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Franchitti now truly among the greatest

by
Paul Dalbey
| Nov 02, 2011

A year ago at this time, shortly after he capped off his second consecutive IZOD IndyCar Series Championship, I wrote an article on More Front Wing saying that I felt Dario Franchitti had secured his place amongst the greatest Indy car drivers all of all time, certainly among the greatest of my generation.  With a fourth championship trophy now sitting on his mantle, I don’t see how anyone could possibly doubt such a claim anymore.

Dario Franchitti has amassed a career record that is as good as there has ever been.  Since cracking into big league North American open-wheel racing in 1997, Franchitti has earned 4 INDYCAR championships, 2 Indianapolis 500 victories, 30 race wins, 81 podium finishes, and 25 pole positions, all in 203 races.  What’s amazing is that he continues to excel in his craft and shows no signs that his skills are beginning to diminish in any way.  His four championships have only been bested or matched by the legendary names of this sport – AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, and Sebastien Bourdais.

While Franchitti’s record is impressive against the drivers in any era, I believe that the versatility he has shown and the variety of tracks on which he has excelled is what really sets his record apart from those that have come before him.  Certainly drivers such as Foyt and Andretti showed that they could compete and beat the best in the world in a variety of racing disciplines, but I don’t know the level of competition that they had to beat across each discipline in a single series was ever as stout as what Dario has faced.  There is no denying that AJ and Mario were masters of their craft, but did they ever face competition that was as great on both road courses and ovals as what Dario has faced?  And did they beat them year after year and year?  I honestly don’t have that answer since I’m not as familiar with the overall racing scene from those years, but it’s hard to imagine the depth of the competition was as deep then as it is now.

Another reason I put Dario in an elite category is because of the era of spec racing in which he has excelled.  I know that is at odds with the opinions many people hold who say that the spec era has made the racing more about the teams and engineering and less about the drivers.  I hold just the opposite view.  For many years, it was the equipment, not the driver, which had the biggest effect on the outcome of a race.  For example, in the late 1980s and very early 1990s, no driver had a chance of winning a championship if he wasn’t driving a Chevrolet engine.  Without the Chevrolet engine, the greatest of drivers looked like also-rans.  One prime example was Arie Luyendyk.  While Arie had some respectable runs at Indianapolis and elsewhere in the first few years of his career, it wasn’t until he sat in front of a Chevrolet engine with Doug Shierson racing that he was able to show what he could really do.  Likewise, during the middle and latter parts of the ‘90s, if a team and driver were working with the wrong engine or chassis manufacturer in CART – be it Ford, Ilmor, Lola, Goodyear, etc. – there was just no way they could overcome those deficiencies and be successful.  In the spec era, equipment is nearly equal and it’s the driver that most often is the difference between winning and losing, particularly on the road and street courses that have become prevalent in the IZOD IndyCar Series.  Now the littlest teams can compete right on par with the biggest teams and efforts like Dale Coyne Racing and Sarah Fisher Racing, with the help of a great driver and a hard working crew, can have a good chance of finding their way to victory lane.

Sadly for Dario, he still does not seem to be getting near the attention or respect that he deserves for his remarkable career.  Whether it is because his top-level career has been entirely since the split of 1996 or because much of the mainstream sporting media fails to acknowledge most motorsports that are not NASCAR sanctioned, his achievements have largely gone unrecognized outside of the hardcore IndyCar racing fans.  It is truly a shame because his accomplishments stand among the great sporting careers of at least the last 50 years, certainly among the greatest careers within the world of motorsports. My hope is that he will soon be given the credit he so rightfully deserves.  Perhaps now that he hasn’t been defeated for a championship in five years, the sporting world will finally begin to acknowledge the amazing career of Dario Franchitti and start to recognize him as one of the greatest drivers of all time.

6 Comments

  1. 1 Butch 12 Nov

    I am 65, and grew up 100 miles from Indy,I would have been in the old days, referred to at the Track,as a railbird.Over the years while observing daily practice at different watching spots around the track,I had, casual conversations some of the greatest drivers including 500 winners to run,(back then it was a common during practice for drivers to ride around the track on thier scooters or motorbikes to various favorite locations to observe other drivers driving lines & I knew where those spots were)so I belive I can spot a great one when I see one and Dario certainly qualifies.The way he competes; with total respect to other competitors on the track and with true professionalism off the track, Dario you cetainly are another "Great Scot" and would make the "Gentleman Farmer" from Duns proud.And had there not been some fuel issues I have no doubt you would have won another Pole & Indy 500, this year.

    I

  2. 2 Kris 11 Nov

    Dario is definitely one of the great drivers of all time.  So talented and yet so humble.  Truly a gentleman.

  3. 3 Julie 09 Nov

    Gary - First, the article is in reference to Indy car drivers...not all forms of motorsports.

    Second, I don't think you can say that Dario failed NASCAR when he did not get a chance to complete an entire season due to sponsorship reasons. Given a couple years, I think he would have been successful and possibly won Daytona.

    I also think you need to put Foyt and Andretti's Daytona accomplishments into perspective. AJ Foyt did not win the Daytona 500 until 1972...8yrs into his NASCAR career and Mario Andretti won Daytona 500 in 1967 with the Holman Moody team...one of the best teams in NASCAR at the time.

  4. 4 Gary 08 Nov

    Dario failed in his attempt at Nascar and the Nationwide series...Foyt and Andretti won the Daytona 500....go figure


  5. 5 Daniele 03 Nov
    Well, I have to say that versatility is what won him titles. Power is probably better on road and street courses but Dario is more consistent and in the end that's what matters. Fair to say he is one of the greatest Indycar drivers ever.
  6. 6 Julie 03 Nov

    Paul - Thank you for your great article. It was very nice to see someone give Dario the credit for his driving skills that he fully deserves.

    Too many people want to excuse away his accomplishments as just luck. The thing with luck is...all drivers have good luck and bad luck during a season. The sign of a gifted driver is know how to take advantage of the good luck and minimize the effect of the bad luck....and I think Dario has got that figured out. Even when he does not win, he will usually finish in the top-5 and it is that consistency that has help him win the championships.

    To me being categorized as one of the greatest goes beyond just driving the cars. It includes giving of your time and knowledge to making your respective series better. There are a lot of drivers that just focus on racing and do little beyond their obligatory appearances to help the series but it seems to me that Dario really cares about Indycar and open-wheel racing as a whole. Whether it is talking to Bernard about series improvements, working on improving safety with the car/tracks(even before Dan's accident) or providing advice/guidance to younger drivers, he really want to make the series stronger and better.

    Like Paul said...I hope Dario Franchitti starts to get some of the positive recognition he deserves.

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