Dario Franchitti kept racing after the death of best friend Greg Moore. He continued on following the death of former teammate Dan Wheldon. He was eager to drive into his early 40s.
He won’t get the chance.
The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and four-time IndyCar Series champion reluctantly and abruptly retired Thursday, saying doctors told him it would be too dangerous for him to continue racing because of injuries sustained in a harrowing crash last month.
“Racing has been my life for over 30 years, and it’s really tough to think that the driving side is now over,” Franchitti said.
Franchitti fractured his spine, broke his right ankle and suffered a concussion in the Oct. 6 race at Houston, where his car made contact with Takuma Sato’s car on the last lap and sailed into a fence. Debris from the accident injured 13 fans in the grandstands and one IndyCar official.
The 40-year-old Franchitti underwent two surgeries on his ankle and recently returned home to Scotland to recover.
“One month removed from the crash, and based upon the expert advice of the doctors who have treated and assessed my head and spinal injuries post-accident, it is their best medical opinion that I must stop racing,” Franchitti said. “They have made it very clear that the risks involved in further racing are too great and could be detrimental to my long term well-being. Based on this medical advice, I have no choice but to stop.”
Franchitti did not use the word “retire” in a lengthy statement released through Target Chip Ganassi Racing, the team he joined in 2009 following a brief stint in NASCAR with Ganassi a year earlier.
Franchitti was unstoppable upon his return to IndyCar. Teamed with Ganassi and driving the feared red No. 10 Target car, Franchitti reeled off three consecutive championships and won 12 races. Two of the wins were Indy 500s.
He became the face of the series — Franchitti always had crossover appeal for IndyCar thanks to an 11-year marriage to actress Ashley Judd, which ended in January — because he was personable, well-spoken, popular in the paddock and passionate about the sport.
It resonated with fans and made Franchitti one of IndyCar’s all-time greats. His 31 victories are tied for eighth on the all-time list, and his 33 poles are sixth.
“Dario Franchitti has done so much for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, so it will be very disappointing to not see him in our cars next season,” Ganassi said. “But simply put, Dario is a motorsports legend and will be sorely missed on the race track by everyone in the paddock and in the stands. His contributions to the sport of motor racing are too many to list.”
Asked on Twitter if Franchitti had indeed retired, Judd replied: “Yes, with an extraordinary career, legendary achievements, aplomb & style.”