Milka Duno - Mid-Ohio spotlight

MILKA DUNO: MOMENT BY MOMENT DUBLIN, Ohio (June 19, 2006) - Milka Duno's fans know her as a Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series driver, recognizing her blue helmet in the No. 11 CITGO Racing by SAMAX Daytona Prototype car. They may ...


DUBLIN, Ohio (June 19, 2006) - Milka Duno's fans know her as a Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series driver, recognizing her blue helmet in the No. 11 CITGO Racing by SAMAX Daytona Prototype car. They may not realize she is also an engineer, a scholar, a teacher and an athlete.

Duno had no thought of racing when she graduated from high school. Armed with a strong education that included training in four computer languages, she moved on to the naval engineering program at the Instituto Universitario de las Fuerzas Armadas Nacionales in her home city of Caracas, Venezuela.

Her next step was a triple -- working as a project engineer designing oil-recovery ships, she also completed her first masters degree, in organizational development, and taught classes in structural calculus, boat theory, naval graphic design and mathematics.

After earning a scholarship to study in Spain, her academic quest ultimately took her to four master's degrees, three of which she earned simultaneously, in naval architecture, maritime business and marine biology. Every step of the way, her goal was the same -- to excel.

"I always wanted to be the best in school. I was number one in high school, number one in university," she recalled. "I got a scholarship and spent two and a half years in Spain, in two universities at the same time. The goal was to learn the most I could about my career, in another country. I wanted to learn and learn and learn because I wanted to be a good engineer, each time getting better and better and better."

Returning to Venezuela, Duno attended a driving school with friends. She went on a whim, but it turned into a career.

"It wasn't my destiny, I didn't think I would be a race-car driver," she said. "I didn't know anything about racing; I went with my friends only for curiosity. But I continued with club racing and I was winning, I was on the podium every time I competed. I said, 'I like this!'"

Duno enrolled in the Skip Barber Racing School, and then quickly progressed through the Formula Dodge Race Series, Women's Global GT Championship, Barber Dodge Pro Series and Ferrari Challenge Series. She won her first championship in 2000, topping the Panoz GT Series, and finished second in the American Le Mans Series LMP 675 class the next year.

Competing in multiple championships, Duno worked to match the experience of her fellow drivers who had been racing since childhood. She learned fast and set several milestones -- she was the first woman to win overall in a major North-American sports-car race, drive an LMP 900 car, win the Petit Le Mans P2 class, earn points in the Telefonica World Series and win a Ferrari Challenge Series race.

"I was in two or three championships at a time to improve my ability, so there would not be a difference between the experience of the other drivers and me," she said. "To be the first woman was not the important thing for me. I was not looking for that, because I am a driver. I want to win races, I want to win championships, and I want to be as good as the best drivers."

Duno's education and engineering experience have been a bonus on track.

"I loved my [engineering] career, but it also helped me to improve in racing," she noted. "I understand easily what's happening in the car, I can talk with the engineer, and I can tell what I'm feeling in the car and give the right information so he can make the right adjustments. I can do more because I see forward, I analyze everything around me."

Her athletic prowess has also helped. Her daily workout includes a three-mile run plus targeted strength exercises for her back, neck and shoulders.

"In driving, you need to work a lot with the back. People think it's only gas and brake, but it's very, very hard. Drivers are athletes!" she said. "It is very demanding. You need to be strong in this sport."

Mental preparation requires equal strength: "You need to force your mind to do the thing that you want. You need focus, good concentration. Sometimes you're driving close to 200 miles per hour, it's 120 degrees, you have pressure from the car behind, you want to pass the car in front, you need to control the car at this speed with all the pressure around and you can't make a mistake. You need to be ready for everything at the same time."

The difficulty doesn't faze Duno. She thrives on it.

"It's a tough sport," she acknowledged. "I like difficult things because I'm very competitive and I like to have those challenges. Since I was a child, I was the same; I liked difficult things. When something is more difficult, you feel more satisfied when you get it. When the thing is easy, I'm not interested."

Duno also works hard off-track, representing her sponsors CITGO, Pontiac, Sony Xplod, Cantv and MRW. And she is a fervent advocate for education, taking time to visit schools and encourage children.

"We have a big problem in many countries because people don't finish school. If I can give a positive message, I feel very happy because I'm doing something more than driving a race car. The most important message I can give is about education," she said.

"Education is forever and sport is only while you are in good condition. Young people need to prepare, they need to go to school. You have determination, you can reach your goal, but you need to have preparation first, because it helps you improve quicker in every area. You are clear, you have goals and you have the preparation to go further."

Although many would be overwhelmed by the objectives Duno sets for herself, she sees her tasks and achievements as realistic moments in a continuum.

"There are different steps in life. Maybe the thing that you did a few years ago, you don't have the capacity to do again. Because it was the moment," she explained. "I did three masters degrees at the same time. You ask if I can do it now, I say, 'No, I don't want to.' Now it's another moment in my life, I have another interest ... Now I want to win more races!"

Milka Duno will be co-piloting the No. 11 Pontiac-powered CITGO Racing by SAMAX Riley Mk XI with Olivier Beretta at the ECMO Gears Classic presented by KeyBank at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on June 23-25. Round 11 of 16 for the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve, will be aired on SPEED Channel, Sunday, June 25 at 3:00pm (tape delay).


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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Milka Duno , Skip Barber , Olivier Beretta