The IndyCar doubleheader in Houston this weekend was less than a lap from coming to a dramatic but successful end on the streets of this beautiful Texas city. However, things went very bad, very quickly as three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti was injured in a serious crash that also left 13 spectators hurt during the final lap of Grand Prix of Houston.
The tragic accident occurred when Japanese driver Takuma Sato hit the wheel of Franchitti’s car, sending it airborne into the protective fencing. The car spun multiple times against the fence, sending shards of debris flying toward the grandstands and shearing off part of its side. IndyCars are built to break into pieces on impact in large part so that the driver can be protected in a “pod.”
Franchitti, 40, suffered a concussion in the wreck and fractures to his spine and ankle. The spinal fracture does not require surgery, according to Dr. Michael Olinger, director of medical services for IndyCar. Franchitti will be kept overnight at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston.
As someone who has covered NASCAR, IndyCar and other types of racing we simply do not think that anyone will get hurt in these crashes. All of Motor Sports have done a wonderful job of making sure that the cars, as well as the tracks they run on, including the temporary street courses, are safe for the fans.
I can tell you from personal experience that I know many of the NASCAR and IndyCar drivers. I talk to them for interviews each week during the season and at race tracks around the country. These men and some women who make auto racing their profession knowing that one day they could be killed.
A week before Dan Wheldon was killed in a horrific accident on October 16, 2011 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, we talked about his excitement he had heading into the 2012 season. My story ran on October 15 and I got a one word text from Wheldon “Thanks.”
There is no other professional sport that allows the media and their fans the access to the true superstars of their sport better than NASCAR and IndyCar. Win or lose the racers are there to talk with you after or even sometimes during a race if they are no longer running.
Franchitti and I have spoken many times, most recently at the final Grand Prix of Baltimore. He is a gentleman who has no problem taking pictures with his many fans or signing autographs. He has a great sense of humor and often jokes that his large Italian fan base are sometimes confused by his Scottish accent.
Watching the Franchitti crash is very hard for me and a number of his fans to do. We almost lost another good guy, but thankfully he and of course the fans in Houston will survive and move on. That is the best news out of Houston this weekend. But once again we have learned that these men and women are all too human, and as race fans we need to keep that in mind each week we follow the races.