INDIANAPOLIS — Dario Franchitti hobbled into Thursday’s news conference on crutches and sat down between IndyCar’s two most cherished prizes – the series championship trophy and the Indianapolis 500 trophy.
That’s when it all hit home for Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi’s employees – and Franchitti himself.
He is done racing.
More than a month after abruptly announcing his retirement, Franchitti finally felt well enough to answer questions about the frightening October crash that forced him away from a sport that turned the thoughtful, polite Scotsman into an international celebrity.
“I spent two days kind of thinking, ‘How can I get around this?’” Franchitti said. “I’ve driven with a lot of broken body parts over the years and I thought, ‘There’s got to be a way,’ and there just wasn’t.”
Debris from the accident injured 13 fans in the grandstands and an IndyCar official, while the four-time IndyCar champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was diagnosed with a fractured spine, a broken right ankle and a concussion.
Franchitti has had surgery twice on the ankle, which is why he continues to use crutches, but it was the lingering effects of the concussion that were a major concern for physicians and friends.
As recently as three weeks ago, the 40-year-old Franchitti still wasn’t himself.
“He was in my house and he wasn’t there. You know, his body was there, but he wasn’t there,” said Kanaan, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 champ and one of Franchitti’s closest friends. “When you see a friend not speaking right, you know slowly, asking the same questions 10 times and sleeping 16 hours a day, you know something’s not right.”
The doctors explained the risks of getting back in the car and the potential consequences. Franchitti knew this time was different.
“I said, ‘Tony, I’m not sure how this going to work out. I’m not sure if I’m going to be OK,’” Franchitti said, explaining how he asked Kanaan to drive the No. 10 car if he could not. “That day was the first day I thought, ‘I might be in trouble here,’ but you don’t really have all your mental faculties when you’re in that condition.”
Franchitti was in far better shape Thursday.
He teased Kanaan about showing up for the news conference in a black shirt and black slacks. He later reached down to Kanaan’s image on the Borg-Warner Trophy and joked he thought the nose was actually doubling as a handle for the trophy.
That’s more like the fun-loving Franchitti colleagues and fans have known through the years.
The good news is that Franchitti will still be around the track. Franchitti has agreed to continue working with Ganassi’s team in a still-undefined role.
He finishes with 31 wins, eighth all-time, and 33 poles, sixth all-time.
“There have been some crap days and some devastating days, but since I started with go-karts, I’ve had a really fun time,” said Franchitti. “Who knows if I’d never gotten into F1, how it would have turned out?”