Concussion forces Dario Franchitti to retire from driving

Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
The crash was terrifying - and ultimately career-ending.

On the last lap of the second race of the Grand Prix of Houston double-header, Dario Franchitti sailed into Turn 5 and right into the back of the disabled car of Takuma Sato, launching the No. 10 Target car into the catchfence. Shards of carbon fiber and chunks of the car launched into the grandstands, injuring 13 spectators.

The Holmatro Safety Team loaded Franchitti into an ambulance to transport him the few blocks to Memorial Hermann Hospital, where he was treated for a concussion, a fractured spine, and a broken ankle.

It could have been much, much worse.

Franchitti had immediate surgery on his ankle and remained in the Houston hospital for several days. Upon his release, he headed to Indianapolis for further treatment. By all reports, he planned to be back in the car for the beginning of the season.

However, on Thursday Franchitti announced that, on the advice of doctors, he's retiring from racing.

"One month removed from the crash, and based upon the expert advice of the doctors who have treated and assessed my head and spinal injuries post-accident, it is their best medical opinion that I must stop racing," Franchitti said.

"They have made it very clear that the risks involved in further racing are too great and could be detrimental to my long term well-being. Based on this medical advice, I have no choice but to stop."

Shockwaves rolled through the motorsports community. INDYCAR released a statement:
"As a four-time IndyCar Series champion and a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Dario Franchitti has etched his name among the greats of this sport, and his legacy will continue to influence future generations of competitors. His passion was born, in part, from a deep love for the sport and a reverence to its history, and Dario carries that heritage everywhere he travels and shares it with everyone he meets. Dario's leadership on and off the track has helped shape INDYCAR, and we look forward to him remaining involved in the sport he loves."
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
Team owner Chip Ganassi participated in a teleconference Friday. His first words were to reassure fans about Franchitti's health.

"I don't want anybody to read into comments that Dario is not going to make a full recovery. Medically, he has been told he'll make a 100 percent recovery. We've been told that from day one. It's not like he has any injuries that he won't recover from. These are all injuries that are recoverable. I don't want anybody thinking he's maimed for life or anything like that."

When pressed about what injury prompted Franchitti's decision, Ganassi said, "We can't talk about the specifics of the injuries, and again, I don't want to belabor that point, but it's obviously around his head, concussions, things like that, has to do with a repeat of that type of concussion could be serious."

Ganassi, whose driving career ended prematurely because of a head injury, asserted that Franchitti will be a great ambassador for IndyCar, that the Scotsman will have a role with the organization.

"I think this is just the turning of a page of sorts and the beginning of a new chapter in his career. I think he'll make a great ambassador to the sport," said Ganassi. "I can't think of anybody who would be better, as somebody that has worldwide recognition and a true interest in the sport of Indy car racing. We want to help him with that. We have a common interest in the sport, in furthering the sport, and we'll do it together I'm sure."
Franchitti speaks with a fan after driver introductions
at Texas Motor Speedway, June 2012
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
Ganassi added, "I've always shied away from saying this, but because he won't be driving again, I guess, I think it's safe to say that his name is up there with all the greats, like Foyt, Andretti, Unser. We've all seen the statistics. I was reminded yesterday of him winning the Daytona 24 Hours, the Indianapolis 500, the Sebring 12 Hours, all within a year period.

"These are things that no one has ever done in consecutive races. Again, you look at 31 career wins, tied for eighth all time. Only driver in history to win three titles consecutively. Those are no small feats."

Indeed they are not. The track will not be the same without him.

Franchitti's injuries may be career-ending, even life-changing. His ankle injury required two surgeries, but at least he has his ankles and legs, unlike former Ganassi teammate Alex Zanardi. Zanardi's legs were sheared off above the knee in a horrifying Sept. 2001 crash.

Former driver, now team owner Sam Schmidt
at the Grand Prix of Houston, 2013
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
Broken ankle not withstanding, Franchitti is able to walk - unlike Sam Schmidt, whose accident while testing in 2000 rendered the talented young driver a quadriplegic.

Franchitti can look back and say his career was successful by any measure, unlike Ganassi driver Tony Renna, whose career was full of promise when he died in a crash during a tire test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As heart-rending as it is that the charismatic Scotsman will no longer be strapping in to race, the sadness is mixed with gratitude that Franchitti is even alive and able to make such a decision. Too many racers - including Greg Moore and Franchitti's good friend Dan Wheldon - didn't get the opportunity to choose life.

We're grateful that Dario Franchitti got to make that choice.
Concussion forces Dario Franchitti to retire from driving Concussion forces Dario Franchitti to retire from driving Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Friday, November 15, 2013 Rating: 5