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Franchitti, Dario

Franchitti, Dario

Career
Sidelights
Sources

Professional race car driver

B orn May 19, 1973, in Edinburgh, Scotland; sonof George (an ice-cream company owner) and Marina Franchitti; married Ashley Judd (an actress), December 12, 2001.

Addresses: Home—Franklin, TN. Office—c/o Indy Racing League, 4565 W. 16th St., Indianapolis, IN 46222.

Career

W on Scottish Junior Karting Championship,1984, and British Junior Karting Champion ship, 1985 and 1986; joined Formula Vauxhall Series, c. 1990, and Formula Vauxhall Lotus circuit, 1992; raced in the English Formula Three circuit, 1994; with AMG Racing as a driver for German Touring Car series, 1995-97; became Championship Auto Racing Team (CART) driver, 1997, with Hogan Racing team; joined Team KOOL Green Honda/ Reynard (later known as Andretti Green Racing), 1998; won Indianapolis 500, 2007.

Sidelights

S cottish race-car driver Dario Franchitti won theIndianapolis 500 in May of 2007, one of the most lucrative prizes in motor sports. His victory came as a surprise in the rain-plagued race, but was nonetheless enthusiastically celebrated by Franchitti, who is married to Hollywood star Ashley Judd. “I’ve been waiting for this day, and today it’s finally good to get noticed,” he was quoted as saying by Lars Anderson in Sports Illustrated.

Franchitti was born in 1973 in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Italian-heritage parents who were second-generation immigrants to the British Isles, and grew up in the suburb of Whitburn. His father owned several ice-cream parlors in Edinburgh, and was an amateur race car driver, a passion that Franchitti inherited. His career began as a youngster in go-kart competitions, and in 1984 the eleven-year-old Franchitti won the Scottish Junior Karting Championship. He followed it with two wins in the British Junior Karting Championships in 1985 and 1986, and by 1989 had progressed to a second-place finish in the British Senior Karting Championship that year.

Racing in the Formula Vauxhall Series as a junior driver, Franchitti scored a few impressive wins and came to the attention of Scottish auto-racing legend Jackie Stewart, who became his informal coach. Before he became Stewart’s protégé, “I just drove every lap as hard as I could,” Franchitti said in an interview with Andrew Longmore for the Independent on Sunday. “Jackie taught me to be faster and more consistent over the whole of a race.” In 1992, Fran-chitti joined the Formula Vauxhall Lotus circuit, and won his first championship cup a year later. After a stint with the English Formula Three circuit, Fran-chitti was recruited by a prestigious outfit, AMG Racing, which is the sportscar-competition division of German automaker Mercedes-Benz. He spent two years driving a Mercedes C-class in German Touring Car series events, but failed to win any major competitions.

In 1997 Franchitti signed with Hogan Racing, a major player on the United States-based Championship Auto Racing Team (CART) circuit, and moved to the United States. A year later, he began driving for Team KOOL Green Honda/Reynard, which would later morph into Andretti Green Racing after a change in sponsors. He and Juan Pablo Montoya were the top two drivers in the CART series in 1999, but a pre-season test outing at a racetrack in Miami early in 2000 resulted in a broken pelvic bone and concussion that kept him from competing for much of 2000. In 2001, he won just one race, the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland, Ohio.

In the United States, the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) feature the best-known drivers, who are nevertheless relatively unknown outside of motor-racing enthusiasts. In Europe, the equivalent upper-echelon racing teams are the Formula One stars, whose exploits are chronicled endlessly in the tabloid press and who enjoy name recognition on par with that of soccer players and pop singers. Franchitti’s decision to decamp to the U.S. circuit meant that he remained a relative unknown back in Scotland, where CART events are neither held nor followed in the sports pages, but he did begin to gain some press when he began dating Hollywood film actress Ashley Judd, daughter of country-music legend Naomi Judd.

In the 2002 season, Franchitti finished in fourth place, and also made his Indy 500 debut. This annual Memorial Day weekend event is the biggest auto-racing championship in the United States, and its television viewers make it one of the largest single-day sporting events in the world. Named for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the 500mile race is the premier event in the Indy Racing League (IRL). IRL teams drive “formula” or open-wheel vehicles—denoting cars with oversized wheels on the outside of the vehicle designed to enhance performance at speeds with reach 225 miles per hour— much like the Formula One cars of European motor sports.

Franchitti finished in 19th place in the 2002 Indy 500, and after recovering from a motorcycle accident in 2003, won two Indy Car events in Wisconsin and Colorado in 2004. The next two years featured solid, but not winning finishes for Team Andretti Green, owned by Michael Andretti, son of racing legend MarioAndretti. He and his teammates took their starting positions at the 91st Indy 500 on May 27, 2007, under the threat of rain, and did 113 laps before the downpour began and the race was halted for more than two hours. When it resumed it went to 166 laps before race officials halted it for good and declared Franchitti the winner. His team-mate, Tony Kanaan, had actually been in the lead, but was penalized for one of his pit-stops when the crew changed all of his tires, instead of just the flat one. It was a surprise victory for Franchitti against a crowded field, including two-time winner Helio Castroneves; prior to this, Franchitti had never made it past a sixth-place finish in four previous Indy 500 races.

Franchitti’s wife ran down to greet him in her bare feet when he was declared the 2007 Indy 500 winner. He and Judd wed at Skibo Castle in Scotland in December of 2001, and settled in Franklin, Tennessee, a Nashville suburb that is also home to a long roster of contemporary country-music stars. Later that season, Franchitti walked away from a spectacular crash at the Firestone Indy 400 event in Brooklyn, Michigan, that involved five other vehicles and sent his own airborne. “I was just hoping it wasn’t going to hurt when it came down,” he replied in a post-race press conference when asked what he was thinking at that moment, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Well aware of the dangers of his sport, Franchitti still mourns the loss of his closest friend, driver Greg Moore, who died in a 1999 crash at the last CART event of the season in California. “Greg was the guy I competed with the hardest on the track, and he was the guy I had the most fun with away from the track, ” he told David Tremayne, a journalist for the London newspaper the Independent just after his 2007 Indy 500 win. “He was going to be a champion many times over.”

Sources

Detroit Free Press, August 6, 2007.

Guardian (London, England), September 9, 2002, p. 20.

Independent (London, England), May 29, 2007.

Independent on Sunday (London, England), April 18, 1999, p. 14.

New York Times, May 28, 2007.

Sports Illustrated, June 4, 2007, p. 60.

Sunday Times (London, England), March 26, 2000, p. 5.

—Carol Brennan

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