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A flight he would rather not have taken…

October 6, 2013

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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

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6 Comments
  1. Steve Jarzombek permalink

    I hope Lanigan is sued by one of the fans that was hit by that huge part of the fence that disintegrated and ended up in the top row of the bleachers. I’m sad to say this, but I think it will take some major negative publicity before promoters and the series wake up and realize that now is NOT the time to be putting fans in harm’s way at these temporary circuits.

    If such an incident happens again with the same type of fencing and a fan is severely injured or killed, there’s no way for the promoter or series to claim they had no reason to believe that such a fence construction and/or distance between the fence and stands was more than adequate to prevent it.

    • Steve – wouldn’t want to see Mike sued but I would like to propose that the work be done with due diligence and fastened better than it was (from what I see as an armchair critic this weekend). I think INDYCAR is doing what it can to provide safe access for its community, meaning the folks that put on the show and for the fans; it’s up to promoters to due the same.

      • Steve Jarzombek permalink

        Anne – does the following statement that D3 posted on a fan forum, in response to a number of posts questioning the adequacy of the design, change your opinion?

        “On investigation into the events in Houston D3 has discovered and can confirm that the Debris Fence used in Houston is not a D3 Motorsport Development / D3 Industries Debris Fence. This fence is a inferior product that has been copied using an inferior steel quality and size. Track builders in the USA have been copying D3 products every since they saw them used in Surfers Paradise, Australia in 1991. D3 can also confirm by looking at race highlights and reviewing the FIA guidelines that D3 believe the track would not meet FIA Grade 2 standard.”

  2. Liza Levin permalink

    i was thinking of you and dario..i TOTALLY agree that dario should have been TOP priority…kiss leah for me and quite healing for dario… love liza

  3. Steve – not aware of the D3 Industries claim so I don’t want to comment unless/until I get some due diligence here… thanks for reading and commenting

  4. Steve – there’s a lot of discussion about this but apparently the fencing at Houston DID meet FIA specs for this type of event

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