Fulfilling The Dream Of A Lifetime

I was very interested in an article that Curt Cavin ran in The Indianapolis Star the other day. Dario Franchitti was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past Tuesday to present a 2010 Indy 500 replica pace car to a couple that had won a sweepstakes. He surprised the couple by taking them around the historic oval for several laps. But those weren’t the only laps the two-time Indy 500 winner had turned that day. Earlier, he got to drive Jim Clark’s Lotus 38 that won the 1965 Indianapolis 500.

65 Lotus 38

You have to understand the deep-rooted admiration that Dario Franchitti has for his fellow Scot that won the forty-ninth running of the Indianapolis 500; although Franchitti was born more than five years after Clark lost his life in a fatal crash in a Formula Two race at Hockenheim, Germany on April 7, 1968.

Jim Clark was a quiet sheep farmer from Duns, Scotland. He was also the dominant Formula One driver of his era. At the time of his death at age thirty-two, Clark had already won the Indianapolis 500, two world championship and had won more Grand Prix races (25) and Grand Prix poles (33) than any driver up to that time.

Word traveled slowly in those days. I didn’t hear about his death until the next day. I was a nine year-old playing touch-football in a neighbor’s yard; when my brother walked down to tell everyone the news. The game broke up. Even a world away when I was a young kid, Clark was larger than life.

I liked Jim Clark better than my brothers did. Just three years earlier, I watched him win the first Indianapolis 500 that I ever attended, in one of the prettiest cars I ever saw race in all of my years going to the famed brickyard. My brothers didn’t care for Clark in 1965, because he was foreign and a threat to our family favorite, AJ Foyt. Plus, he was driving a rear-engine car, which threatened the roadsters and society in general. But being the young rogue in the family, I liked Clark. OK, as a six year old, I really hardly knew much about him other than his car was beautiful. I knew that to be true then and that hasn’t changed forty-five years later.

Being a native Scot, Franchitti was always aware of the lore of Jim Clark. But, according to Curt Cavin’s article, it wasn’t until Franchitti attended a dinner to honor Clark’s legacy in 1993, that Franchitti fully understood what Clark had meant to Scotland and the racing world. Since then, what I have read about the way Franchitti idolizes Jim Clark, almost borders on obsession – and I mean that in a good way.

As I said about Helio Castroneves – Dario Franchitti gets it at Indy. That wasn’t always the case. When he and Paul Tracy were teammates for Team Green in 2002, Franchitti was mostly a backmarker as a rookie, while Tracy was almost winning the race (we won’t go into that controversy here). After that race, Franchitti freely admits he didn’t see what the big deal was about the Indianapolis 500. It wasn’t until the next year, when he missed the race due to injury, that it dawned on him what he was missing. He pinpoints 2003 as when the light went on for him at Indy. From that point on, he understood and appreciated what the Indianapolis 500 was all about.

Dario Franchitti is a student of the sport and has devoted a great deal of time to learning the history of motor racing. This has fed his passion for all that is Jim Clark.

A couple of years ago, Franchitti fulfilled a lifelong dream when he was allowed to simply sit in Clark’s 1965 Lotus 38. Imagine the thrill when he became only the second person to ever drive the car besides Clark. Fellow Scot, Jackie Stewart drove the car a few years back at Goodwood. On Tuesday, Franchitti was driving the same car on the same track where Clark had driven it to a dominating victory forty-five years earlier. It was understandably overwhelming for Franchitti.

Dario Franchitti is usually pretty composed and his emotions rarely run amok. On Tuesday, that wasn’t the case. He drove the car several laps but only at half-throttle. He says he was tempted to open it up, but he also realized just what he was driving and to crash it would be devastating. The car is irreplaceable. Instead, he treated it with respect and soaked in the moment.

On a much smaller scale, I can understand his emotions. Almost two years ago, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of driving an IndyCar around IMS while taking part in the Indy Racing Experience. As I drove those three laps around the Speedway, the thoughts that raced through my mind were overwhelming. All I could think of was that I was driving on the same track where legends had raced. As I drove around, the names of Harroun, Hurtubise, Foyt, Shaw and Vukovich kept running through my mind. I don’t cry easily and I didn’t that day either, but I will admit to some rather severe goose-bumps while I turned my laps.

I’m sure this is how Franchitti felt as he gripped the same steering-wheel his idol had held as he dominated the field that day. It was surely a surreal moment for Dario to slide his frame into the cockpit that had cradled Clark almost a half-century earlier.

Most people would think that being a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 would satisfy any racing dreams that Franchitti would have. But I can understand and forgive Franchitti if the few laps he took on Tuesday, surpassed the thrill of winning two Indy 500’s. It’s quite an honor to get to drive a car that only two other people ever drove – and both of them were Scots and one was his idol. That’s pretty hard to top.

George Phillips

26 Responses to “Fulfilling The Dream Of A Lifetime”

  1. Cant understand why you would waste your time writing about Dario Fagchitti. Guy is god damn Italian, but born in Scotland. What the hell connection is that. Usually I love reading your website but this is easily the worst your have ever written.

  2. George, I vote to rid the comment section of this anonymous asshole’s post who’s opinion is worth less than one from a jackass. Franchitti is a Scot and there is nothing damning about Italians.

    As for the article, George, I couldn’t agree with you more and Dario is a Champion who will, once again, win the series championship. This year. And, yes, he gets Indy and so does his wife.

    • I second the motion. This was a great article about two great drivers from two different eras. Obviously, noname has no respect for history.

    • Thirded. It’s horrific that such a low insult would be posted. Dario clearly, clearly respects the Indy 500 and what it stands for. That’s in stark contrast to when the F1 drivers were here (I think it was Raikkonen who, when asked point blank, stated that he didn’t see what was so special about the Speedway. I think…).

      It is excellent to read about someone showing such respect and outright joy at the tradition and history. This is what I want to see *MORE* of in Indycar writing, not less. So much – too much – reporting is about the here and now (the new car design, the finances, Danica, etc.), and the problem with that is that it completely obscures a long, rich history that’s exceeded in few sports (baseball is the obvious example). It’s pieces like this that helps remind people what’s best about the past and why Indycar racing is important to so many. Kudos for the piece. Noname’s low quality post does not reflect the opinion of many of us fans out.

      • *many of us fans out there. Pardon the error.

      • People like that dude seem to haunt any comments section and make most of them too ridiculous to even read. Nuke him, George.

        Jim Clark was gentleman in the best sense of the world. He was unbeatable on the track and a quiet hero. I think his skills and personality made the transition from roadster to rear-engine a little more acceptable. And that car was beautiful.

      • Redd, I so agree with your comment about Jim Clark and his role in the transition of the rear engine from the Roadster. I was there and, besides the look for his cars in 63, 64 and 65, he had the enthusiasm and drive that made me a fan. I even thought of my Sting Ray bicycle as bearing the #82. Also, the British Invasion was in full swing and I was ripe for the culture to invade IndyCar. Not a better person to do it than Jimmy Clark. Frankly, many things make a place like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway considered hallowed ground. Certainly Louis Meyer’s three wins as well as Wilbur Shaw’s. The Novi and the history of people like Foyt, Mears, Al Unser, Granatelli to name a few. Vuky’s magnificent runs as much as anything and Jim Clark winning in ’65. I am glad for Dario as well for being a part of the history of this beloved track.

  3. “This is the worst “your” have ever written?

    Since I am a Scot, I can say that Dario is someone that the Scots are very proud of. We love his accent and his clan plays the bag-pipes every time he wins! Also, his wife, Ashley just graduated from Harvard…so this insult will not go unnoticed.

  4. Hey scumbag americans, im actually from scotland and can tell your Jim Clark was born in Kilmany and not Duns. Bet you didnt know that douchebags.

    • Oh, here there, “noname.” You seem like a nice fellow. I bet you’d be fun to hang out with & go canoeing or something. Please don’t murder everyone on this board. Thanks, champ.

      George — This may very well be your best article.

      • hey noname, I see that you are from Scotland. Let me clue you in, we Americans dominate the world. Except for the putrid hagis that you eat and leave on your breath, your whole being is made up by what we Americans decide for you. How you dress, how you think and what you listen to, read and watch. You know who we are but we don’t know who you are and that is because we could not care any less about you. We grow better potatoes and bigger and healthier sheep, too.

    • I remember once some racist try and say some of his best friends were black…

      … Just sayin’.

  5. A man with noname with nothing worthwhile to say. Pathetic. Ignore him.

    George, do you know if JIm Clark was in the 1965 Milwaukee Mile race when A.J. Foyt qualified on the pole in his front-engined dirt-track car? All the other cars were rear-engined cars. I was there, but I do not remember if Jim Clark was in the field. A.J. almost won that race and it was one of the most remarkable feats of driving I have ever seen.

    Dario is a helluva driver and a classy guy. I can only imagine how thrilled he was to fire up that Lotus. My dream would be to take ol’ 99, the Belanger Special, for a spin.

    • billytheskink Says:

      According to the opus that is champcarstats.com Clark was not at the 1965 Tony Bettenhausen 200, he ran only at Indy that year.

      Clark’s only start at Milwaukee was a win from pole in the c1963 Tony Bettenhausen 200 where he drove the only rear-engined car in the field.

    • I, too, am just completely geeked out and loving the fact that Dario got to experience something that would be so special for him. It’d be like a Star Trek fan getting to sit in the original Captain’s chair prop of the original series, or a baseball fan holding Babe Ruth’s final home run ball. That sounds trite, but for a fan, there’s no bigger thrill. I myself would loveed to have given Rick Mears’ or Little Al’s last Indy 500 winning car a spin around the track. You wouldn’t be able to chisle the grin off my face with a jackhammer if that ever happened.

  6. Dario is a Scottish treasure!

  7. Dario’s a class act. I hope he wins the championship next week.

  8. tIM nOTHHELFER Says:

    Being a Scot, handsome or rich does not make Dario special…..it is his passion for embracing his interests…..many with a historical root.
    And against historical trends we have an older man racing at the very top of his form winning in a young mans sport! This is great for every driver wanting to be relevant late in their career.

  9. tIM nOTHHELFER Says:

    I suspect Dario (who is a man of means) would have been willing to pay dearly for the chance to drive Jim Clark’s car. But to be asked to drive the car….I hope there were some in car cameras mounted…

  10. Gotta say that Dario’s stock went up a tick or two on my list with this. This is a great piece, George. I’ve long been a watcher/listener of Indy, didn’t get to see it in person until I was working there on a team (grew up in CA). Jim Clark was one of many racing heroes to me through the years. His teammate at Indy in ’63 (Dan Gurney) was also one of my heroes, and the owner of the first team I worked for at Indy. I so agree with A.J.’s comments about the focus of most on today only, and completely missing the history of the Speedway. Thanks for this article.

  11. There’s only one thing I’m disappointed about: The fact that this barely rated any coverage elsewhere. Heck, even Calvin’s story only provided a couple of paragraphs mentioning this. What I would’ve loved to have seen is a complete filming, including his reactions in car while driving. Of coruse, that’s after the fact, and impossible now, but man… imagine how he would’ve acted. In the spirit of what I said above: Could you imagine, say, a current baseball star with one of his hero’s mitts? Or moving outside of sports, an modern actor with, say, one of Clark Gable’s suits from Gone With The Wind? Or an army officer in one of the C-43 Dakota’s that was actually used on D-Day? Someone who’s developed the love for the history, and the admiration for a prior driver like Franchitti has with Clark would have a wonderfully joyful reaction, and it’s elements like that that get across just how special this sport has been and can be again. That’s why I would’ve loved to have seen it filmed or taped: It would’ve illuminated the deep roots Indycar racing has.

  12. David Wells wore one of Babe Ruth’s Yankees cap in a game while he was pitching for the Bronx Bombers in the “old” Yankee stadium. The officials told him to take it off and wear the current cap. A bit overboard, maybe, but Wells clearly understood how special that moment was and that he was the keeper of a very special cap.

    • P. Manning wanted to wear black high top cleats for a game to honor Johnny Unitas but the league wouldn’t allow it–said it violated league policy.

  13. The man gets to drive Jim Clarks Lotus, goes home to Ashley Judd, and still has all his hair. Now that’s some kind of trifecta if you ask me.

    Ok, so nobody asked me. I’m jus sayin’………

    Nice story George. Last spring I took the tour of the track and the museum. The tour was first class like everything else there. I don’t mind telling y’all that standing on the bricks at that track and being immersed in all that history brought a tear to this old man’s eyes. I would encourage anyone to take the tour if you have an opportunity to do so.

    This year I am going to pony up some bucks and drive a car around the track. Hopefully it won’t be a KV car.

  14. As Leigh says, the internet has its fair share of idiot commentators and it certainly is not limited to the IndyCar world. Potatoes and sheep. What the hell is he talking about??!! The comments following a story about any sport quickly degenerate into the mindless mutterings of mental midgets.

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