Thursday, November 14, 2013

Farewell and Thank You, Dario Franchitti

We've started to see, and will certainly see more, tributes to Dario Franchitti and his career-but I'm going to add mine, anyway. It's no secret that Dario is probably my favorite driver, but I do have something to get off my chest. Dario betrayed me. I thought he was one of us. I thought I could stand in solidarity with him, that I could be like him when I ran the clippers through my hair. I felt good-cooler in the summer, lower maintenance, looks better with male pattern baldness, and I was like wealthy, movie star-marrying, Ferrari-driving car racer Dario Franchitti. Then came 2009. Turns out Dario didn't have to wear his hear closely cropped. Turns out he's got a full head of hair. Not just a full head of hair: An award-winningly GREAT head of hair. Thanks, Dario. Thanks a lot.
Seriously, Dario Franchitti is one of the greats, even if he doesn't seem to get much respect from the fans. I've seen few drivers make this such a mental game. Even if his car wasn't the fastest, Dario somehow wound up running up front when it counted. When it was the fastest-watch out. I already had him picked to win Indy in 2014. Are his three 500 wins in five races some kind of record?
Two of my favorite memories come from the 2010 season. His performance at Indianapolis was one of the all-time great dominating drives. It sounds boring, but it's actually fascinating to watch performances like that. At one point in the second half of the race, as green-flag pit stops loomed, he pulled out a 7 second lead on the field-that's an entire straightaway at Indianapolis.
A few months later, I attended the race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL. Instead of being a thrill-a-minute pass-fest like races there and at Texas used to be, I noticed pretty quickly that if the leader could hold his car on the bottom of the race track, no one could get by. Dario was running well down in the top 10 when a caution came out in time for the final pit stop cycle. I said out loud (and texted to my buddy The Speedgeek), "Whoever gets off pit road first will win this race." Attention had been focused on Will Power, Marco Andretti, and Ryan Hunter-Reay. But the first car off the jacks was Franchitti's. By forgoing fresh tires and taking on only fuel, the No. 10 car gained 8 positions and the lead. It stayed in control for the rest of the race, and Dario won. (Will Power's stop was slowed by a fuel hose problem, which was compounded when he had to return to the pits for sufficient fuel to finish the race; losing a lap in the process. It was one of those moments when you just knew that the championship momentum had changed hands.)

I felt like Dario Franchitti was very easy to relate to because of his appreciation for racing machines, racing history, and road cars-something I don't sense from a lot of race car drivers (someone, correct me if I'm wrong!). Dario has driven Jim Clark's Lotus and owns a Ferrari F40, and acts as excited about those two as I think I would be!

I can genuinely say that I'm going to miss seeing Dario Franchitti on track.

What will be next for Dario? I'm sure he has his own ideas and his own plans, but I (selfishly) hope he stays visible and involved in the sport. Chip Ganassi's comments make me wonder if he might end up on the scoring stand as a team strategist in the near future. He made at least one appearance in the NBC Sports broadcast booth, and did an outstanding job in his brief time there I (and many others) think he would make an excellent TV analyst. I also think his experience would be useful in Indycar Race Control.

Farewell, Dario! You had a fantastic career that made at least one person love Indycar, its past, present, and future that much more!
Dario Franchitti and Parnelli Jones Receive Baby Borgs at the 2013 Indy 500 Driver's Meeting

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