MST: First reactions to Franchitti’s legacy and retirement

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Some quick thoughts are below from my MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I this morning – written late yesterday – on Dario Franchitti’s forced retirement:

Tony DiZinno:

I guess immediacy is the nature of the game these days, so rather than give the Dario Franchitti retirement news a little time to stew (and my suggestion to not speculate on a replacement met mixed reactions on Twitter), I’ll just offer some raw, unpolished thoughts.

The first thing is that I was very concerned when his accident happened at Houston. I couldn’t really lose myself in the moment there, but having been in the pit lane on Dan Wheldon’s headset when his accident at Las Vegas happened in 2011, I felt a gut punch.

Not Dario. Not after Dan and Greg. Not the guy who is, realistically, IndyCar’s biggest name and one of racing’s foremost historians and ambassadors. Not the guy who has made so much time available for a young scribe over my own career.

So, naturally, rather than speculating on how his condition was, it was a case of waiting while news trickled and though Dario was awake and alert, I certainly knew he was injured and going to be out for a while.

And this is where his years of experience and mind counter my relatively youthful – if just as experienced in terms of fandom – mindset.

Judging by today’s statement, Franchitti was injured worse than we all realized at the time. Certainly more than I thought.

So I didn’t think his injuries would be bad enough to prevent a shot at a fourth Indianapolis 500. At a chance to race the 24 Hours of Le Mans, for now. At a chance to get back to winning in IndyCar – which generates a buzz either way, whether you love or hate him.

As a reporter, and as a fan, I selfishly wanted those things.

But, in a safety-conscious era, and with Franchitti one of the smartest drivers in the paddock, it’s the only responsible decision he could make.

You never want to see a superstar athlete’s career end due to injury, but you’ll take them going out before they take another body blow 100 times out of 100.

Franchitti gets that. And better still, he gets racing.

You may have seen the last of him in a car, but certainly not the last of him at a race track.

For now, I thank Dario for everything he’s given to IndyCar racing over the last 17 years. And I can’t wait to see what next trick he has up his sleeve for his post-driving career.

Chris Estrada:

My little brother is set to turn three years old in January. Naturally, he’s into cars, of both the Matchbox and the Disney/Pixar variety.

He’s even sat down to watch a few races with me this year…For about five or 10 laps, anyway. Then he usually walks back to the living room to launch those Matchbox cars off a Hot Wheels ramp while Henry Hugglemonster plays on the TV.

Obviously, I’ll have to wait for a bit longer before I can really give my little brother a proper introduction to racing and tell him about all the great drivers I’ve had the privilege to watch in my relatively young life.

But it’ll be worth the wait. And when that time comes, I look forward to telling him about Dario Franchitti.

I look forward to telling him about how Franchitti used his calm, cool style behind the wheel to etch his name into the record books multiple times as a four-time IndyCar Series champion and a three-time champion of the world’s biggest race, the Indianapolis 500.

I look forward to telling him about how Franchitti let his hard work and talent speak for itself, remaining a down-to-earth gentleman even as his success brought him fame that stretched beyond the racing world.

I look forward to telling him about how Franchitti had to persevere time and again, from battling through a variety of tough injuries during his career to having to say goodbye far too soon to fellow competitors and close friends.

I look forward to telling him about how Franchitti didn’t give up in his final Indy 500 win in 2012, when he fell to 29th place after getting spun on pit road during the first caution and charged all the way back to drink the milk and kiss the bricks yet again.

And I look forward to telling him about how Franchitti was intelligent enough to realize when the time had come to hang up his helmet and move on to enjoy the next part of his life.

Going back to the present, it’s a bittersweet moment. We’ll no longer get to see the legend at work, but he sure created a lot of thrilling memories for fans to hang on to.

The truly great sportsmen earn the honor of having their stories passed down from one generation of fans to the next. For his success both as a driver and as an ambassador for racing, Dario Franchitti has earned that honor.

And as my little brother grows up, I look forward to telling him some “Dario stories.”

Thank you, Dario. It’s been an amazing ride.

MRTI: Barber Motorsports Park Preview

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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After a month break, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with two of its series tacking the 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama.

Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires have double-headers this weekend, with Pro Mazda returning to Barber after not running there last year.

The season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was a tale of two completely different stories, with two different winners – Pato O’Ward and Santi Urrutia – and more than a fair bit of chaos for Indy Lights, while Pro Mazda saw Rinus Veekay sweep the weekend.

Talking points for both series heading into Barber are below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia heads to Barber leading the Indy Lights championship on the strength of finishes of second and first in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia displayed great patience at St. Petersburg, finishing second in Race 1 and winning Race 2 after rivals like O’Ward and Colton Herta faltered. However, Barber has not been one of his better tracks, with finishes of 11th, 15th, and 13th in three of his four Indy Lights starts. Yet, he did win Race 2 at Barber 2016, so he has had success there before, and he will be one of the favorites heading into the weekend.
  • Pato O’Ward looks poised to be a title contender in 2018 and will look to avenge a somewhat disappointing outing at St. Petersburg. O’Ward had the speed to sweep the weekend, winning Race 1 handily and dominating Race 2, but a mistake late in the race saw him overshoot Turn 4 and briefly stall before he could rejoin, relegating him to seventh. If O’Ward can show the pace he showed at St. Pete, he might end up being the man to beat.
  • Colton Herta will look to rebound from a St. Pete weekend in which he flashed the speed that caught everyone’s attention last year, but also committed the same mistakes that ultimately prevented him from taking a championship. After finishing third in Race 1, Herta crashed while chasing then leader O’Ward in Race 2. Herta won Race 2 at Barber last year, and getting another win this weekend, along with staying mistake free, would go a long way to erasing his problems from St. Pete.
  • Aaron Telitz is also looking to rebound after a down weekend, as his St. Petersburg weekend lasted all of two corners across both races – he won the Pole for Race 1, but crashed in Race 2 qualifying, and the Belardi Auto Racing team could not repair the car to allow him to race. After the team borrowed a chassis from Carlin for Race 2, Telitz get collected with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni right off the start, and he crashed again, this time in Turn 2. Telitz finished on the podium at Barber in 2016, the year he won the Pro Mazda championship, and he’ll look for more of the same this weekend.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Rinus Veekay had a perfect weekend to open the Pro Mazda season. The Juncos Racing driver outdueled Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for the Race 1 victory, and then ran away with Race 2 to complete the weekend sweep. Veekay was expected to be a title contender after moving up to Pro Mazda in 2018, and if he can repeat his St. Pete performance, then he may leave Barber as the heavy favorite in the championship.
  • Not to be forgotten, Parker Thompson sits second in the Pro Mazda title chase, and looks to avenge losing out to Veekay in St. Pete Race 1, and then fading somewhat to finish fifth in Race 2. Thompson was the only driver to regularly challenge Veekay and Oliver Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, and he and Exclusive Autosport have adapted nicely to the new Tatuus PM-18. If they can show the same form at Barber, and then finish the job with at least one trip to Victory Lane, then it could set the stage for another titanic Pro Mazda championship fight.
  • Last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew had a quiet weekend in St. Pete, finishing fifth and sixth in the two races. He swept the Barber races in USF2000 last year, and will need a similar performance to vault himself forward from his current place of sixth in the standings.
  • Carlos Cunha and David Malukas head to Barber third and fourth in the championship after solid St. Pete weekends – Cunha had finishes of fourth and third, while Malukas had finishes of seventh and second. Neither was necessarily looked at as a title combatant entering 2018, but repeat performances in Barber could vault them into title contention.

A full weekend schedule, including the Mazda Road to Indy sessions, can be viewed here.

**Note: NBCSN will broadcast Sunday’s Indy Lights race (Race 2 from the weekend) on Monday, April 23.**

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