Franchitti planning to keep his hands on racing

Dario Franchitti hobbled into Thursday’s news conference on

crutches and sat down between IndyCar’s two most cherished prizes –

the series championship trophy and the Indianapolis 500 trophy.

That’s when it all hit home for Tony Kanaan, Chip Ganassi’s

employees – and Franchitti himself.

He is done racing.

More than a month after abruptly announcing his retirement,

Franchitti finally felt well enough to spend 20 minutes answering

questions about the frightening October crash that forced him to

reluctantly walk away from a sport that turned the thoughtful,

polite Scotsman into an international celebrity.

”I spent two days kind of thinking, `How can I get around

this?”’ Franchitti said. ”I’ve driven with a lot of broken body

parts over the years and I thought, `There’s got to be a way,’ and

there just wasn’t.”

It took Franchitti nearly 2 1/2 months just to make it back onto

the public stage after the crash at Houston. Debris from the

accident injured 13 fans in the grandstands and an IndyCar

official, while the four-time IndyCar champion and three-time

Indianapolis 500 winner was diagnosed with a fractured spine, a

broken right ankle and a concussion.

Franchitti has had surgery twice on the ankle, which is why he

continues to use crutches, but the lingering effects of the

concussion were a major concern for physicians and friends.

As recently as three weeks ago, the 40-year-old Franchitti still

wasn’t himself.

”He was in my house and he wasn’t there. You know, his body was

there, but he wasn’t there,” said Kanaan, the 2013 Indianapolis

500 champ and one of Franchitti’s closest friends. ”When you see a

friend not speaking right, you know slowly, asking the same

questions 10 times and sleeping 16 hours a day, you know

something’s not right.”

The doctors explained the risks of getting back in the car and

the potential consequences. Franchitti, who had overcome everything

from concussions to a broken back during his incredible career,

knew this time was different.

”I said, `Tony, I’m not sure how this going to work out. I’m

not sure if I’m going to be OK,”’ Franchitti said, explaining how

he asked Kanaan to drive the No. 10 car if he could not. ”That day

was the first day I thought, `I might be in trouble here,’ but you

don’t really have all your mental faculties when you’re in that

condition.”

Franchitti was in far better shape Thursday.

After thanking fans and friends for their support and

apologizing to reporters for not taking questions sooner,

Franchitti teased Kanaan about showing up for the news conference

in a black shirt and black slacks. He later reached down to

Kanaan’s image on the Borg-Warner Trophy and joked he thought the

nose was actually doubling as a handle for the trophy.

That’s more like the fun-loving Franchitti colleagues and fans

have known the years.

Kanaan is convinced Franchitti will not attempt a comeback when

he is healthy.

”I don’t think he’s going to do anything that’s going to

jeopardize his life,” Kanaan said.

The good news is that Franchitti will still be around the track.

While he won’t be jumping into the cockpit, Franchitti has agreed

to continue working with Ganassi’s team in a still-undefined

role.

Team manager Mike Hull believes Franchitti can help the four-car

team make a smooth transition with two new drivers – Kanaan, who

will replace Franchitti in the No. 10 car, and Ryan Briscoe, a

former Indy pole winner – without losing any of the dominance

Ganassi’s team has had over the past five seasons. The holdover

drivers are three-time series champion Scott Dixon and Charlie

Kimball, an emerging American who won his first IndyCar race last

season.

”What made Chip Ganassi Racing what it is today is the

independent perspective within the people here, and he (Franchitti)

has an independent perspective that can help us,” Hull said.

Franchitti finishes his IndyCar career with 31 wins, eighth

all-time, and 33 poles, sixth all-time. After making the move from

Champ Car to IndyCar with Michael Andretti’s team, he won the first

of his three Indy crowns in 2007, then signed on to race for

Ganassi’s NASCAR team. When things didn’t go well, he returned to

IndyCars with Ganassi in 2009 and dominated the series by winning

12 races, twice at Indy, and three consecutive points titles.

It wasn’t just what Franchitti did on the track that mattered.

He served as a mentor and coach for teammates, offered advice to

anyone who sought it and became an outspoken proponent for improved

safety measures when his close friend and former teammate Dan

Weldon died in the 2011 crash at Las Vegas. His 11-year marriage to

actress Ashley Judd, which ended in January, also gave the series

crossover appeal.

But he leaves with a racing resume and fan base that will be

hard to match.

”There have been some crap days and some devastating days, but

since I started with go-karts, I’ve had a really fun time,” said

Franchitti, who grew up in Europe with ambitions of one day racing

in Formula One. ”Who knows if I’d ever gotten into F1, how it

would have turned out? Scotland has always been my home, but I

always felt at home on the track here in America.”