For the first time since his career-ending accident this past October at the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, four-time IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti held a press conference today in Indianapolis to talk about his retirement and his future going forward in the sport.
Franchitti sustained multiple injuries, including a broken right ankle, spinal fractures and a concussion, in a last-lap crash during Race 2 of the weekend at Houston’s Reliant Park on Oct. 6. A little more than a month later, the Scotsman announced that he would have to end his illustrious career as a result.
When first forced to deal with the fact he’d never be able to race again without risking permanent damage to his health, Franchitti said that it took him two days to tell his team owner, Chip Ganassi.
During that period, he pondered over any possible way to keep racing but realized it was a futile endeavor.
“I spent two days thinking, ‘OK, how I can get around this here?,'” Franchitti said. “I’ve done it before. In 2003, I drove with a broken back in one race until Dr. [Terry] Trammell found out and got really upset with me.
“I’ve driven with quite a few broken body parts over the years. But I was like, ‘There’s got a be a way, there’s got to be some kind of negotiation’ and there wasn’t.”
Not knowing if his career would continue at the time, Franchitti then talked to good friend Tony Kanaan about the possibility of taking over his No. 10 car just in case.
“I said to Tony, ‘Tony, I don’t know how this is going to work out, man,'” he recalled. “…And that’s when I said to him, ‘If I don’t, for whatever reason, if I’m not able to drive anymore, I would love for you to drive the 10 car. That would be my dream.’
“Really, that day was the first time I thought that I might be in trouble here. That was pretty tough.”
Franchitti eventually got his wish as Kanaan, first signed to drive Ganassi’s No. 8 Chevrolet in October, has moved over to the No. 10 with Ryan Briscoe taking over the No. 8. The Ganassi camp appears to be stout going into 2014, and this morning, Franchitti re-iterated his desire to continue working with the team.
“That’s something we’re working on,” he said. “We’re working to make that happen so hopefully, it’ll all come along soon and I can start really getting involved in working with the team…It’s something I really want to do.”
For a driver that’s given so much to North American open-wheel racing, it would be a fitting epilogue for his story. Through the years, Franchitti has achieved some of the biggest accomplishments there are to achieve in the sport.
But in his mind, one of the defining moments of his career came long before his IndyCar success or putting his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy three times.
In 1991, a young Franchitti was on the verge of winning the Formula Vauxhall Junior series in Europe, and he knew how critical a championship would be for his career.
“It was the last race of the season and I pretty much had to win the championship,” Franchitti recalled. “And I did. And that got me to [Sir] Jackie Stewart’s attention, which started the ball rolling to get me here. Without that, there wouldn’t be no ‘here.”
Stewart, the Formula One legend, has been one of many that have reached out to Franchitti in recent weeks. Now, as he heads into retirement, Franchitti says he’ll be counting on his racing peers to guide him.
“One of the things for me, as a lover of the sport, was that a lot of my heroes reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, this retirement thing’s not that bad’,” he said. “I’m going to lean heavily on a lot of those guys to help me navigate my way through it.”