Yesterday it was announced that IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti was retiring from racing on the advice of his doctors. For those of you who don’t follow racing, Franchitti was in a devastating accident in this season’s penultimate race in Houston (video link). As a result of the injuries sustained in that accident, doctors advised that the risk of further injury was too great if he returned to racing.
Since the announcement was made, I’ve seen many friends and fellow racing fans express disappointment that Franchitti is having to retire and walk away from the sport. I haven’t been able to express such disappointment, because I don’t have it. The way I see it, Franchitti is lucky that he gets to retire from racing, and he should know this all too well.
You see racing, especially open cockpit style IndyCar racing, is pretty dangerous.
On October 31, 1999, the racing world watched as the #99 car of Greg Moore crashed into the wall at California Speedway. Moore, 24 at the time and poised to be open wheel’s latest rising star, was fatally injured in that accident. A close friend of Dario’s, Moore even introduced him to actress Ashley Judd at a party. Dario and Ashley would go on to get married in 2001. Franchitti would win in Vancouver, Canada, Greg’s home race, in 2002 and dedicate the victory to Greg. He would dedicate his second IndyCar championship to Moore as well, won ten years after Moore’s death. Even the picture posted to Dario’s Twitter account as part of his retirement announcement had a quote from Moore on it.
Twelve years later on October 16, 2011, the racing world watched again as Dan Wheldon was involved in a spectacular crash in the early laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Wheldon, 33 at the time, was fatally injured in that accident and died at the track. He left behind a wife and two young kids. Wheldon, a former teammate of Dario’s, was a close friend of his away from the track too.
After the death of Wheldon, I expected 2012 to be Franchitti’s last season behind the wheel. From 2008 to 2012, Dario won four consecutive IndyCar championships (he didn’t race in the series in 2009). He has won three Indianapolis 500s. While I’ve always downplayed Franchitti’s success as attributed to quite a bit of luck, the fact is that he has been very successful. There wasn’t anything left for him to accomplish.
So on October 6, 2013, I watched in horror as Franchitti’s car go airborne and fall apart in a wreck in the Houston Grand Prix, I feared the worst. I feared that we had once again lost another great race car driver. Yet he survived.
So excuse me if I can’t see the disappointment in his retirement. While he may only be 40 years old, I see him as lucky that he gets to make that decision. I see him lucky that he gets to retire and walk away from the sport. And of all people, he should realize what that means.