By Dave Calabro, WTHR-TV Sports Director - bio | email
Dario takes Dave for a spin!
Springtime in Scotland is cold and damp one minute, warm and brilliant the next. From quaint seaside towns to miles of rolling hills, it is the kind of place where those who leave always come home.
Dario Franchitti is back home.
For the first time ever, he is opening the doors to his private estate, showing his home to Eyewitness News and taking Sports Director Dave Calabro on the ride of a lifetime in his 2012 Indy 500 pace car.
"This will mess your hair up, Dave," Franchitti laughed.
His massive property stretches more than 500 acres. It's nearly impossible to find his house and Dario wants to keep it that way.
"Why are you such a private person? Have you always been that way?" Calabro asked the three-time Indy 500 winner.
"I don't know. When I am working, that's one thing, but away from that, I like to do my own thing and live a private life. One of the great things about being in Scotland is I really can get that. I can get the best of both worlds, which is great," Franchitti said.
Dario's drive to fame started simple. A kid with a dream and a work ethic to make it happen. His father got him started, from racing go-karts to dominating the IndyCar scene.
Franchitti now enjoys the spoils of success and home is the perfect place to recuperate.
He is a survivor. Last fall, he broke his back and right ankle and suffered a concussion. Doctors told him his racing career was over.
"At first, I was looking for a way around it. It became apparent very quickly that I couldn't. I was pretty sad about it. I was pretty...devastated is too strong of a word...I could go down that self pity road. I would say, 'What the hell you going on about here? You got out in almost one piece, you had a career you never dreamed of and you have all things. You were going to race one or two more years anyway," Franchitti said. "Is it ideal? No. But it was a really great ride and I was lucky to do it."
Dario's parents were at home in Scotland and saw the crash on TV.
"We are so lucky. So, so lucky that he's still here," his mother Marina remembers. "It wasn't his time to go. I believe in the safety of that car, I believe in divine intervention, probably in the way it hit."
Dario, however, remembers very little from the October crash in Houston.
"Nothing, really. Nothing concrete, nothing from a long block of time," he said.
"You don't remember race day? The accident? Nothing?" Calabro asked.
"Really two weeks before and two weeks after is a bit of a blur, to be honest," Franchitti replied.
Seven months later, his memory is sharp again. His back and ankle are on the mend and Franchitti embraces every day as a blessing.
The car he drove to Victory Lane in the 2007 Indianapolis 500 is among the memories in his Scotland home.
"This is where it all started, 2007, great memories in this car. Anytime you can win at Indy it's a great day, but that's where it all started. Fun to have it in here, it doesn't get driven much," Franchitti said.
Dario the decorator is now busy moving into a historic home, packed full of Indy 500 memories. It's quite a process, moving 4,000 miles back to Scotland after years in the United States.
Dario lives alone.
"You are a bachelor here in Scotland. What's that like?" Calabro asked.
"I tend to rattle about the house a bit. It's all part of change, I guess," Franchitti replied.
"I can't come to Scotland and not ask you about Ashley Judd," Calabro said. "Tell me where that relationship is and what do you want to say about it?"
"We are great friends. As everyone knows, we got divorced last year," Franchitti said. "Not an easy decision for both of us. She is great. She is a wonderful person. I am lucky we have managed to keep that great friendship and a very, very important person in my life."
Now, Dario is ready to embrace whatever's next in his life.
"Essentially, I got to live my dream. What I dreamed of as a kid, I got to do for 20-plus years and now get to do pretty much what I want to do going forward," he said. "I was very lucky to survive that and other accidents. A couple of my friends didn't."
His parents, George and Marina, are adjusting to his retirement, as well.
"I am not handling it very well at all. I am happy he is finished, as in relieved," his mother said. "I was walking my dog the other day, thinking about how difficult it is going to be for him. I burst out crying. I am walking the dog, crying...for him, because I know it hurts."
At home, Dario has a chance to reflect. He's surrounded with flashbacks of days gone by, including the go-kart that got his racing career started.
"I looked and I looked for this thing for years. I had my first accident in this go-kart. First two accidents, actually," he said.
Racing was his family's life.
"He enjoyed it. I enjoyed it as well, 'cause I thought, 'Well, he's interested, he wants to do it.' I never, ever pushed him," George Franchitti said.
He won his first trophy in 1984 at the age of 11 and went on to win four IndyCar titles and three Indy 500s.
2012 was the most emotional, coming just months after the death of his childhood friend, Dan Wheldon.
"That was something. I'd never done that before, poured the milk on my head, but it was something Dan did, so it seemed like a really fitting tribute, if I could pay a tribute to Dan in Victory Lane," Franchitti said.
He says it's hard to put the loss of Wheldon into words.
"As a driver, sometimes you kind of just block it out, because you've got to keep going, or stop. But if you want to keep going, you've gotta almost block it out," Dario said. "It was a tough time."
Dario will never forget Wheldon and neither will his parents.
"Because when poor Dan passed away, they reviewed the safety aspect of that car, they made changes and I truly believe that those changes saved Dario's life, I do," his mother said.
Franchitti is determined to preserve the memory of those who paved the road for him. He purchased a classic 1965 Indianapolis 500 pace car, from when his hero, fellow Scotsman Jim Clark won the race.
In fact, he is so passionate about Clark, he lends his support to the Jim Clark Museum.
"I think he was a great driver," Dario said. "There is a difference between being a good driver and being a great driver and being one of the all-time greats. There's a big difference."
Now, the humble Scotsman embraces his new life, without those thrilling days of victory.
"Going in there and not being keyed up was really weird. Because every time I show up there at the start of May, for the month of May, I am tightly wound. And I am tightly wound for the whole time until that race is finished," he said. "So to stand there and be, like, 'Okay' and be completely at ease and relaxed was a weird feeling and it's going to be a weird feeling all month."