Fulfilling The Dream Of A Lifetime
I was very interested in an article that Curt Cavin ran in The Indianapolis Star the other day. Dario Franchitti was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past Tuesday to present a 2010 Indy 500 replica pace car to a couple that had won a sweepstakes. He surprised the couple by taking them around the historic oval for several laps. But those weren’t the only laps the two-time Indy 500 winner had turned that day. Earlier, he got to drive Jim Clark’s Lotus 38 that won the 1965 Indianapolis 500.
You have to understand the deep-rooted admiration that Dario Franchitti has for his fellow Scot that won the forty-ninth running of the Indianapolis 500; although Franchitti was born more than five years after Clark lost his life in a fatal crash in a Formula Two race at Hockenheim, Germany on April 7, 1968.
Jim Clark was a quiet sheep farmer from Duns, Scotland. He was also the dominant Formula One driver of his era. At the time of his death at age thirty-two, Clark had already won the Indianapolis 500, two world championship and had won more Grand Prix races (25) and Grand Prix poles (33) than any driver up to that time.
Word traveled slowly in those days. I didn’t hear about his death until the next day. I was a nine year-old playing touch-football in a neighbor’s yard; when my brother walked down to tell everyone the news. The game broke up. Even a world away when I was a young kid, Clark was larger than life.
I liked Jim Clark better than my brothers did. Just three years earlier, I watched him win the first Indianapolis 500 that I ever attended, in one of the prettiest cars I ever saw race in all of my years going to the famed brickyard. My brothers didn’t care for Clark in 1965, because he was foreign and a threat to our family favorite, AJ Foyt. Plus, he was driving a rear-engine car, which threatened the roadsters and society in general. But being the young rogue in the family, I liked Clark. OK, as a six year old, I really hardly knew much about him other than his car was beautiful. I knew that to be true then and that hasn’t changed forty-five years later.
Being a native Scot, Franchitti was always aware of the lore of Jim Clark. But, according to Curt Cavin’s article, it wasn’t until Franchitti attended a dinner to honor Clark’s legacy in 1993, that Franchitti fully understood what Clark had meant to Scotland and the racing world. Since then, what I have read about the way Franchitti idolizes Jim Clark, almost borders on obsession – and I mean that in a good way.
As I said about Helio Castroneves – Dario Franchitti gets it at Indy. That wasn’t always the case. When he and Paul Tracy were teammates for Team Green in 2002, Franchitti was mostly a backmarker as a rookie, while Tracy was almost winning the race (we won’t go into that controversy here). After that race, Franchitti freely admits he didn’t see what the big deal was about the Indianapolis 500. It wasn’t until the next year, when he missed the race due to injury, that it dawned on him what he was missing. He pinpoints 2003 as when the light went on for him at Indy. From that point on, he understood and appreciated what the Indianapolis 500 was all about.
Dario Franchitti is a student of the sport and has devoted a great deal of time to learning the history of motor racing. This has fed his passion for all that is Jim Clark.
A couple of years ago, Franchitti fulfilled a lifelong dream when he was allowed to simply sit in Clark’s 1965 Lotus 38. Imagine the thrill when he became only the second person to ever drive the car besides Clark. Fellow Scot, Jackie Stewart drove the car a few years back at Goodwood. On Tuesday, Franchitti was driving the same car on the same track where Clark had driven it to a dominating victory forty-five years earlier. It was understandably overwhelming for Franchitti.
Dario Franchitti is usually pretty composed and his emotions rarely run amok. On Tuesday, that wasn’t the case. He drove the car several laps but only at half-throttle. He says he was tempted to open it up, but he also realized just what he was driving and to crash it would be devastating. The car is irreplaceable. Instead, he treated it with respect and soaked in the moment.
On a much smaller scale, I can understand his emotions. Almost two years ago, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of driving an IndyCar around IMS while taking part in the Indy Racing Experience. As I drove those three laps around the Speedway, the thoughts that raced through my mind were overwhelming. All I could think of was that I was driving on the same track where legends had raced. As I drove around, the names of Harroun, Hurtubise, Foyt, Shaw and Vukovich kept running through my mind. I don’t cry easily and I didn’t that day either, but I will admit to some rather severe goose-bumps while I turned my laps.
I’m sure this is how Franchitti felt as he gripped the same steering-wheel his idol had held as he dominated the field that day. It was surely a surreal moment for Dario to slide his frame into the cockpit that had cradled Clark almost a half-century earlier.
Most people would think that being a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 would satisfy any racing dreams that Franchitti would have. But I can understand and forgive Franchitti if the few laps he took on Tuesday, surpassed the thrill of winning two Indy 500’s. It’s quite an honor to get to drive a car that only two other people ever drove – and both of them were Scots and one was his idol. That’s pretty hard to top.