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.

IMSA: CJ Wilson Racing to enter WeatherTech Championship

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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CJ Wilson Racing, a championship winning team in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, is set to join the ranks of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The team will make its IMSA debut during testing this week at Sebring International Raceway and will campaign an Acura NSX GT3 in the GT Daytona class.

Marc Miller and Till Bechtolsheimer are scheduled to handle the driving duties during the Sebring test, and a third driver, to be named at a later date, will join them for their debut race at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring on March 17.

“As a young kid watching IMSA races, it was always my dream to race in the premier sports car series,” said team owner and former MLB all-star pitcher Wilson. “It looks like I still have some time before I race in (the) WeatherTech (Championship, as a driver) but I’m happy for Marc and Till to take on the toughest track in the country in the NSX.”

Wilson continued, “We have been aiming to get into this paddock for years but now the real fight begins to see what we can do against the much more experienced teams. So, we felt like, hey, if we’re going to go in and spend X-amount of dollars, maybe we’re better off spending that in GTD, getting our feet wet, and taking a real run at this and being where we want to be, which is having a chance to compete with the best teams in the Western Hemisphere.”
In addition to Sebring, the team will contest the other two rounds of the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup – the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen and the Motul Petit Le Mans – with plans to add additional events, as team manager Andris Laivins explained.
“Right now, the plan is to run the remainder of the Patrón NAEC, and hopefully add on a couple other rounds as we go,” Laivins detailed. “Last fall, as we approached Thanksgiving, it became clear that putting a proper effort on track for the Roar and Daytona was going to be tough, and the last thing you want to do is show up to the biggest race of the year unprepared, so we made the tough choice to sit it out and keep working.”
CJ Wilson Racing’s IMSA efforts date back to 2010, when the team debuted in the Mazda MX-5 Cup as well as what is now called the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. The team went on to win a championship in 2015, in the Street Tuner class of the Continental Tire Challenge.
The team currently fields Porsches in the Continental Tire Challenge Grand Sport (GS) class. Wilson himself has also been an IMSA competitor as a driver, most recently competing in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama series last year.