I was watching the IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park yesterday, and at one point I realized I hadn't seen a single glimpse of Milka Duno's CITGO Dallara. According to timing and scoring, she wasn't even in last place.
That, to me, was a good thing - so far this year, we've seen the car on TV for all the wrong reasons. Spinning on the pace lap here, going off course there, looming like a slow-moving spectre in front of the leaders. I was hoping that maybe she was finally starting to show a little progress.
Watching Milka Duno try to race an IndyCar always leaves me torn. She is clearly out of her depth driving a winged open-wheel car at this level, but I can't forget how wonderfully personable, good-natured and intelligent she is. That latter fact always fools me into thinking she just needs a little more time to learn the craft before she can at least drive without being a hazard.
But yesterday finally cured me of that. Maybe earlier this season I might have been annoyed by the #ParkMilka trend that Nicole Manske Briscoe started on Twitter, but what happened yesterday finally has me on the bandwagon.
What finally convinced me? It was the sudden and jarring appearance of Duno's #18 in traffic, moving painfully slowly as other cars desperately bobbed and weaved to avoid her.
Usually slower cars, when shown the blue flag with the yellow stripe that means "Let Faster Cars Pass," give way to faster cars by abdicating the line and giving plenty of room for them to overtake. Duno, however, did none of that. Whether she panicked or, worse, she didn't know better, Milka had chosen the center of the track as her "out of the way" spot and had slowed to less than half of race pace. In that moment she was a clear danger to everyone around her.
In that moment, race control should have parked her.
Why the Iron Hand of Justice in race control didn't - and, to date, hasn't - is a mystery to me. Quick to pick out every block, every violation of pit lane speeding, and other various and sundry missteps by other drivers, they were conspicuously silent on this day as they seem to have been on all of the preceding race days with regards to Milka Duno.
But what I saw - what everyone saw - was not simply a failure to go fast. Milka has shown speed at times and without traffic around her is capable of going faster than most armchair racers like myself. But what she displayed at Barber and what makes her... well, there's no other way to put it, dangerous, was a spectacular and potentially tragic lack of basic racecraft.
Hugo Chavez' money might buy enough speed for a race team to compete, but it can't purchase race smarts. Those are learned on the way up the racing ladder - those who do not learn those lessons either stop progressing up the ladder on their own or are forced off of it by their peers, race control, or - in the worst case - serious injury or even death.
Milka's inability to allow faster cars past her safely is more than simply worrisome - it is hazardous. Whether it is a result of panic behind the wheel or incompetence or simply going overboard in trying to be courteous, her performance - or lack thereof - is putting the other drivers in the series at risk.
The IndyCar series took the extraordinary measure to park Marty Roth under similar circumstances. They need to do so again. And perhaps they need to look into establishing rules on race pace and set up additional guidelines that establish a minimum standard for racecraft. Maybe they even have all of that already - which begs the question, if that's true, why haven't they applied them to Milka?
I've been willing to give Milka the benefit of the doubt - in fact, I've stretched "benefit of the doubt" so far that it's almost screaming for mercy - but the time for the experiment is over. Milka Duno may yet have a successful career in motorsports but - as harsh as this may sound - it should not continue with the IZOD IndyCar Series.
It's for everyone's own good.