one assumes a journalist of his history and stature would frown upon in the strongest of terms.
Make no mistake - every journalist who has had to sit through a round of doubletalk or a "massaging" of the truth from a suit or a shill feels the kind of frustration that Kirby vented on Angstadt. And given the state of IndyCar racing today in an era of spec technology, dull racing and a paucity of financial health, the prospect of having sunshine blown up his skirt may have compounded things for Kirby. Of course, with Kirby's own history of sunshine-blowing as an official mouthpiece for Champ Car several years ago, one would hope that he might have enough perspective to keep his emotions in check on the other side of the fence.
But any journalist worth his salt knows that feeling frustration is one thing - venting it on the people you are supposed to be covering as an objective and impartial observer is unacceptable and inappropriate in the extreme.
The incident was - or should be - an embarrassment for a man who styles himself as a journalist from the old school. Unfortunately, he's also a guy who claims to tell it "The Way It Is" - which means that he is more likely patting himself on the back this afternoon than feeling any remorse or second-guessing his enormous lack of judgment. And that more than anything speaks to the sad state of motorsports journalism today - a state of affairs where reporters fashion themselves into actors and insert themselves into the story instead of covering it objectively.
The other bit of foolishness on the slate today has to do with the news that Dale Coyne Racing has signed Milka Duno to drive the full 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule.
Let's be honest here - Milka Duno is not a popular figure among IndyCar fans or, it must be said, the IndyCar media. Robin Miller can't even bring himself to say her name - he refers to her as "Milk and Doughnuts." The perception out there is that Milka is a talent-free ride buyer who wouldn't come within a mile of a real race car if she didn't have girl parts or Venezuelan oil money. She's also a former model which, since obviously nobody else in IndyCar has any experience in swimsuits or photo shoots, casts doubt on her legitimacy as an athlete.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I like Milka Duno. She's funny, charming, absolutely terrific with the fans, and probably smarter than most of them. (If you doubt me on that last bit, you might want to check her wall for the four master's degree diplomas.) The fact that she isn't the greatest racecar driver in the world is worrisome at times - especially at Indianapolis, where the margins for safety are at their thinnest - but let's be frank... there have been many drivers who have competed in IndyCars with less qualifications.
Still, I'm used to the anti-Milka sentiment and I don't expect it to go away. That CITGO money she has opens doors for her and gets her into seats that, it could be argued, should go to more talented and deserving drivers. I won't dispute that.
What I will dispute is the notion that it's a crime that Milka Duno got the DCR seat and Graham Rahal still doesn't have a ride.
What, truly, was Dale Coyne supposed to do? Coming off a year where his team scored its first-ever victory, Coyne saw the driver who achieved it bolt to another team, along with his sponsor and more than a few of that race-winning crew. Whereas before he might have had hope that his team had turned a corner with a car and driver proven to be capable of winning, now Dale Coyne was back to square one.
Give him credit - Coyne grabbed the dice and rolled them on a huge gamble, offering a huge salary and a two-year contract to Graham Rahal. Perhaps, he likely reasoned, the fact that his cars might no longer be considered backmarkers - as well as the pile of promised money - might entice the young Rahal to come on board. With a hot young budding star at the wheel, maybe DCR's fortunes would turn and his team might find itself moving out of the bottom bracket of IndyCar competition.
Sadly for Dale Coyne, the prospect of driving for DCR didn't sit well with Graham Rahal. No guaranteed salary or full-time ride could compensate for being contractually tied to a team for two years - particularly when there remained the possibility that an opportunity at Penske, Ganassi or Andretti Autosport might open up at season's end. So Rahal turned Coyne down.
So here was the situation - Dale Coyne had one car with very little financial support for 2010. Along came Milka Duno with her smile, cheery disposition and fat pocketbook filled with CITGO dollars. Exactly what was Coyne supposed to do - turn her away?
No, the crime is not that Duno got the seat and that Rahal is rideless. The real crime is that fans are looking at this out of context - blaming Coyne for signing a ride buyer while Rahal is kicking the bricks, when in reality Graham had every opportunity not only to take that selfsame seat but get paid big bucks to do it. Rahal, Duno and Coyne all made decisions based on their own self-interest and thus will live with the consequences thereof.
The point is this - things are hard enough in the IndyCar world these days without people losing their perspective about things. In fact, part of the reason why the sport is in such trouble is that over the past decade and a half, people have willfully blinded themselves to the need to move forward in favor of constantly beating the dead horses of the past and second-guessing other people's choices. The times call for level-headed coolness under pressure and smart, informed choices - and while IndyCar has not been known for either of those lately, it doesn't help when the fans and the media jump on the craziness bandwagon.
In other words, take a breath, people, and instead of worrying about who was right or wrong, find a way to hope for the future. If you can't do that, then it's time to move on.