EXCLUSIVE: Dario Franchitti on memory loss and feeling lucky

EXCLUSIVE: Dario Franchitti on memory loss and feeling lucky

IndyCar

EXCLUSIVE: Dario Franchitti on memory loss and feeling lucky

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At least three weeks of his life are a total blank to Dario Franchitti. He doesn’t remember testing in Fontana before his accident in Houston last October and the first thing of real clarity was flying to Indianapolis on the hospital plane.

And while the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner has no recollection of the crash that ended his sterling career, he’ll never forget the words of Dr. Steve Olvey, one of the safety pioneers in Indy car racing and the associate professor of clinical neurology/neurosurgery at the University of Miami Miller Medical School.

“He’d given me an MRI that lasted about an hour and then he called me,” said Franchitti during an interview Tuesday at the Target/Ganassi Racing shop. “He said the injury was worse than he first thought and that I shouldn’t race anymore. Well, I knew my concussion was bad but not that bad, so I spent the next two days trying to think of a way around it.

“But Terry [Dr. Terry Trammell] had said the same thing about my back because it was the third time I’d broken it. I certainly wasn’t prepared to hear that but I trust those guys and they know our sport and our bodies so I had to accept it.

“I called my mom and dad and then I called Chip.”

And so one of the most successful runs in IndyCar history (31 wins, 33 poles, 4,579 laps led and four championships) was over. It didn’t end with a farewell tour or a dramatic charge to the front in his swansong it ended in Miami with a couple of expert opinions.

“I wanted to try and win another title and a fourth Indy 500, so of course it’s disappointing,” said the 40-year-old Scotsman who came to CART as a rookie in 1997 and immediately impressed with his speed and skill. “But it’s not like poor me’ because I got to do so much. I stopped, maybe not the way I wanted, but I lost two good friends (Greg Moore and Dan Wheldon) in this sport, so I think I’m lucky.”

Walking with crutches while his broken right foot heals, Franchitti has lost a little weight and some short-term memory during the past three months as his head tried to clear from the impact of that wicked, last-lap flip at Houston on Oct. 6.

“I felt OK the day after my accident, I was on a walker and talking to Dixie [Scott Dixon] in my hospital room but then I went downhill pretty quick,” he recalled. “I couldn’t sleep or concentrate and I didn’t want to see anybody. The only person I let into my condo was Dixie and he was great because he’d sit there and talk to me for hours. But I got concerned so that’s when I decided to fly down to Miami and see Dr. Olvey.”

From Florida, Franchitti flew home to Scotland and gradually got better.

“I was in no condition to do anything for a while and then they asked me to go to the AUTOSPORT Awards show,” he continued. “I said no way could I do that, but I went and gave a little speech and surprised myself.

“But about three weeks ago is when I really felt like I was back to normal. My short-term memory still isn’t great at the moment but my long-term is good and I’ve noticed a big improvement.”

He saw Trammell on Wednesday and is flying to Miami this afternoon to check in with Olvey before heading to an island to spend Christmas with brother Marino and his family. Besides healing, the next step is to figure out the next step. The fans that write into RACER.com are clamoring for Dario to be in the booth for ABC but he’s been offered a chance to stay with Ganassi.

“Chip has been great so I need to see what he’s got planned and whatever I do, I want to do it right,” he said. “But I’d be interested in talking to ABC if they want to talk.”

Not being able to drive a passenger car has made Franchitti crazy, so not being able to race again figures to be unbearable for a while.

“Not driving is going to be tough,” he admits. “The boys headed to Sebring the other day and I was thinking about all the things they should try on the car and, besides driving, the thing I’ll miss most is working with my guys. I loved driving a racecar and working with the team. That’s going to be hard to replace.”

As will that first month of May outside the cockpit. A road racing savant who wasn’t real thrilled about oval racing when he started became enamored with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on and off the track.

“Before I ever got to run here, Barry Green and Kyle Moyer used to tell me that if we ever make it to Indianapolis I would be good, because it’s my kind of track and race,” said the 2007-2010-2012 Indy winner who missed five years due to the CART/IRL war. “Well, I sucked my first year [2002] but then I started to figure it out and, let’s be honest, you can’t win there on your own: I had two great teams in Andretti Green Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing.”

A student of racing history, Dario developed a deep respect for Indy and the men who conquered it before him. Besides being on the Borg-Warner Trophy three times, his biggest thrill is sharing stories with those legends.

“What’s really been nice is that I’ve become friends with all those guys,” he exclaimed. “Since I got hurt I’ve got phone calls from Parnelli [Jones], Mario [Andretti], J.R. [Johnny Rutherford], Bobby [Unser], Rick [Mears] and even A.J. [Foyt] rang me up.

“I admire those guys so much and to think they all took time to check on me really meant a lot. Like I told you, I feel real lucky.”

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