Educated Venezuelan makes racing her career


October 23, 2005|By JASON STEIN

Who's the young brunette strapped into her Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series Citgo Pontiac (whew!) race car?

Chances are she's a phenomenon you've never heard of. But someday you will.

When you describe Milka Duno, it's hard to come up with the perfect adjective. Maybe that's because there isn't just one.

In a sport that demands endurance, discipline and intense focus, Duno is demanding attention, and she gets it. The photographers invade each race weekend by the bus load because women racers have historically attracted extra attention and Duno is good and getting better with each race.

Driving in what's known as the Daytona Prototype class, the upper rung in the Rolex sports car endurance series, Duno has quickly become someone to watch in a particular type of racing that generally flies well under the radar.


For the uninitiated, the Daytona Prototypes use eight-or six-cylinder engines and race among a collection of other cars from different classes for as long as 24 hous at a time.

Along with her teammate Andy Wallace, a previous 24 Hours of LeMans (France) and 24 Hours of Daytona (Florida) winner, Duno has climbed the ladder of success, already winning this year at Homestead raceway in Miami, Fla.

In a short time on the world's racing stage, Duno has also quickly become a cult figure in the sport, making the most of her good looks by appearing in a variety of magazines.

And with racing experience and education, she's the complete package.

Born in Caracus, Venezuela, in April of 1972, and trained as a naval engineer, Duno speaks three languages and has four master's degrees: organizational development; naval architecture; maritime business; and marine biology. Duno earned the latter three simultaneously. No, she's not your typical racer.

"After earning my degrees I began working in the naval engineering field. It was during that time that a friend asked me to attend a Porsche Driving Clinic," she once told Latin Style magazine. "It was at that clinic that I first experienced the thrill - and technology - involved in racing. The thrill was addictive and the sophisticated technology required to achieve high speeds and incredible handling appealed very much to the 'engineer' in me."

The appeal stuck.

Duno began racing in Venezuela in 1996 at age 24 and eventually placed second overall in that country's GT Championship class. Two years later, her first year of professional racing, Duno scored two podium finishes and placing fourth overall in the Venezuelan Porsche Supercup Championship.

As "Venezuelan Auto Racing Driver of the Year" in 2000 and "American Le Mans Series 2001 Vice Champion Driver," Duno began to attract the attention of motorsport fans all over the world and from influential people in the organizational and competitive areas of motorsport in the United States and Europe.

Duno quickly caught the eye of Pontiac's sports-car racing team and she was signed to compete in the Grand Am road racing series with the hope she could bring more visibility to road racing in North America.

Though she is just beginning her career, she is quickly gaining plenty of attention, drawing photographers from all corners of the world and drawing attention to a racing discipline that is virtually unknown when compared to the NASCAR drivers who make their way around the United States every weekend.

But her accomplishments are becoming big news.

She's the first woman to ever win a major road race in North America. She's the first woman to ever put a serious dent into a racing series that many considered to be a "man's sport" up to now.

"Some things are in your destiny," Duno told MPH magazine in a recent interview. "Knowledge is forever. But this is my passion right now."

She trains non-stop and practices as much as she can, trying to hone her skills as an endurance driver.

The sky is the limit. Or, of course, there's always that marine biology career.

"My mentality is, you have to work very hard," she told MPH. "My role at this moment is to do this. I must take this opportunity."

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