Gordon Kirby

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A distinguished career ends

Five weeks after his terrible accident in Houston last October, Dario Franchitti was compelled to make the difficult decision to retire from racing because of fears that any further concussions or back injuries would have grievous results. It was an unfortunate end to a superb career in which Franchitti established himself as the gold standard of Indy car racing.

A three-time Indy 500 winner and four-time IndyCar champion, Dario was a smooth, fast racer and a thoughtful, intelligent gentleman with an uncommon, passionate interest in every aspect of the sport’s history. Unlike so many of today’s professional drivers, Franchitti is a rare student of racing who loves vintage and historic racing just as much as today’s motor racing. He’s a reader and collector of racing books and memorabilia and has a room in his home in Scotland dedicated to his hero Jim Clark.

“I have a great appreciation for the people who came before me in this sport whether they were F1 drivers, NASCAR drivers, Indycar drivers, or sports car drivers,” Dario says. “I like to read about it. I like looking at pictures of old race cars. I love driving old race cars. I love talking to people about old race cars and to the drivers who have come before. It interests me a lot.

“I’ve always been a race fan and I watch all kinds of racing on TV all the time and I read about it. I remember when I was growing up as a young kid I loved the mid- to late-Seventies F1 cars and I still have a close bond with them, even the ugly cars. And I’ve got more into the cars from the Sixties as well, and of course, the pre-war Silver Arrows, that kind of stuff. And I’ve been lucky enough to drive them too.

“One of the real privileges I’ve been allowed from some of the things I’ve achieved is that I’ve got to know Jackie Stewart, Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney. They’re three of my heroes and I get to chat with them and catch up with them from time to time. That’s just great!”

Franchitti is very aware that the many improvements in safety over the past 30 years and the state of today’s technology have changed the nature of the challenge. “I think at Indianapolis we obviously understand the danger of making a mistake so we’re probably more closely tied to some of those guys from the past,” Dario remarked. “With a modern F1 car you can get away with a lot more on some of the tracks they race on because the safety is so good now, which they’ve got to be applauded for. But there definitely was more risk back then.

“I think those guys were a special breed, and the mechanical sympathy part cannot be overlooked. Engine failures are almost unheard of in F1 or Indycars these days and in F1 the semi-automatic transmissions pretty much guarantee you can’t miss a shift or blow an engine. But in the old days, the drivers had to watch their gearboxes and nurse the car at the same time that they were going to the limit. There was no telemetry telling them the oil pressure’s low. You had to look at the oil gauge to tell that.”

All 31 of Franchitti’s Indy car wins, including his three Indy 500 victories, were scored with Honda engines. He was also renowned as an excellent test driver for Honda and stands as the company’s most successful Indycar driver.

He also loved to race sports cars. Franchitti ran the Daytona 24 Hours regularly with Ganassi’s two-car team and won the long-distance classic in 2008. A few years ago Dario also did some ALMS sports car racing with Honda and Acura LMP1 and P2 cars, finishing second overall and first in the P2 class at Sebring in 2007.

Everyone wishes Dario the best in his reluctant retirement. Given his deep enthusiasm for the sport, we are sure to see him around the race tracks of the world for many years to come, in whatever capacity he might choose.