Last year, Franchitti drove his hero Jim Clark's Indy-winning Lotus 38 at the Goodwood historic festival.
Franchitti arrived at Hogan Racing in 1997 a 23-year-old road racing wizard whose résumé included touring cars and British Formula 3 and Formula Vauxhall Lotus. Little prepared him for places he'd meet later in his career, one-milers like Pikes Peak and Milwaukee and beastly superspeedways like Michigan, Texas, Kansas or Chicago. His gifts were seen on road and street courses; in the CART iteration of IndyCar in 1999, he'd finished tied on points with champion Juan Montoya. But the adaptability – the curious ability to win on unfamiliar circuits, in unfamiliar formats and series with unfamiliar cars – came after the move to the other series and after the recovery from the injury.
“That's what I'm most proud of – that I was able to win on all types of tracks,” Franchitti explains. “I just always went out there and tried to get the best out of the situation and win races. I never thought too much about the other stuff which, ultimately, is just noise. All that really matters is the racing side of things, getting out there and winning.”
He'll be 39 in May. Hardly old for a racer – Steve Kinser still rips up dirt tracks at 57; Mark Martin is 53 – but the retirement question has lurked in the background more for Franchitti than others in his age range. Perhaps it's the form of racing and the personal loss involved – frightening flips at Michigan and Kentucky in 2007, the loss of close friends Greg Moore and Dan Wheldon, the goals achieved. Franchitti gets asked about retirement more often than he should and he rarely considers the end of his career until he's asked about it.
“I'm not even thinking about it,” he says. “All I think about is how I'm going to contribute as much as I can to the team and get this new car working as well as we can. I'm just trying to win some races and championships. There will come a day when I decide or Chip [Ganassi] decides it's time for me to stop. I don't see that happening in the next few years. As long as I can do this competitively and successfully, I'll keep doing it. It comes down to desire to do it. When your motivation is gone, then it's time to find something else to do.”
Motivation is what continues to move Dario Franchitti, but it was that same motivation that pressed him forward for a dominant victory in the foothills of the Rockies in 2004. Discussion of that particular race – a precise carving of the field that ended with him leading 128 of 200 laps – flips a mental switch. Franchitti is a collector of racing memorabilia. He hoards trophies, suits and helmets, his and others'. Of everything on display, of all 30 of those victories, one trophy is missing. Yep. Pikes Peak 2004. “I keep everything, but I don't have a trophy from that race,” he says, seeing the irony. “That's interesting. I don't really know what happened to it.”
Chances are, it's persevered somewhere, sharp and shiny as ever, utterly adapted to and comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. If trophies could talk, that one would surely say legendary things.
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