A flight he would rather not have taken…
I had visions of Las Vegas 2011 when I watched the end of the second GP of Houston, as four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner – and someone I respect – Dario Franchitti went into the fence. It happened at the fifth turn in his No. 10 Dallara/Honda/Firestone Indy car on the short and bumpy Reliant Park street course’s final, 90th lap.
We can dissect the incident time and time again, look at all the videos over and over, but the fact of the matter is Dario Franchitti unlike Dan Wheldon (and Jeff Krosnoff) will live. He’ll have to deal with the pain of two fractured vertebrae and a fractured right ankle, together with the concussion he suffered during this terrifying crash, but he’s alive, he’s going to be okay (we all hope) and, hopefully the 13 people in the stands that were injured will be fine, as well. The chassis developed by Dan Wheldon, the Dallara DW12 likely help save his life.
Aside from the fact that this happened to my dog’s Uncle Dario and to someone I’ve considered a friend since we first met in 1997, I’ve been bothered by several aspects of this incident and of the race itself. Where I live, in Long Beach it takes a couple of months to put the circuit together for what is relatively the same-length street course. Houston had four days to fully complete its racetrack because there was a football game last weekend that prevented them from securing the circuit until afterwards.
One result of this hast was the problem with turn one that resulted in Friday’s chicane and grinding job, the chicane removed for all but the lower Road to Indy classes for the balance of the weekend. The amount of bumps to this track might make for fun photography but might have exacerbated the driveline problems suffered by former point leader Helio Castroneves during both Saturday and Sunday races.
There was no way to grind the entire circuit because it is, after all, city streets not normally used for racing, but again there were reminders of San Jose (and its infamous railroad tracks), Champ Car’s whee section of the single-use street Las Vegas circuit and other street venues that have had their problems. A promoter like Mike Lanigan has a vested interest in INDYCAR and its success. I’m in agreement with many fans who would far prefer to see Lanigan put his money in Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport circuit instead of Houston, but it’s business driving this choice.
As I watched the last lap accident occur on my television screen, I screamed, scaring Uncle Dario’s friend Leah under the sofa. And then I waited, waited, counting the seconds until the Holmatro Safety Team arrived. I watched as the first team went to clean up the circuit to enable those cars still running to get through the massive debris field and wondered, why the hell aren’t they immediately tending to Dario?
I’m still wondering.
INDYCAR’S feting of winner and podium took place even as Dario was being extricated from his car and placed in ambulance. The celebrants included Franchitti’s teammate Scott Dixon, who finished second and now leads the points over Castroneves with 25 in hand. Dixon needs to finish in the top five – no matter what Castroneves does – at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana two weeks from now to take his third series title. Will Power did what he could to salvage the weekend for Team Penske with his win on Sunday (leading the most laps) and James Hinchcliffe performed his own salvage operation by coming home third after failing to make the first turn yesterday.
Dario Franchitti will remain in hospital at least overnight before being allowed to leave Houston. There’s a race in less than two weeks and, most likely he’d prefer to compete instead of sitting on the sidelines. He can wear something for his back and a boot to protect his foot, but what will erase the memories of flying in Houston in something other than the flight simulator at Johnson Space Center?
Words and Photo By Anne Proffit