[Source: INDYCAR press release]
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for coming, everybody. Welcome Dario here for his first media availability since Houston.
We’ll have Dario start out with an opening statement, then we’ll do some Q&A.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Morning, everybody. Thanks for being here today.
First of all, sorry I haven’t been in a position to chat any earlier. Just part of the whole recovery process. But, yeah, just a chance today, I was in town visiting the doctors, chance to have a little chat and say thank you really to everybody for all the kind wishes, whether that’s the fans, you guys in the media, everybody involved in IndyCar, and especially the guys at the Target team here.
It’s been so nice to know that I was appreciated. That really helped with the recovery, part of the recovery so far, and some pretty interesting times.
Looking forward to the future. Rather than being kind of bummed about not getting to drive the No. 10 Target car again and other things after that, I’m just very thankful for the career – I don’t even like that word ‘career’ – for the racing I was able to do, the fun I was able to have, all the things that went along with that.
Thank you very much. Great to see you all here today. Everybody on the web, thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll go right to questions.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Before we do that, stand up, T.K. You all have to see this. Black pants, look at him (laughter). You’re looking good, man. Dixie is going to be pissed if he has to wear black pants every day (laughter).
Q. Dario, have you had much time to think about the future now? What is your plan with the team and your thoughts going ahead?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Like I said, I’d love to stay involved in IndyCar racing, certainly with the Target team, everybody involved in that. That’s something we’re working on. We’re working to make that happen. Hopefully that will come along soon and I can start really getting involved and working with the team, continuing that.
I’ve already been doing that, been upstairs giving the engineers a hard time, they’ve been giving me a hard time. T.K.’s phone has already been burned out. I’ve got this idea. He’s like, Oh, good. I’ve had a lot of time to think.
It’s something I really want to do, so we’re working to make that happen.
Q. Dario, once you were told medically you were in too much danger to get back into a racecar, how much after you announced that, was there a contemplation period where you thought you could still do it?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: The important thing for me was to tell Chip, first of all. I think it was two days between the time I got told and when I told Chip. I don’t really remember how much longer it was after that. Times and dates are a little scrambled, to be honest.
The first thing I wanted to do was tell Chip. That was two days after. I spent two days kind of thinking, How can I get ’round this? 2003 I drove with a broken back in one race, till Dr. Trammell found out and got upset with me. I’ve driven with a few broken body parts over the years. I thought, There’s got to be some kind of a way, some negotiation here. But there wasn’t.
The next phone call was to Chip. I called Mike. I called Dix, T.K., those guys, This is what’s going to happen.
Q. Has there been any lingering effects from the concussion? Any problems stemming from that?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I’m not going to go into the whole ins-and-outs of the concussion, but just problems related with any normal big concussion really.
But I will say the last three weeks, there’s been a big improvement. I mean, T.K. and I were together in Miami when I went for the consultation with Dr. Olvey. That was probably the lowest point actually – not because I was with Tony (laughter). That was probably the lowest point.
But the last three weeks, really improved a lot to the fact I could do this today. I couldn’t have done this three weeks ago.
The back is healing. I’m seeing Dr. Olvey soon. I saw Dr. Weber about my ankle yesterday. That’s coming along really well. Saw Dr. Trammell about my back. That’s coming along well. So it’s all as expected.
Q. When you were seeing the specialist in Miami, all the others, was your mind open to the thought that maybe it was serious enough that it could be the end? How hard was that to accept?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I didn’t feel good. I know that. At that point I really was worried because I’d had a serious concussion in 2000, and I was back in the car after I think three weeks. I’d broken my pelvis. I kind of told them I was okay. I got back in the car after three weeks. After three weeks this time I was in no shape to do anything.
I went to see Dr. Olvey. I did the test. It was an hour-long MRI. I came back to the house. I said to Tony, I don’t know how this is going to work out, man. I’m a bit worried here. In fact, I’m a lot worried that this is not going to be okay.
That’s when I said to myself, If for whatever reason I don’t drive anymore, I would love for you to drive the 10 car. That would be my dream. I have no power to make that happen, but that would make me very happy to see you get a chance to drive that. That’s when we had that discussion.
But at the time I was still, This might not happen. That day was the first day I thought that I might be in trouble. That was pretty tough. But at that point, as well, you don’t have all your mental faculties. Everything is a bit numbed. Everything is a pain in the ass just to do anything.
It was, yeah…
Q. What has been the hardest part of this process for you these first eight weeks or so since the accident?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Each stage is a little different. At first it was the pain in the ankle actually. It then became the head and the issues with that. Then it just became not being able to move, just day after day not being able to go drive a car, not even a street car. I’ve not been able to obviously go running, you know, any of that stuff.
I read some good books, some good racing books. If you’re looking for any recommendations on racing driver’s autobiographies, I’ve got a few. That was one of the stages.
Then realizing and being told that I wasn’t going to be able to race anymore, that was a whole different stage. It’s that old thing of you don’t know what you’ve got, right? Pretty quickly I realized how much I was going to miss doing what I do. Just little things like working with engineers, phoning Simmons up, giving him a hard time, going in the shop and complaining about my seat.
The guys went testing at Sebring. Luckily Scott was texting me. I got to talk to Tony and Scott afterwards at length, get involved in that process.
The next sort of hard part was really when T.K. got announced in the 10 car. As much as I said before I wanted that to happen, it was the final, Oh, this is real. So that was tough.
It’s been little things like phone calls from people along the way. Chip has been really good at picking up the phone at different times. The other day he called from the announcement with the 10 car. Actually he was smart, he used your phone to call international. Luckily I was polite when I answered the phone. But little phone calls like that. Any of the guys here on the team picking up the phone, How are you doing? How is it going?
Simmons is sitting there. He’s been through a fair few crashes in different cars so he understands what you go through. We’ve had some of those conversations, and he’s been really helpful. He retired from racing, too, and went on to achieve all these crazy successes as an engineer. It’s been helpful.
As I said, a lot of people have helped with little phone calls and stuff.
Q. When you think back to when you were five or six when you first got the go-kart to this moment, when you think about that entire journey, how would you summarize everything you accomplished? Is there one specific moment that jumps out at you that was the defining moment to you?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the defining moment, I don’t know if you guys would even think about it, it was back in 1991 when Charlie was six, and I was only 12 (laughter), I was racing Vauxhall Junior. It was the last race of the season. I pretty much had to win the championship, and I did. That got me to Jackie Stewart’s attention which started the ball rolling to get me there. Without that, there would have been no here. That was probably one of the defining moments, believe it or not, yeah.
Q. How would you summarize your career, your style? Tell me about Dario Franchitti.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. I’ve been reading a lot of stuff you guys have written. I’ve been really touched by the stuff that’s been written. Yeah, I mean, I like what’s been written. I’ve had a lot of fun doing this.
As far as the driving, I’m looking forward to a whole different chapter now. But there’s been some crap days, there’s been some pretty devastating days. But for the last I guess almost 30 years from the first time I raced a go-kart, I had a really good time doing it.
It’s an absolute privilege to do it. I think when you get involved with people that kind of feel that way, when they don’t feel they’re coming to work every day, you’re getting to do something that’s amazing, you dreamt of doing it as a kid, whether you’re a driver, engineer, mechanic, it’s pretty cool.
Q. You mentioned Jackie Stewart. Have you reached out to him or anyone else that’s retired after a long career in the sport and gone on to do other notable things?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Jackie was the first phone call I received. As soon as the announcement went out, obviously we knew it was going out. Again, I spoke to Chip, he called me to make sure I was doing okay, everything was all right. Jackie was in Austin at the Grand Prix. The phone rang at my mom and dad’s house, it was him. I’ve spoken to him subsequently.
There are so many people that have reached out that I haven’t managed to get back to them yet. One of the things for me as a lover the sport, a lot of my heroes reached out to me. This retirement thing is not that bad. All these different things. So I’m going to lean heavily on a lot of those guys to help me sort of navigate my way through it.
Also Mike this morning was on the phone with Zanardi. I had a good ol’ chat with him. He was more trying to say, Hey, if you want to do something, we can go drive something. Unfortunately, that can’t happen. He was all tough and stuff.
It’s been great that all these different drivers, as I say, a lot of my heroes, have reached out to me.
Q. Surely when you were a teenager, America probably wasn’t part of your dreams. You’ve turned out as one of the greats in American motorsports. Any regrets on the path you took?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, none. None at all. Had I gone the Formula One route, who knows how it would have turned out. I’ve been so happy with what I’ve been allowed to do.
Interesting to me. Scotland is my home, always has been. As far as when I go to a racetrack, I feel at home in America. It almost feels a little alien now to go to a track back in Europe. It’s weird.
I have really loved being over here racing. Part of the reason that I want to continue that is because I’ve enjoyed it so much. I’ve enjoyed being involved in that, the way IndyCar racing is done, the way the guys here do it, the guys on this team.
Q. Are you open to the idea of being a broadcaster or would you rather be on the competitive side? Some guys have gone either direction.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I’m open to it, absolutely. If it was done in the right way, yes, I would be open to it. I think whatever you do, though, you’ve got to do it properly. That’s something I’d have to take into account. Could I work with a team 100% and give 100% to that and be totally focused on that? Broadcast, too.
Could I do those things? If I could, then I’d be interested in it. There’s no point in doing anything half-assed. Not the way I do things. The guys here would get pretty pissed off pretty quickly.
The reason for me to do something here would be to add something to the team. The team here is pretty successful. That’s an understatement obviously. I have to add something if I’m going to come along.
Q. If you could, I know you’re the third person in this discussion, but what did you tell and talk to your cousin about this possibility? What were his thoughts, your communication? Did you encourage that?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I’m going to keep that whole thing between him and I. It wouldn’t be right to talk about that publicly, I’d say. But we’ve had a lot of discussions the past month or so about what’s happened, where he’s looking at going, all that sort of stuff.
The only people you can tell on that trophy is the Unsers, and T.K. really looks like T.K.
Q. Theoretical question. Let’s say you’re medically cleared to participate in one more racing event, what would you choose to do? Indy 500? Le Mans with your brother? Something else?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Good question. That would be a very tough one. If I had to pick one race to do… Oh, man. Obviously both of those things would be amazing. Le Mans was something that I really wanted to do in the future. But the lure of going for a fourth would be tough to turn down. To even be with a chance of going for a fourth would be a reason to go do it. That’s been one of the hard things, really to get a chance at doing that.
Maybe it will be tough because of that. But, yeah, that’s the hand you’re dealt, isn’t it?