INDIANAPOLIS - After he had a drink of milk and after he had kissed the yard of bricks, Dario Franchitti had time to reflect back on what the whole experience of winning his third Indianapolis 500 was about and how he came to be there.
Franchitti, as much as he is one of the greatest race car drivers of his generation, is also very much a student of the sport.
His earliest memories are of watching his two racing heroes — Jimmy Clark and Jackie Stewart — bring glory and acclaim to his beloved Scotland.
Franchitti related how he met Stewart when he was just a teenager, making his first steps towards a racing career.
Stewart took him under his wing, acting almost like a surrogate parent when he was away at a racing event.
“My mom brought me up right,” Franchitti said. “When I misbehaved, if any of you have met my mom, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
“But Jackie was a great person for me to meet at that stage of my life, the education he gave me. And he continues to do so. Still now I phone him up, ‘Jackie, what do I do here?’
“He’ll give me some advice. He has such an unusual way of thinking about things sometimes. He’s got such a great brain. I’m always grateful to Jackie.”
And Clark was the kind of driver Franchitti always dreamed of being.
The winner of two world championships in Formula One, Clark was killed in a race in 1968 at Hockenheim at just 32 years old.
Despite his tragically shortened career he was voted the greatest F-1 driver in history by the Times of London.
“Jimmy Clark, he’s the guy, between him and Jackie, the guys I wanted to emulate, to drive like, I guess,” Franchitti said. “I don’t have their talent, so I try and work hard. I’m lucky I’m with a great team.”
That there is in essence what Franchitti is — still modest even after his already impressive accomplishments. He said that he never thought about a third win in the weekend leading up to this year’s Indy 500.
“I don’t come in here with any expectations for the race,” he said. “I work on my car during practice; I just go out and do the best job I can.
“I don’t go into it thinking, I’m going to win this one.”
Franchitti also said that he refuses to see himself among the greats of IndyCar racing even though his resume places him right up there.
Just one more Indy win and will be on a level with such legends as A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Jr. and Rick Mears.
The 39-year-old Franchitti also has four IndyCar championships, 31 IndyCar victories to go with his three Indianapolis 500 victories.
He said there will be lots of time when he is finished racing to look back and reflect on what he has been able to achieve.
“Maybe when I retire, I’ll think about it then,” he said. “I’m very proud — and I’ve said this before — of the achievements, whether it’s Indy wins, championships, every one of the race wins.
“Sometimes I look back, but generally I’m trying to look forward. When I retire, that’s the time to look back and hang out with my friends, hang over the fence, shout abuse at Dixie (Scott Dixon), Will (Power), Tony (Kanaan), all the guys that are still racing.
“(Sunday) I was lucky enough to be in the green room and Parnelli (Jones), (Bobby) Unser, (Johnny) Rutherford came up. This is cool. T.K. and I were getting our pictures taken with them. We were like a couple of kids. We were with the legends of the sport.
“I guess the time to look back is when I’m retired.”
In a more sombre moment, Franchitti said that with all the accolades comes the darker side of his sport — a sport that claimed the life of not only his childhood hero but his two best friends — Canada’s Greg Moore in 1999 at Fontana Speedway and last season, Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“I think racing is emotion, life is, as well,” he said. “But racing I think really exemplifies that, if that’s the right word. And Vegas was the lowest of the low. Fontana ’99 and Vegas last year were the lowest of the low.
“I think the reason we all got back in the cars, the reasons all the mechanics got back in Pit Lane, the fans came back to the races, is days like (Sunday), the emotion of it. That’s certainly why I got back in the car.
“There’s not a feeling like standing in Victory Lane there. There isn’t.”