By: Brian J. D’Souza

Scotsman Dario Franchitti leads the standings with 303 points as drivers gear up for the 25th Honda Indy in Toronto. While Franchitti and fellow drivers focus on securing the best starting position for Sunday's race, the IndyCar circuit itself is looking to bounce back from economic downturn and re-establish itself as a racing event to compete with the more prestigious Formula One circuit, and the ever-popular NASCAR.

As much as the G-forces acting on drivers, the pressure to succeed looms large in the psyches of those sitting behind the $40,000 steering wheels. It was something veteran driver Franchitti discovered at an early age, as his father George groomed him towards racing glory. While George was in business with an ice cream distributorship, he invested the profits — and then some — into financing his son's career.

“At one point, he re-mortgaged the house,” Franchitti, a two-time winner in Toronto (1999, 2009), explained of his father’s support during a chat this week in the lead-up to Saturday's qualifier. “He went home and told my mom — to her credit, she didn’t kill him.”

As a day-pupil at Stewart's Melville College in Edinburgh, a private school, Franchitti’s mother proffered encouragement that he’d receive a good education. He passed all the requisite exams for university acceptance — something that came as a surprise to both the young Franchitti as well as the teachers who had observed his inattentiveness in class — but then shelved the thought of pursuing post-secondary education when his destiny as a driver came calling.

“At 17 years old, if I wanted to go racing, I decided it had to be done then,” continues Franchitti, before pausing, gazing away with the appearance of a proverbial deer-in-headlights — attuned to the comings and goings of those in the corridor of the Allstream Centre. His sensitivity to minute changes and ability to adjust will be critical on the bumpy street course in Toronto.

In 1992, Franchitti caught the eye of fellow-Scot Jackie Stewart, a former driver who along with his son, Paul, had a racing team. Joining Paul Stewart Racing was a critical moment for Franchitti, who put himself ahead of the pack by winning the Vauxhall Lotus championship in 1993. As the stakes for each race circuit increase, so does the necessity of sponsorship and financial backing, leaving many prospective drivers without a ride.

“There’s hundreds of stories of that,” says Franchitti, “in all levels, from karts to Vauxhall Junior to Vauxhall Lotus, which is the next stage I made, to Formula Three, to guys in sports cars — there’s guys at all levels who never got that consistent drive their talent merited.”

The dominant racing teams at IndyCar are estimated to spend around $20 million to keep their cars running. In Formula One, that number can exceed $400 million since F1 teams construct their cars from the bottom up; IndyCar mandates use of an identical Dallara chassis and Honda V8 engine, which lowers costs.

“Talent is not enough,” says Franchitti. “You’ve got to have that luck.”

When it comes to talent and luck, he's been blessed. In 2007, he won the Indy 500 and the IndyCar championship; 2008 saw him competing in NASCAR until the funds for his team dried up; in 2009 he won the IndyCar championship; and in 2010 he won the Indy 500 and the IndyCar championship once again. While he didn’t make the list of three-time Indy 500 winners this year, something is still driving Franchitti on in a bid to maintain his standing for 2011.

Despite being 20 points in front of Australian Will Power, his closest competition for this year’s IndyCar championship and last year's winner in Toronto, Franchitti is a resolute perfectionist.

“The points throughout the season, it’s really ebbs and flows, you go out every weekend and try to do your best,” he says.

While some might point to the technological marvel of the cars or the millions that top drivers clear — money that allowed Franchitti to own and operate both a Eurocopter and Lear jet (both now sold for lack of time, he says) — the risks involved in racing are never far from memory. Franchitti is often asked about close friend and former teammate Greg Moore, who died in a crash at the Marlboro 500 in California back in October of 1999.

“Most days, I think of him,” Franchitti says. “After a race, if his dad calls, or I see his little brother James on Twitter. Yeah, I think about him all the time.”

While there are dangers inherent in racing, Franchitti has accepted the risks, and enters this weekend with his eyes wide open, describing his profession as "tough"before adding the word "savage" and explaining how unglamorous it can be. Still, this is what he professes to love, and his own skill as a driver is where he puts his faith.

2 Comments | Add a Comment
Impressed by the thorough and insightful analysis of Franchitti by the writer Brian D'Souza who continually produces great articles.
A well written article from Brian D'Souza as I have come to expect from all his articles. Brian is an up and coming sports journalist who ranks right up there with the top flight sports journalists of today. Well done Brian!
*Your Name:
*Enter code:
* Comment: