Milka Duno may not move at the same velocity as the galaxy’s Milky Way, but she can sure rev up phenomenal speed. With eight major race wins in the American Le Mans Series, and the highest finish ever by a female driver in Rolex 24 at Daytona, Duno is recognized as one of the most successful female sports-car racers in history.
Year round, Duno is front and center of some furiously fast competition, but she also makes time for a comparatively quieter presence off the beaten racetrack.
A certified naval engineer with four master’s degrees, Duno places a premium on the importance of education.
“Education opens the door to the future,” Duno said. “The community, city, family we live help prepare us to take advantage of opportunities.”
In 2004, she started Milka Way, a program organized around youth, dreams, opportunity and reaching for the stars. Milka Way inspires people to aim high. Over eight years, Duno has spoken to thousands of children and young people in Arizona, California, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Texas, and countries around the world including Argentina, Japan, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Guatemala Mexico and Malaysia. Each Milka Way visit—to an elementary, middle or high school, or college or university—is customized to the age level of the audience. Milka Way visits are also designed in conjunction with school officials’ requests for specialties, such as in the areas of science, math, engineering and technology (STEM).
Growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, Duno had a keen desire to learn. "There really wasn't much time for extracurricular activity or after-school sports. After school each day, I studied, studied and studied.” Parenting matters, she added.
Duno’s father sold laboratory equipment and her mother was a lawyer. Together they invested time in their three children¯two sons and a young daughter¯ensuring they would not lack anything that would obstruct their educational progress.
After Duno graduated with a bachelor's degree in naval engineering at the Instituto Universitario Politecnico de las Furzas Armadas Nacionales, she went on to complete a master’s in organizational development that same fall. Later, she worked to recover oil from spills, then as a naval engineer designing oil recovery ships. Duno decided to travel to Spain to advance her education.
"I worked as a model at the same time I was attending universities there,” she said, earning three master’s degrees simultaneously at two different campuses, in naval architecture, maritime business, and fishing and aquaculture.
Back in Venezuela her career took a turn. Duno was introduced to a new sport while at a driving clinic run by a car club. “I felt I discovered that racing was my destiny,” Duno said. In 1999, she moved to the United States and attended advanced racing schools. Now, she is the first Latina to qualify and race in the Indianapolis 500 and the first woman to win, overall, a major international sports car race in North America. In 2012, the woman with the highest finish ever (second) place in the 50-year history of the legendary 24 Hours at Daytona will become the first Latina driver in the 60-year history of NASCAR.
<Photo Caption> Through her book, “Go, Milka, Go!” Duno’s character tells stories about her life and her academic and professional goals and accomplishments as an example of what can be achieved with hard work and determination. She also played the role of Kellie “Gearbox,” a race car driver, in the “Speed Racer” movie, which was based on the 1960’s classic animated series.