Growing up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, my family made it a tradition to attend each IndyCar race at Road America and the Milwaukee Mile. I started going to Road America in 1994, the year I was born, so I don't remember much about those early years at the track. However, the one year that I vividly remember was 1998. This was the race when Bryan Herta spun in turn 5 and Alex Barron literally drove on top of Bryan's car. Although that portion of the race sticks out in my mind, I also remember I certain someone getting their first win on that race day. A young Scotsman, named Dario Franchitti, pulled into victory lane for the first time. From here on out, dad was a Dario fan.
Dario in his Team Kool Green Honda (Photo Credit: autoracing1.com)
In 2002, I believe it was, Dario was featured on a Milwaukee News Radio Station (AM 620wtmj) during the days leading up to the race. I will never forget, dad and I were riding in his work van listening to the interview and the radio host said, "And we now welcome to the show, CART Driver, Dario FRAN-CHET-EE." (verses Fran-key-tee). From this day on, we always referred to Dario as "Dario Franchettee." I still chuckle about that, to this day.
Robin Miller is a household name in the IndyCar paddock. He is known for his brutally honest columns, and his love for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. However, I also find Robin to be a great interviewer. One of my favorite interviewees of Robin's was always Dario. Something about these to having a chat was always extremely entertaining. On of my favorites, however, would be when Robin Miller presented Dario with a signed painting from a racing legend. Robin presented him with this gift during practice for the Indy 500, as Dario's birthday is on May 19th. I don't quite remember who the painting was signed by, but Dario was beyond excited. This moment really showed Dario's love and appreciation for the great racers who came before him. My second favorite interview that Dario did with Robin Miller also took place at IMS. Although, this one took place during a September 2013 tire test. Robin interviewed TK and Dario, in what, I believe, is one of the most entertaining IndyCar interviews I have seen in a long time. There is great chemistry between those two racers, and it's a shame we won't have the chance to see them as teammates once again in 2014.
Here is a link to the Dario and TK interview: http://www.racer.com/video-robin-miller-dario-franchitti-and-tony-kanaan-at-ims-tire-test/article/311113/
The Milwaukee Mile, 2004. The first time that the IRL would be visiting the Milwaukee Mile. This would also be the first IRL race I ever attended. It was pretty cool to finally see some of my favorite drivers again, as I had only be attending Champ Car races, and only go to see Paul Tracy. From the start of the weekend, Dad and I had our eyes on Dario, TK, and Helio. I remember watching Sam Hornish Jr and Dario battle in the closing laps, only to give the win to Dario. So up to this point, I have seen Dario's first career CART win, and now his first career IRL win. Not too bad!
Dario crosses the finish line, ahead of Buddy Rice at Milwaukee in 2004 (photo credit: world.honda.com)
This next memory brings us to Indianapolis, 2012. The very first Indianapolis 500 that I got to attend. I think we all know where this one is going... I remember Dario having a pit incident during the first round of pit stops, and I thought to myself, there is no way that he is going to move through the entire field. Boy, was I wrong. Last 10 laps and I cannot believe it, Dario is in contention for the win!Everybody knows what happens next. White flag comes out and Takuma Sato tries passing Dario way down low in turn one. I remember seeing those two, from my seat just at the exit of turn one, come flying through the corner. When I saw how close those two were, I knew one, if not both, would end up in the short chute wall. Turns out that Taku can't make it stick, and he is the one who ends up in the wall. Franchitti ends up taking the Borg Warner for the 3rd time.
I consider myself an extremely lucky race fan. I had the opportunity to watch Dario win his very first CART race, win his very first IRL race, and win his 3rd Indy 500. Even though Dario was never my all time favorite drive, I always respected that man more than anybody else in the paddock. It will be a stranfe sight, seeing the 2014 season kick-off without Dario in the field.
Dario and close friend Greg Moore, joke around in the pits (photo credit: motorsportretro.com)
Thank you Dario Franchitti. You had the opportunity to stop racing, when you lost not one but two of your best friends, Greg Moore (1999) and Dan Wheldon (2011), in motorsports accidents. However, you stayed behind the wheel, and I think you made those men two of the proudest people, as they would have insisted that you continue racing. You have shown us fans, your fellow competitors, and the media the upmost respect and class. Dario, you epitomized how all future champions should carry themselves. You had a swagger about yourself, but you respected the sports history more than anyone else on the grid.