Two years ago, Dario Franchitti was in the middle of a Nascar nightmare after having jumped ship from IndyCars at the end of a season in which he won the championship, and his first Indianapolis 500. Retirement was a serious option. Today the boy from Bathgate has a new-found, youthful hunger for life which has been further fuelled by his second Indy500 win.
Though he may have celebrated his 37th birthday 13 days ago, his dominant performance in Sunday’s 94th running of the Indy500 confirmed age is posing no barrier to the Scot. It’s a point highlighted by Mike Hull, managing director of Franchitti’s Indianapolis-based Target Ganassi team.
“Dario’s a 20-year-old guy in the body of a guy that has a ton of experience,” Hull laughed. “He comes to work every day like a 20-year-old. He just wants to get the most out of every day.”
Franchitti has long been acknowledged as the consummate professional. While others — especially during the early of his career in the States — basked in the playboy lifestyle enjoyed by those living the sun-kissed American dream, the Scot would be in the gym. Today he is reaping the benefits of that fitness regime.
An insight into Franchitti’s commitment to his fitness came both on the eve, and the morning after, his brother Marino’s stag night late last year.
“You’re never away from the commitment to racing,” Franchitti explained. “When we were up at my place in Perthshire for the stag night, we were all out running: (Allan) McNish, Marino, myself and Paul (di Resta).
“The day before the stag night, and the day after the stag night, we were training; you just have to do it. We were out running through the cold, but beautiful Scottish countryside. There is no rest. It’s our job. It’s what we do.”
How long will he keep racing? No one knows; perhaps not even Franchitti, now — ironically — an ambassador for TW Steel, the official timekeeper for RallyScotland. There’s no doubt he has been reborn since he returned to open-wheel racing with Ganassi for the start of the 2009 IndyCar season.
Sunday’s dominant win at Indy, where he led 155 of the 200 laps on the 2.5-mile superspeedway on his way to victory, can only have whetted his appetite for more success.
“Of course, I want to win every race I start,” Franchitti, who admitted he approaches every day like it’s an extra. In many ways, that’s how he feels about this latest victory, too.
“If I’m honest, I expected to retire when I was 35,” he continued. “This is all bonus, and it’s pretty cool.” And Franchitti’s boss, Chip Ganassi, is keen to ensure their relationship continues into 2011 and beyond.
“Chip told me, ‘you’re not going to retire anytime soon’, so I guess we’ll start talking soon,” Franchitti admitted. “I love driving in this series, I love where this series is going, and I still love what I’m doing. Long may it continue.”
Franchitti now has two IndyCar titles, one each with Ganassi and his previous team, Andretti, and two Indy500 wins, again split even between his two teams.
This weekend he bids to win again, and step up his bid for a third IndyCar title when he tackles the next round, the Firestone 550k at Texas Motor Speedway where the winner of the Indy500 has won the past two years.
Sunday’s victory elevated Franchitti to second in the championship, 11 points adrift of championship leader Will Power’s Penske. Given his resurgent desire for life and success, who would bet against Franchitti winning again?