A fond farewell to Dario Franchitti
Franchitti has been in major American open wheel since 1997, when he made his rookie debut in the CART series with Hogan Racing. The first misconception about Dario was that he was Italian, but even given that Italian name (and later, Italian hair), Dario is a Scotsman through and through. Dario showed flashes of brilliance that rookie season, but like many rookies, it was struggle. It wasn't one for much longer though. Dario moved to Team Green in 1998 and won three races in four to charge to 3rd in the championship. The next year he would win three times again, and only lost the CART title on a tiebreaker to Juan Montoya. His last three years in CART/Champ Car weren't as successful, but he did win another four times and made his debut in the Indy 500 in 2002.
Franchitti moved to what was then known as the Indy Racing League in 2003, driving for Michael Andretti. That first year was marred by a back injury suffered in a motorcycle accident. The next three years were OK, but not great given the depth of IndyCar at the time plus the Andretti's team dominance. It turned though that Dario had another gear and then some.
2007 was a dream season for Dario. First he won his first Indianapolis 500 in the pouring rain (creating the famous shots of then-wife Ashley Judd dancing in a wet sundress). He would go on to win three other races and his first IndyCar championship. Dario then shocked everyone by moving to Chip Ganassi's NASCAR program. It was a huge risk for the then 35 year old, and unfortunately it didn't work out. Dario would return to IndyCar in 2009 driving for Ganassi, and quickly made the NASCAR stint a mere footnote. Dario would win the next three IndyCar championships, giving him four total in the last four seasons he had competed in. He added a second Indy 500 in that span in 2010.
When the DW12 made his debut in 2012, Dario had trouble adjusting. While he came close this year before his accident, he only won one race these last two years. Of course, that win for the 2012 Indy 500, making him the 10th driver with at least three Indy wins. It was an especially emotional win for Dario, coming just months after the death of his good friend Dan Wheldon, and Michael Wanser, the 6 year old son of Ganassi Team Manager Barry Wanser. Dario paid tribute to both in Victory Lane that day.
The above is all of Dario's racing accomplishments. He'll be remembered for that. He'll also be remembered for how he carried himself, his class and gentlemanly demeanor in good times and bad. We'll remember how he grew to truly embrace Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500. Dario is a true enthusiast of motor racing, particularly his hero Jim Clark. He may not be able to drive anymore, but everyone is certain that Dario will still be involved in IndyCar racing in some way.
Dario has dealt with a lot of tragedy over his career, both losing Wheldon and Greg Moore in 1999. The last thing anyone wants is for something awful to happen to Dario if he were to keep racing. The racing world is sad he has to retire, but at the same time are glad he is retiring instead of taking unnecessary risks.
Thank you Dario for all the memories, and best of luck to you in the future. You will definitely be missed out on the track on race day.