Dario Franchitti took the racing world by surprise on November 14, 2013, when he announced his retirement from racing due to injuries sustained in an Oct 6, 2013, crash and the advice of his doctors.
Among those surprised were his teammate, Scott Dixon, and his team owner, Chip Ganassi, who received a call from Scotland, where Franchitti went after medical tests in Miami. “There was something different in his voice,” Ganassi recalled. “His demeanor was different. I immediately asked what was wrong.”
What was wrong was the potential for serious injury if there was a repeat of the type of concussion Franchitti had incurred. Although Ganassi indicates that the Scotsman is expected to make a full recovery, another incident could have a far different outcome.
“He’s heartbroken,” Ganassi said, “but he’s a realist. He doesn’t want to put himself or anyone else at risk. He wouldn’t give the sport a black eye by disregarding medical advice.”
Thus, the four-time IndyCar series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner who has been a part of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing family for so many years will have to give up his seat in the #10 car, ending his driving career tied for eighth on the all-time list with 31 career wins and 33 pole positions.
“His name is up there with the greats,” Ganassi eulogized, noting that Franchitti is the only driver in history to win three consecutive titles.
Recognizing that Franchitti would have preferred to leave on his own terms and that it is disheartening to be told by his doctors that he must quit, Ganassi intends to retain him in some role. “He loves the sport, he understands the sport. He wants to stay involved, so he will continue with the team in some capacity. He will be a great ambassador. It will be a new chapter in his career.”
While Ganassi said the focus is on Franchitti, he now has two seats to fill because he remains committed to running a four-car team in 2014. Drivers signed to the team include reigning series champion Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball. “The 10 car has strong sponsorship. Target has given its support for moving forward.”
Although he claims he hasn’t decided whether to hire a “proven talent” or a “young up-and-comer,” Ganassi said there are “better places to come in than the 10 car. I would love the opportunity to give a young guy a chance, but those are big shoes to fill; there’s a lot to it, including helping his teammates.” Ultimately, he said, he will follow the advice of former engineer Morris Nunn, who told him to “take the best driver available at the time.”
Statement from Dario Franchitti:
Since my racing accident in Houston, I have been in the expert care of some of the leading doctors and nurses, all of whom have made my health, my safety and my recovery their top priority. I am eternally grateful for the medical care I have received over the last several weeks. I’d also like to thank my family and friends for their unbelievable support.
One month removed from the crash and based upon the expert advice of the doctors who have treated and assessed my head and spinal injuries post accident, it is their best medical opinion that I must stop racing. They have made it very clear that the risks involved in further racing are too great and could be detrimental to my long term well-being. Based on this medical advice, I have no choice but to stop.
Racing has been my life for over 30 years and it’s really tough to think that the driving side is now over. I was really looking forward to the 2014 season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, with a goal of winning a fourth Indianapolis 500 and a fifth IndyCar Series championship.
I’d like to thank all my fellow competitors, teammates, crew and sponsors for their incredible support over the course of this amazing ride. I’d also like to thank Hogan Racing, Team KOOL Green and Andretti Green Racing for the opportunities to compete on the racetrack, and especially Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who have become like a family to me since I joined their team back in 2008. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank all my fans around the world. I can’t thank you enough for standing by my side for all these years.
I’ll forever look back on my time racing in CART and the IndyCar Series with fond memories and the relationships I’ve forged in the sport will last a lifetime.
Hopefully in time, I’ll be able to continue in some off-track capacity with the IndyCar Series. I love open-wheel racing and I want to see it succeed. I’ll be working with Chip to see how I can stay involved with the team, and with all the amazing friends I’ve made over the years at Target.
IndyCar has always struggled to come up with a suitable schedule that maximizes TV audiences without conflicting with football. Through the years, a variety of excuses has been distributed, including competition from CART and NASCAR. Despite “the merge” and numerous personnel changes at the executive level, some things never change … unless they could possibly get worse.
In recent years, an extended off-season has resulted in regular lay-offs at many teams. Previously due to the lack of need for testing of a car run for years, lay-offs are now most often due to a lack of funds. Money is tight when sponsorships are limited. One of the first expenses teams are willing to cut is employee salaries and benefits. Teams gamble on finding qualified crew people to hire just before the season begins, work them to death in preparation, and then cut them loose in September to save costs. It’s sad treatment of longtime racers who are dedicated to the sport.
Meanwhile, prime racing months – September and October – are void of IndyCar competition. Fans cry out for races, particularly at favorite traditional venues such as Road America, MIS, PIR and Laguna Seca, but series officials fret over TV numbers once football season commences, so they now shy away from idyllic weather, opting instead to cram a full season in back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back weekends of racing early in the year, with no time for teams – or fans – to catch their breath. The second half of the season, with repeated three-week breaks, is anti-climactic for all involved. By the time the championship is decided, it’s a wonder anyone still remembers it’s going on.
The situation has long needed overhauling. The appointment of Derrick Walker as IndyCar’s president of operations and competition gave hope to those working in the industry that common sense would prevail as a man with experience and understanding worked to shape the series’ future. Now some of them are wondering what happened to that promising prospect.
The 2014 schedule will look little different than the two seasons before it, with the season ending by Labor Day. Minor tweaks will have little effect. St. Pete might become a doubleheader, Pocono is likely to be expanded to a 500-miler and Brazil will probably move to a new date due to a conflict with Carnival … or move off the schedule completely.
To accommodate the late-summer end of the season, Fontana may be moved to June, a month that already has four races on the schedule. Adding it to the end of June would extend the five-week-straight run of races to eight weeks – and actually, more than that when opening weekend and qualifying weekend at the Brickyard are included. In addition, rumors are running strong that a road course race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be added at the beginning of May.
June is a hot month for Fontana, as August is a hot month for Texas. Two double-headers and three 500-milers would be in the mix with road courses, short ovals and large ovals. It’s a lot for crews to handle.
Instead of strengthening IndyCar’s American base and solidifying a sensible schedule from March to October that doesn’t hold teams hostage for weeks on end, Walker is reportedly considering sending them off shore for a winter championship in 2015.
According to Autosport, the purpose is to provide teams with new revenue streams. However, considering the complaints of nearly every team about the costs of competing in IndyCar, the cost of the DW12 and of spares, and the difficulty in procuring sponsorship, it’s hard to imagine how they would have the finances to fund a second championship off the continent. If, as Walker has outlined, the races are non-points-paying, it’s hard to imagine why teams would bother.
As he told Autosport, “Our teams need income and an international component to their season would help strengthen their financial position.” Someone should inform Walker that races are an expense for teams, not a source of income.
Another possibility Walker is reputed to be considering is beginning the season overseas as early as January. While it’s laudable that he wants to reduce the off-season and he recognizes that there isn’t much for teams to do from September to October, it seems inconceivable that he would prefer to alienate American fans by starting the season out of the country – although, as he says, it’s better than ending it there.
The problem is that extending the series to October doesn’t mean the season has to end on foreign soil. It just means racing has to compete against football. Other series survive the stick-and-ball sports, begging the question of IndyCar’s health and the mystery of which will sound its death knell sooner: losing American fans through foreign races or to football.
With draft agreements already in place with a number of promoters and has proposed a five-event schedule starting at the end of 2014, thanks to a European group called World Series Operations, the answer may soon be in hand.
IndyCar appears to want to make it more difficult for fans and crews. There is no schedule continuity: race dates change from year to year. Start times change from week to week, with Saturday night races and double headers thrown in for added confusion. Cross-country back-to-back races and races for weeks on end – with a test thrown into an already killer schedule – followed by months-long lay-offs from September to March discourage people from working in the series. And yet, the prospect of spending the “off-season” abroad, with no break at all, is equally repellent. Is it too much to ask that IndyCar take a page from Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One schedule, where races are predominantly scheduled from March through October, mostly every other weekend, and nearly always start at 1 p.m. local time? That enables the fans to know when to expect to see their favorite sport and allows them – and the teams – a life beyond the track.Read More
What 54-year-old couldn’t use a facelift? Daytona International Speedway is undergoing a dramatic overhaul intended to create a modern look and feel for the aging frontstretch grandstands.
Calling it a “complete reimagining” of an American icon, International Speedway Corp., which owns and operates Daytona and 12 other NASCAR tracks, produced a design featuring many amenities commonly found in modern NFL stadiums, such as wide concourses, themed restaurants, gathering areas with video screens and wifi capability, five expanded and redesigned entrances, a new pedestrian bridge and the addition of 40 escalators.
The $400 million construction budget makes this redevelopment project the largest capital improvement project in ISC history. Officials like to think of it as “preparing for next 50 years: predicting the future for the fans and the sport.” Such innovative thinking is in keeping with the track’s history.
Built in 1958 by NASCAR founder William France Sr., the revolutionary high-banked 2.5-mile tri-oval permitted faster speeds and enhanced the fans’ view. Lights were installed around the track in 1998, making it the third-largest single lit outdoor sports facility.
Home of the Daytona 500, the Florida track also hosts races of other series, including ARCA, AMA Superbike, Grand-Am, SCCE and Motocross. A 3.81-mile road course, built in 1959, incorporates part of the oval. Since 1966, it has been the site of a 24-hour endurance race for sports cars. A 29-acre lake in the 180-acre infield has hosted powerboat racing.
A 0.4-mile short track was constructed along the backstretch of the Speedway’s main course for NASCAR’s lower-tier series. A quarter-mile dirt track outside of Turns 1 and 2 of the main superspeedway opened in 2009.
The famed speedway has been renovated three times: an infield renovation in 2004 and track repaving in 1978 and 2010.
The intent of the project, according to ISC, is to enhance the overall experience for the fans, marketing partners and the motorsports industry by creating a world-class facility with premium amenities. “We are truly creating history with this unprecedented endeavor, said ISC’s chief operating officer Lesa France Kennedy. “The decision was made with strong consideration of the current macroeconomic condition and a clear view for our long-term growth.”
ISC’s clear view extends to providing fans with a superior racing experience. The process, started more than a year ago, will provide more accommodating, expanded entrances along International Speedway Boulevard that lead directly to a series of escalators and elevators, which transport fans to three different concourse levels, each of which features spacious and strategically place social “neighborhoods” along the nearly one-mile-long frontstretch.
The 11 neighborhoods, each measuring the size of a football field, will allow fans to socialize during events without missing any action on the track, thanks to an open-sightline design and the addition of dozens of video screens. The central neighborhood, dubbed the “World Center of Racing,” will celebrate the history of Daytona International Speedway and its many unforgettable moments throughout more than 50 years of racing.
Every seat along the Speedway frontstretch will be replaced with wider and more comfortable seating. More restrooms and concession stands will be added throughout the facility.
The project also includes the removal of backstretch grandstands. “We cannot provide the same experience back there that we can provide on the front stretch,” explains DIS President Joie Chitwood III. “No matter whether you sit in the front row, the middle or the top row, we want the fans to have access to all the amenities, and we can do that on the front stretch. On the back stretch, you feel disconnected from the venue. We listened to the fans back there.”
Once, tracks added seats for NASCAR races, but these days, reducing capacity is the new trend. International Speedway Corp. announced it will continue decreasing seating capacity at its racetracks to create more ticket demand.
When the project is complete, Daytona will have reduced its capacity by 46,000 seats to 101,000, with the potential to increase permanent seating to 125,000 if needed in the future. ISC will target seating that doesn’t include sightlines to pit road and the opportunity for fans to take advantage of prerace events and track amenities.
“There [are] simply too many seats in inventory at several facilities in our portfolio,” ISC President John Saunders points out. “The seats that we have today don’t necessarily offer or project the best experience for our fans. An engaged customer, one who understands the sport and has a good at-track experience, is more likely to return.”
No seating or capacity changes will be made for Speedweeks 2014. The capacity decrease “could occur in stages,” according to track officials.
“We will take great care of our loyal existing customers throughout this renovation,” Saunders adds. “They can expect to receive additional direct communication as we proceed with construction.”
No new taxes were levied to pay for this project
Vast as the project is, ISC was forced to reduce the scale of the redevelopment when they failed to secure a public/private partnership with the state of Florida. Plans for renovation of the midway outside the track were eliminated from the revised plans due to the decision by Florida’s legislature not to assist with public funds. “The major overhaul of the midway area was taken out,” Chitwood reiterates. “The midway area is all the ground between the gates and International Speedway Boulevard.”
Instead, ISC will fund the project from its coffers, using a majority of the $600 million capital expenditure budget it has for all of its tracks combined over a five-year period from 2013 to 2017.
Despite the major investment being made and reduced seating capacity, Chitwood assures fans that ticket prices will continue to be affordable, coolers will be allowed and free parking will be available. “We are not going to turn around and leverage ticket prices; we know our fans need good entry-level pricing.”
Meanwhile, DIS officials continue to press the state to change its mind about the initiative. “I do believe we have a great story to tell and I do believe we should be treated more fairly like the other sports properties in terms of sales tax rebates,” Chitwood said, promising to go to Tallahassee frequently to remind state leaders how special Daytona is, and that ISC is making a huge investment not only to the Daytona area and Volusia County, but to the state of Florida as well.
DIS has created more than 18,000 permanent Florida jobs and contributes over $1.6 billion annually to the state’s economy. The Daytona International Speedway Frontstretch Improvement and Mixed-Use Facility projects are expected to add 4,250 new construction jobs and nearly 1,300 permanent jobs. Whenever possible, local labor, contractors and suppliers will be used. An official statement from ISC and DIS notes that not only are both headquartered in Florida, they also add significantly to the state’s employment and revenue stream.
Until the state changes its mind about providing funding, Chitwood says, “I am proud to say that we have been able to retain all the amenities that we wanted to have in the grandstand structure in terms of the entrances, the seat comfort, restrooms and all those elements.”
While not as ambitious as initially proposed, the renovation is still considered substantive and the hope is that once completed, it will turn Daytona, which officials have dubbed the “World Center of Racing,” into a show place.
Lesa France Kennedy, ISC’s CEO, said the project would be “truly creating history with this unprecedented endeavor. I commend the board’s decision to move forward on our plan to redevelop the company’s signature motor sports facility, thereby shaping the vision of Daytona for the next 50 years.”
On the Monday following the Coke Zero 400, Chitwood staged an unusual ground-breaking ceremony that pitted current and former NASCAR drivers and crew chiefs in a driving-skills test – a competition on Caterpillar front-end loaders. The winning team earned the honor of breaking ground on the redesign.
The three-year project is scheduled to be completed by January 2016, just prior to the Rolex24 endurance race. The dates of its races — including all February Speedweeks activity and the July 4 race week — will be unaffected next year, but it’s unclear how construction could affect the track’s events beyond 2014. “Obviously, if we’re going to do anything different than what we do (now), we’ll let everybody know,” Chitwood said. “Right now, we’re just trying to get through ‘14.”Read More
TV ratings for the IZOD IndyCar 2013 have been in decline all season, with this year’s Indianapolis 500 earning a 3.8, the lowest since the race began airing live in 1986 and the fifth consecutive year in which it has been lower than the previous year.
Attendance at all events has also diminished, despite accolades from the media about good racing and self-congratulatory plaudits from the drivers about this being the deepest pool of talent in decades.
Skeptics point to previous eras laden with talent, periods that also included innovation in the cars instead of today’s spec racing that may have more to do with bunching up the field than supporters are willing to admit.
Nevertheless, in an unpredictable season that has produced six different winners in seven races – none of whom drive for either Penske or Ganassi – the racing has been close and exciting. But does anyone care? The TV ratings have not yet been released, but attendance at the Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader was lackluster and it would be surprising to learn that significant numbers of people stopped to watch races at 3:30 Eastern on both Saturday and Sunday.
Charged with renewing interest in American open wheel racing, former IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard threw everything from his bag of tricks at the problem. His legacy included double headers and double-file restarts, both of which were seen — or not — on the 2.36-mile Belle Isle street course in Detroit.Read More
As transporters began arriving in the motor city for the weekend’s IZOD IndyCar Series Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit, news came that JR Hildebrand had been dismissed by Panther Racing. Although the team called it a “mutual agreement” to terminate Hildrebrand’s contract before it expires at the end of the 2013 season, the 2009 Indy Lights champion who made 37 starts for the Indianapolis-based team has no immediate prospects.
Insider speculation credits three major mistakes for the sudden departure. On the verge of winning the 2011 Indianapolis 500, Hildebrand crashed in the final turn and wound up second to Dan Wheldon. At the St. Pete season opener this year, he rear-ended Will Power under because he was distracted as he talked with his team and adjusted equipment in the car. The final straw came once again at Indy when he lost control in Turn 1 and slid into the outside wall — the first wreck of the 2013 race.
“We’d like to thank JR Hildebrand for his contributions to Panther Racing, and especially the work he put into supporting the National Guard and all of our programs to support its soldiers,” Panther managing partner John Barnes said. “JR is a great young man, a class act, and somebody who has been a great representative of our race team and all of our partners since 2011. We certainly wish JR, his family and his representatives all the best in the future.”
Within hours of the announcement, Panther Racing delivered another surprise in signing Ryan Briscoe, 31-year-old former Team Penske driver who finished 12th in this year’s Indianapolis 500 for Chip Ganassi Racing after being cut loose from the Penske squad. Many had expected Oriol Servia to slide into Hildebrand’s cockpit. The Catalonia driver’s team, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, had partnered with Panther Racing in a joint effort to secure an engine and other support. Nevertheless, Panther DRR announced in early May that financial constraints would result in dissolution after the Indianapolis 500.Read More