The powerful, enduring image of Dario Franchitti crying from the cockpit of his race car before completing a lap of honour in the name of his friend and fellow racer Dan Wheldon, just hours after Wheldon’s life-ending crash in Las Vegas, 2011, will stay with many fans for years to come. That Franchitti continued to race for the following two seasons was not a sign of ignorance to the dangers nor of disregard for his fallen comrade’s life; it was a testament to the Scot’s love of motor racing.
Sadly, the love affair has come to an enforced end.
When Dan Wheldon was taken from this world an immense sadness was felt throughout the world of motor racing. The sadness now felt by the announcement that Dario Franchitti has been forced into retirement is tempered by the fact that he walked away from his terrifying crash in Houston with his life, but the loss is no less significant to the sport.
At forty-years-old Dario Franchitti is old by racing driver terms but no less competitive than in his formative years and though retirement was perhaps looming, for a crash and a team of doctors to ultimately decide the end of an illustrious career is an unfortunate way to call it a day.
Hailing from West Lothian, Scotland, Franchitti’s greatest achievement is perhaps becoming one of the biggest names in American sport, but the headline successes are his four IndyCar titles – 2007, 2009-2011 – and a remarkable three wins at the famed Indy 500 in ’07, 2010 and 2012. Together with his dashing good looks, Actress wife Ashley Judd and talent behind the wheel of a racing car, Franchitti enamoured himself to a host of motor racing fans across the globe as well as in America.
During the Grand Prix of Houston in October, Franchitti was following the car of Takuma Sato through a quick, concrete-lined right-hand corner when Sato’s car became loose and began to slide. In doing so, Sato’s car lost momentum and left the tail-gating Franchitti nowhere to go but skywards.
Franchittis’s car launched over the back of Sato’s and made heavy contact with catch-fencing, the car-shredding material designed to protect crowds from flying debris. In a crash frighteningly reminiscent of that that killed Jeff Krosnoff in 1996, Franchitti suffered head, back and ankle injuries. It’s those injuries that have prompted doctors to strongly suggest Dario retire and wisely, Dario has agreed:
“Since my racing accident in Houston, I have been in the expert care of some of the leading doctors and nurses, all of whom have made my health, my safety and my recovery their top priority,” said the 40-year-old in a statement.
“I am eternally grateful for the medical care I have received over the last several weeks. I’d also like to thank my family and friends for their unbelievable support.
“One month removed from the crash and based upon the expert advice of the doctors who have treated and assessed my head and spinal injuries post accident, it is their best medical opinion that I must stop racing.
“They have made it very clear that the risks involved in further racing are too great and could be detrimental to my long-term well-being. Based on this medical advice, I have no choice but to stop.
“Racing has been my life for over 30 years and it’s really tough to think that the driving side is now over. I was really looking forward to the 2014 season with Chip Ganassi Racing, with a goal of winning a fourth Indianapolis 500 and a fifth IndyCar Series championship.”
It’s hoped that Franchitti will continue to be involved with the sport in some capacity, but as a driver he will be remembered as one of supreme talent and natural ability. The powerful image of Dario crying as he embarked on that lap of honour for his friend Dan Wheldon will forever be a defining image of Dario’s compassion and love for the sport. His Indy 500 successes have cemented his place among the greatest of motor racing and his personality and appreciation for motor racing’s history mean Dario Franchitti retires as a true fan-favourite.