Desmond Kane

Dario Franchitti deserves knighthood like mentor Sir Jackie Stewart

Desmond Kane

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They say that nice guys finish last in life. Dario Franchitti is living and breathing proof that such a notion remains clichéd bunkum. If it was ever true in the first place. Here was a figure who knew all about first places.

It was Franchitti's natural habit amid his rise to 31 victories in IndyCar, including three of the very best at the iconic Indianapolis 500, and four IndyCar titles in the US-based series.

The good fortune of a racing driver owes much to fate. When it became public knowledge on Thursday that Franchitti's career had been cut short on doctor's orders, it was perhaps somewhat predictable after footage is studied of his horrific crash in Houston last month.

Franchitti's retirement from his aptitude may sound tragic, but at least he has been allowed the option of saying farewell on his own terms. The magnitude of the crash Franchitti was involved in could have been his final contribution to life.

To the part-time onlooker, one of the main criticisms of IndyCar is the cut-throat nature of it compared to Formula One.

It seems an IndyCar driver has nowhere to go when they make an error other than into a wall, a dilemma that does not come with an option when the wheels have been set in motion.

'Somebody up there likes me' perhaps never sounded so apt regarding Franchitti's accident in Houston. If he can recover, he should be thankful for some sterling times.

Franchitti, a sprightly 40 born in Bathgate in Scotland, was left with spinal and head injuries, concussion and a broken ankle. Such was the force of the crash into a wall at the circuit, two spectators were transported to hospital for treatment after debris was sent spinning into the grandstands.

Others have not been so fortunate. Franchitti's crash came two years after his fellow British driver Dan Wheldon died at Las Vegas Motor Speedway amid a brutal 15-car crash. Greg Moore perished in Fontana, California some 14 years ago.

The main concern enveloping Franchitti are the head injuries suffered. There is only so much trauma the brain can sustain in such pressurised environs. Like boxing, rugby union, American football and skiing, internal damage is difficult to gauge.

Since beginning racing carts 30 years ago as an aspiring junior under the guidance of fellow Scottish racing titan Sir Jackie Stewart, it is fair to say Franchitti has suffered a few dunts to the head.

"Dario was one of the drivers I always looked up to as a youngster. He's a proper legend of the sport," said Franchitti's fellow Brit Jenson Button, the 2009 F1 world champion.

"He's achieved so much, but he also carries himself so well. He's such a nice person, a lovely guy. It's a shame he is retiring because he is still very young at heart, but he's probably doing the right thing after such a big shunt. It's sad to see him go, but I'm sure he's still going to be around the sport."

Nigel Mansell leapt into the world of IndyCar a year after claiming the world title in F1 in 1992. He became the first man to hold both the F1 and IndyCar world titles, but it remains relatively obscure to the uninterested in Europe.

Tom Cruise appearing in Days of Thunder in NASCAR is perhaps the most vivid memory many of the uninitiated possess of racing in America. Europe is a continent where F1 is the favoured method of motorsport.

That should not detract from the Franchitti legacy. Alongside F1 world champions Jim Clark and Stewart, he should be recalled as one of Scotland's and Britain's finest sporting exports.

The man from West Lothian is a cousin of fellow Scot Paul Di Resta, the Force India driver, but never realised an ambition to compete in F1. Perhaps he did not need the endorsement in the end.

Franchitti has lived a charmed life with millions banked, he married a film star wife in Ashley Judd in a Scottish castle back in 2001, but also boasts film star good looks. All that could have meant nothing after the happenings in Houston.

"I had some luck, for sure," he said after walking away from a car tossed in the air in Michigan six years ago. "But a lot of time and effort has gone into making Indy cars and all types of race cars safer throughout the years. I owe my life to the people who have made these advances and someone was definitely looking out for me there today."

Jim Clark won the Indianapolis 500 in 1965, but was killed during a race in Germany three years later.

Perhaps a timely recognition of Franchitti's service to British motorsport should be rewarded in the honours list. Hopefully, he has more to give with less risk attached. It would surely be an appropriate juncture for this country to sound him out about a knighthood.

The criteria for awarding knighthoods in professional sports remain somewhat cloudy, but Franchitti is deserving of the moniker having carried the British flag to millions with an air of real class, social awareness and the common touch since winning in Miami some 16 years ago.

“What Dario has done is great for British motorsport and Scotland. He is one of the great British drivers and I fear we lost a man from F1 who would have been right up there," said Sir Jackie Stewart after the third of those Indy 500 wins last year.

Franchitti retires becoming just the tenth driver to win the Indy 500 at least three times. Only three men, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears, with four wins each, have won more.

One veteran IndyCar writer remarked that Franchitti had similar dash and elan to the French F1 driver Alain Prost, commenting that he would clock faster and faster times with such monotonous regularity that one did not know how fast he was travelling.

A day after winning his first of his three Indy 500s back in 2007, Dario Franchitti washed up at the New York Celtic Supporters's Club, he is an avid follower of the Glasgow football club, to share a bottle of milk with the locals before appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman later that night.

What has come through more than anything in the past 24 hours since news of his retirement dawned has been the caricature of the human face of Franchitti, a smiling figure who was not overly caught up with his own self-importance. That is always a more valuable currency moving forward than any gongs he snared.

In his impending retirement, Franchitti remains a man of the people. Franchitti remains a nice guy who finished first.

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