The Racing Capital
of the World
May 30, 2012 | By John Oreovicz
It must be difficult for star athletes in their prime to talk about what their legacy might be in the future. After all, they are still intensely focused on the present.
Take Dario Franchitti, for example. By winning the Indianapolis 500 for the third time on Sunday, the Scotsman became one of just ten men who have won the ‘500’ three or more times.
The Indianapolis victory was Franchitti’s 31st Indy car race win since 1998, the most among active drivers, and the six gentlemen above him on the career wins list are all named Foyt, Andretti or Unser. That’s pretty heady company.
Perhaps not surprisingly, a humbled Franchitti is hesitant to make comparisons.
“I guess the time to look back is when I’m retired,” he said, while addressing a small group of media after the traditional winner’s photo session the day after the ‘500.’ “I’m very proud of the achievements, whether it’s Indy wins, championships, every one of the race wins. Sometimes I look back, but generally I’m trying to look forward.
“Today I was lucky enough to be in the green room before driver introductions, and TK [Tony Kanaan] and I were sitting together in a quiet corner when Parnelli [Jones], [Bobby] Unser and [Johnny] Rutherford came up. I thought, ‘This is cool.’ TK and I were getting our pictures taken…we were like a couple of kids because we were with the legends of the sport.”
Franchitti’s appreciation for the history of the Indianapolis 500 and all of motorsports makes him a favorite among racing purists. Dario often cites fellow Scotsman (and Indy 500 winner) Jim Clark as his hero and inspiration, and he counts three-time Formula 1 world champion Jackie Stewart as a mentor.
His respect for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself and the tradition of the ‘500’ has also grown, after three wins in nine attempts.
“When you come here as a rookie, you’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever,’” he related. “And the more you do this race, the more it means to you…and the worse it gets. The more the stress. The more the emotion. So it’s kind of in reverse. It’s not like with experience you sort of calm down. You’ve almost got to work harder to focus and control your emotions, because of everything that it means.”
Franchitti’s closest friends say that his amazing success since returning to the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2009 with Target Chip Ganassi Racing hasn’t changed him.
Since ’09, Franchitti has scored 13 of his 31 career wins, including two Indianapolis 500s. He’s also swept the last three IndyCar Series championships.
“I think he’s the same old Dario, but he may have a few more accolades than some of us,” said Scott Dixon, Franchitti’s TCGR teammate since ’09 and the runner-up in Sunday’s race.
“It’s the same Dario that has won zero championships, zero 500s till today,” added Kanaan. “He’s a guy that appreciates life, friends and family. Thank God nothing got on top of his head about all the winnings he’s had. That’s why we’re good friends.”
Winning a third Indianapolis 500 puts Franchitti in a league with Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford, Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, Mauri Rose, and Helio Castroneves, who is the only other active three-time winner.
Of course it also means that he’s already answering questions about when he’s going to join Rick Mears, Al Unser and AJ Foyt as a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner.
“Let’s just enjoy this third one,” he replied with a smile.