Tuesday, November 19, 2013

#ThankYouDario - A Legend Retires

Dario Franchitti on his 2012 Indy 500 victory lap with Ashley Judd & Susie Wheldon
It seems my life is full of irony. Or maybe it's all just coincidence - except I don't believe in coincidence: everything happens for a reason. So last Thursday, on the day I posted a "Throwback Thursday" video I had created of my photo sequence of Mike Conway's 2010 Indy 500 crash, Dario Franchitti announced he was retiring from Indycar racing for medical reasons as a result of his similarly frightening crash at Houston last month.

And who won the Indy 500 which finished under yellow in 2010 as a result of Conway's accident? Dario. Then the next day I read about Mike getting a ride with Ed Carpenter for 2014 to run all the road course races next season. So in the span of 24 hours, I wrote about Mike's accident (and the fact that his Indycar comeback from his Indy 500 accident was underscored by a win at Detroit's Belle Isle circuit this past June), Dario retires and Mike gets a new ride for next season.

The common thread here is airborne Indycars. Mike Conway decided not to run ovals after getting upside down at Indy the last two times he ran the 500. Dario decided to retire after climbing over Takuma Sato at Houston and taking out the catch fencing, suffering a concussion and back injury in the process. Dario got airborne twice in 2007 (at Michigan and at Nashville), escaping without a scratch both times but this time he was not so lucky. In the aftermath of his Houston accident, I would guess that the specter of his pal Dan Wheldon was also weighing on Dario's mind with Danny's loss still fresh from the fatal accident at Las Vegas two years ago. Everyone knows that racing is dangerous but that is part of its allure - men and women risking everything at speeds most of us can only imagine:  until the risk is too great.

While I hate to see Dario retire, I am happy he is able to make a reasoned decision and walk away with his health largely intact. From the medical reports I have read, it sounded like his greatest concern is the long term impact of repeated concussions, and who can blame him for deciding that the rewards no longer outweigh the risks? Especially given all of the media attention to the effects of concussions on players in football, I hope he stays retired and doesn't fall prey to the urge to return to the cockpit.

Dario has become one of my favorite drivers the last few years and I would love to see him assume an active role in Indycar similar to other greats like Rick Mears, Johnny Rutherford or Mario Andretti. Since I expanded my motorsports photo work in 2006 to include multiple races on the Indycar circuit, I have been up close and personal with Indycar drivers like Dario many times. After his 2012 Indy 500 win I was standing next to him and Ashley by the yard of bricks and was close enough to hear their conversation. So I feel like I know racers like Dario personally and when someone leaves the sport, either by their own volition or other circumstance, I can't help but feel the loss. I feel like I am losing a hero, but thankfully this time it is not the ultimate loss as with DW. It's a loss nonetheless, so I hope I get the chance someday to tell Dario how much I've enjoyed him as a person, a racer and an icon in our sport.

So this past weekend in my ongoing efforts to experiment with video production, I put together the following video with photos of Dario from races at Indy and elsewhere I've covered the last six years. Some might think the Evanescence song "Immortal" is too melancholy for this, but for me it reinforced the notion that as long as we have memories of our heroes, then they are immortal. God bless you Dario and I sure hope to see you at some races next year so fans can salute all that you've done for the sport of Indycar racing.

No comments: