FIRST IMPRESSIONS: On Franchitti’s retirement

First Impressions, IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on November 15, 2013 9:12 am
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Yesterday’s announcement of Dario Franchitti’s retirement drew emotions and laud from all corners of the IndyCar community. Here, the team at More Front Wing throws our hats into the ring in celebration of his legendary career.

 

STEPH’S IMPRESSIONS:

Dario Franchitti: Brave to the last.

It’s no secret that it takes an enormous amount of bravery to strap into a missile on wheels and race at 230 mph — never mind to do it well enough to win 31 Indy car races, three Indianapolis 500s, and four championships.

But Franchitti’s bravery runs much deeper.

He never quit in the face of monster incidents in the past, such as his two dramatic flips at Michigan and Kentucky in 2007.

He never quit as his brothers fell away from his side.

He never quit in the face of adversity: he turned a sojourn to NASCAR into a triumphant dominance in the three IndyCar seasons that followed; and even as he wrestled with the DW12, he managed to take his third Indianapolis 500 victory in it, the win that would ultimately become his last.

But the decision that Franchitti just made, to follow the advice of doctors and put his future well-being ahead of his present desires, may be the bravest of his career.

He had so much still to race for. He was mere months away from the opportunity to be a teammate once again to Tony Kanaan. And to resist the pull to go for a fourth Indianapolis 500 win is without doubt sheer agony.

Plus, never discount the fact that Franchitti has an overall win at the Rolex 24 and a class win at the 12 Hours of Sebring. He had an extremely bright career in sports cars awaiting him whenever he decided he was done in IndyCar.

People are saying that Franchitti was forced to retire without making a choice. That’s untrue. Franchitti could have ignored the opinions of his caregivers and chosen to continue. In the face of all he’s giving up, many racers would have. But Franchitti was brave enough to make the selfless call.

The word “legend” gets thrown around a lot, but its definition isn’t always clear. In motorsport, bravery is the hallmark of legend.

And as far as IndyCar legends go, Dario Franchitti has gone out toward the very top of the list.

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PAUL’S IMPRESSIONS:

It isn’t often that we get to enjoy watching one of the true legends of a sport walk away while still at the top of their game. Far too often, those we consider the greatest of all time — Joe Montana, Emmitt Smith, Nolan Ryan, Wayne Gretzky, and on and on — fade away into shadow of their once-great careers.

Such will not be said about the career of Dario Franchitti.

There is no debate that Franchitti will ultimately be remembered alongside the greatest legends of North American auto racing, if not those worldwide. The record that Franchitti amassed in his 16 seasons at the top levels of American open-wheel racing speaks for itself — 31 victories, three Indianapolis 500 wins, and four IndyCar championships — falls only behind the likes of AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, and the Unser family.

Unfortunately, the story of Dario Franchitti will not end in the way it deserves. Dario has earned the right to exit the sport he so dearly loves under his own terms. He deserves to exit when he feels he has lost his drive and his competitiveness.

Sadly, Dario’s career will ultimately be cut short because of injury and factors beyond his control.

One might argue that Franchitti wasn’t as good as he was a few years ago. One may claim that he had lost his edge and his drive. One may try to convince others that having not won a race since the 2012 Indianapolis 500 is a sign that Franchitti just can’t wheel the race car like he once did. Such claims are simply not true.

It’s hard to believe that, at age 40, Franchitti had too many more years left behind the wheel, but even if he had only a single year remaining, Dario should have been given the opportunity to have some sort of a farewell tour — a chance for the fans and the sport to truly acknowledge the greatness than some have been reluctant to realize.

Sadly, a third concussion in less than 10 years has robbed Franchitti, the sport, and its fans of such an opportunity.

I believe that Franchitti, in due time, will be considered second only to Mario Andretti in terms of being a complete, well-rounded driver. I don’t know that any other driver in Indy car history — or any form of racing, for that matter — ever demonstrated the proficiency on as many types of circuits as Franchitti did. Week in and week out, Dario was a threat to win on any track, and win he did, and often. Road courses, street courses, superspeedways, 1.5-mile high-banked ovals, short ovals — he raced on and won on them all. There was no missing piece in his arsenal. That’s why he was able to clinch IndyCar titles in the four consecutive seasons in which he competed in the most diverse and competitive series in the world.

It is truly a shame that Franchitti will not get the chance to go out in a blaze of glory on the track, standing in victory lane in his final race or securing yet another championship. But let there be no question about it: no matter how Dario’s career has drawn to a close, it has been a career that is among the greatest the racing world has seen. We should all consider ourselves fortunate to have been able to witness it over the past 16 years.

All of us at More Front Wing send Dario our very best wishes toward his continued recovery and for a successful next beginning in his professional life.

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JOHN’S IMPRESSIONS:

Racing can be one of the cruelest of all sports. Drivers rarely get to ride off gracefully into the sunset on their own terms like, for example, Parnelli Jones did. Father time, money issues, and owner apathy force many out before they are ready, and others hang around too long and run the risk of tarnishing their legacy.

Unfortunately, Dario has been denied the chance to dictate his own retirement terms by one of the cruelest means that can befall a driver: his own body.

I was stunned to hear yesterday that Dario was being forced into retirement due to injuries sustained in the second race of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston. Chassis design, safety equipment, and medicine have advanced to the point that it’s almost a given that athletes will return from nearly any injury.

In fact, when I first heard the news of Dario’s retirement, I assumed that he was retiring from IndyCar racing only and that he would probably make the move over to one of Chip Ganassi’s sports car teams. After 17 years at the top of the open-wheel racing world, I figured this was the next logical step in his career, and I tweeted as much. That tweet was very quickly deleted, however, when I found the full press release and discovered that Dario was being forced into retiring from all racing.

Dario’s legacy is cemented: three Indy 500 victories, four IndyCar Series titles, 31 victories and 33 poles stand proudly in his trophy case. There is no doubt that Dario will likely be able to name his job within Chip Ganassi Racing going forward, or seamlessly make the jump either to TV — where his candor would be very welcome — or perhaps even into a management position with IndyCar.

Whatever path he chooses, I know that the sport will continue to benefit from his knowledge and passion.

I just wish that it could have happened when Dario was ready.

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BASH’S IMPRESSIONS:

Dario Franchitti achieved his lofty status in American open-wheel racing quietly. He was often overshadowed by his more boisterous teammates, always overshadowed by his actress wife, and not always mentioned when people talked about IndyCar’s biggest stars.

He did his loudest talking in his race car, where he was always a threat to win, and as his career matured he came to dominate the sport. Four championships and three Indy 500 wins since 2007 (with 2008 spent in NASCAR) saw Dario climbing up the ranks in the record books, tying and surpassing the names of some of the best there’s been.

Although 2013 was a rough season, no one thought Dario was done — he was too good to just fall off like that. Little did we all know that his accident in Houston was the last memory we’d have of Dario in a race.

Repeated concussions are far more damaging in the long term that we once knew, and Dario had to heed medical advice to stop racing. So his career has ended quietly – far too quietly for such a legendary competitor.

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