Milka Duno posted a time 11 seconds slower than most of the field just prior to wrecking her car in practice - solo - prior to Sunday's Honda Indy Edmonton in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
I got the news after a day "off the grid" - my first vacation day in seven months and largely free of the necessary evils of e-mail and Twitter.
It was good news. The IZOD IndyCar Series powers-that-be had finally - finally - put Milka Duno on probation.
It's good news because, if the IICS rulebook is followed even in the most bare of circumstances, Duno will be suspended from the series within the span of a couple of races. The probationary period requires Milka to get up to speed and drive in a safe and respectable manner, or else the series will take steps.
Milka, likable as she is, is no miracle worker. Her days as an IndyCar driver are (hopefully) numbered.
I see drivers like Milka (racers of her "ilka" so to speak) almost every day. I sim-race on iRacing, and often I drive the rookie-level series like the Mustang Challenge, the Formula Ford, and the Legends. At these levels of sim-racing, you get the "red stripers" - folks who are brand new to the service and, more often than not, to sim-racing in general.
The red stripe is part of a color-coding system in iRacing that is attached to a driver's "Safety Rating" - a number from zero to 4.99 in a particular driver license level. Your license level is marked on all of your virtual cars by a pair of stripes on the rear and markings on the nose of your machines. The red stripers (class D license) are the lowest rookie level and typically drive the lowest-performing machines. You graduate out of the red by achieving a certain minimum Safety Rating number by the end of an iRacing season. From there you move to orange (class C), then yellow (B), then blue (A). There is a further Pro level (black stripes) that only the best and most frequent iRacing drivers achieve.
You gain Safety Rating points for driving cleanly and considerately. You don't have to be fast... just clean. You get docked Safety Rating points by collecting "incidents" of varying severity. Dropping a wheel off the track into the grass is a "1x" incident. Loss of control is "2x." Contact with another car is between "2x" to "4x." And so on. These incidents accumulate over the course of a session, whether it be time trials, qualifying, or racing. Avoid incidents, and your Safety Rating climbs steadily. Accumulate even a small handful and you risk being demoted to a lower license class.
I explain all of this because this Safety Rating system is, for the great majority of iRacers, a fantastic motivational tool to keep the service's racing sessions from turning into goat rodeos. It is so because it teaches fundamental awareness in drivers - awareness of how you drive a car and awareness of what is happening around you. The oblivious driver piles up Safety Rating demerits at an alarming rate. In contrast, drivers who progress to higher license levels both trust others and can be trusted themselves to conduct themselves with basic sanity and consideration.
It's not 100% foolproof, but as a no-fault system - incidents accumulate regardless of who is to blame - most of the iRacers behave themselves admirably.
I say "most" because there are still some people out there who just don't get it. They'll pile out of the pits directly into oncoming traffic... they'll spin out and sit broadside directly to the main racing line without resetting, causing massive chain-reaction pileups... they weave from line to line, seemingly oblivious to faster traffic... and so on.
As a Class A license holder I don't see these folks too often in sessions where incident points are tracked - I usually see them only in open practices when I'm dabbling in rookie-level cars. That's when I'm thrown on track with a big group of red-stripers. The mayhem is sometimes fun - after all, nobody gets hurt, and some of the wrecks are truly spectacular ("I can see my house from here!").
But after a while the fun wears off because you realize you can't get in more than two or three laps before being taken out by one of these folks, and you eventually decide to either drive a higher-level car or just shut the thing down altogether.
I mentioned before that I see these types a lot online. I know what to expect and, since they're red-stripers, I realize that I'm taking my virtual life into my hands voluntarily by sharing the track with them. Which is why I only race with them in open practices and not when my Safety Rating is on the line.
IZOD IndyCar Series drivers, on the other hand, should not have that expectation nor, indeed, the requirement to have to share the track with a "red-striper" like Milka Duno. It's just ridiculously wrong for someone who is so obviously out of her depth to continue to compete at a level as high as IndyCar.
Forget all that noise about how personable and intelligent she is away from the cockpit (she is, there's no question) or how her massive CITGO checks signed by Hugo Chavez keeps Dale Coyne Racing in business and Alex Lloyd in the seat of the Boy Scouts of America car (WE MUST SUPPORT THE SCOUTING PROGRAM!). She is fundamentally a "red-striper" and, by all rights, should be plying her trade at a lower - much lower - level unless she somehow acquires the basic skills that most people at the IndyCar level not only take for granted, but assume are so ingrained by the time a driver gets to IndyCars that they're unconscious.
The frustration level I feel at encountering "red-striper" drivers on a virtual racing service like iRacing is significant. And the stakes in sim-racing are incredibly low. I don't have to worry about orphaning my kids if some oblivious rookie punts me over an electronic catchfence. Not so with IndyCar drivers, who are putting their lives on the line and in each others' hands every time they take to the track.
Which is why I'm thrilled that Randy Bernard spoke publicly (if a bit too candidly) about Milka needing to go. And why, because of Randy's comments and a subsequent AP news story that hit all of the sports front pages, the IndyCar cognoscenti were finally forced to take a concrete step that was so long overdue that it would be ludicrously funny if so much were not at stake.
Who knows. Maybe I'll see Milka on iRacing once she eventually gets the boot from IndyCar. Probably not in a race, though. I don't race with red-stripers.