Female racer's lessons from life in the fast lane

Story highlights

  • Milka Duno has more than one hundred races and eight wins to her credit
  • Venezuelan former model is a qualified naval engineer with four Master's degrees
  • She intends, this year, to become the first Hispanic woman to race in a NASCAR series
  • Duno shares some of the lessons racing in the tough, competitive sport has taught her
It was never Milka Duno's intention to become a race car driver, although her parents may have had an inkling when, as a 12-year-old, she took her mother's Chevrolet on a joyride.
The Venezuelan-born former model came to racing late, aged 24, and since then, has become one of motorsport's most prolific and versatile female drivers, racing all over the world at speeds often exceeding 200 miles per hour.
In a sport dominated by men, she has more than one hundred races and eight major wins to her credit, including an overall win at road racing's Miami Grand Prix in 2004 and a second-place finish in the 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race in 2007. Road racing is a term used to describe types of motorsport which take place on purpose-built tarmac tracks.
Now, Duno is determined to become the first Latin woman to compete in NASCAR, the major U.S. stock car racing series. Sponsors willing, she says she will compete in the NASCAR Nationwide series this year. A stock car is a car that's customized for racing.
There are few major league professional sports where men and women compete directly, and stock car racing is expensive, competitive and potentially lethal.
Duno has already cracked a rib and a tooth this season, after a broadside hit from another car at full speed in an ARCA stock-car series race at Salem Speedway in Indiana. But, she tells CNN, "I like the difficult challenge. Everything hard to get -- I like that."
Milka Duno: Life in the fast lane
Milka Duno: Life in the fast lane


    Milka Duno: Life in the fast lane


Milka Duno: Life in the fast lane 04:58
Duno has driven a variety of cars during her career and has constantly had to master new skills -- but her love of learning is abundant.
A former naval engineer, she has Master's degrees in Organizational Development, Naval Architecture, Aquaculture and Maritime Business, and is currently also learning to pilot speedboats and helicopters.
Here she shares with CNN the life lessons race car driving has taught her.
Forget the competition and focus on your goal ...
There are 42 other cars that want to win the race, too, and they have more experience than me, but it doesn't matter. Do everything with determination and passion. When you feel clear about what you want, you have a high probability of being successful.
Have confidence in your team; have confidence in yourself ...
Whether you are a race car driver or working as an engineer or in an office, you have to see what you want, and believe that you can do it. You have to have confidence in your team, and if you are working alone, you have to have confidence in yourself. If you have this mentality, you can get what you want in any area.
Work as hard as it takes ...
I did four Master's degrees -- three simultaneously. I was in two universities at the same time. I started two (degrees during the day) and then one at night. It was crazy with all the books on the table. I'd cry sometimes and say, 'How can I finish that?' And I would just calm down and start doing things little by little. It was my focus: All my energy went into my education at that time.
Success relies on multiple factors ...
It's not only gas and brake like people think. You have to know so much about the car, check the computer for the latest information, give the right information to the engineer so he can make the right adjustment. In the end, you need so many things working right to win the race.
Gender doesn't matter -- success does ...
It doesn't matter if you are a woman or a man. The important thing is your ability, your intelligence and your determination -- how strong you are. In racing, you have to drive the same fast car, you have to be good like the others. When you put the helmet on, it doesn't matter if you are woman or man: your mission is to compete to win.
Talk to your seniors as much as you can ...
All the time, I'm talking (to the crew chief), because it's the only way to learn -- from people that have more experience than you.
Small improvements can equal big victories ...
I always want a faster car. Always, we are looking for more and more and more. All the practice ... is just to find some tenth of a second.