For those drivers who have been received into Victory Lane as the winner of the Indianapolis 500, there is no greater feeling than donning the laurel wreath and taking a sloppy swig from an iced bottle of milk.
It is all part of the grand tradition of winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and it is a feeling that never leaves you.
Dario Franchitti knows the exhilaration of winning the Indy 500, first in 2007, then again in 2010, and for the third time last year. He also knows the struggles a driver must wage in keeping his emotions in check from within the cockpit of a sleek, 1,600-pound, open-wheeled Indy car during that 500-mile crucible.
“I think it’s one of the few things I’ve done in my life the more you do it, the more it means to you,’’ Franchitti said. “That’s a very odd feeling. Each time you come back here you just — it gets deeper, [and] deeper. It’s such a great event.’’
Franchitti’s triumph last year was wrought with emotion as he took the mantel from the late Dan Wheldon, a two-time Indy 500 winner who was killed in a horrific crash in the Izod IndyCar Series finale Oct. 16, 2011, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“You think what a challenge it is to race here, to try to win,’’ Franchitti said upon his return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
On Saturday he will attempt to put one of Chip Ganassi’s four entries on the pole position for the 97th edition of the race next Sunday.
“People take most of their life to try to compete in this race. It means so much to all involved. It’s a special place. It’s a great, great feeling to win it. It hurts like hell when you don’t.’’
Franchitti will attempt to scale Indy’s Mount Rushmore and take his place alongside four-time winners A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Rick Mears.
“I think when you see your likeness on the Borg-Warner Trophy, it kind of takes me back a little bit. Rocks me back on my feet,’’ Franchitti said. “You see all the people beside you, whether it’s great drivers that are friends that you know, and guys you consider heroes, guys from the past who you never met that you are part of that whole hundred years of tradition now. And you’re on that very short list . . . That’s very, very special.’’
In good hands
Derrick Walker, 68, a respected former Indy car owner turned motorsports executive, was tabbed last week as IndyCar’s president of operations and competition, effective May 27. Walker, general manager of Ed Carpenter Racing, will be responsible for all technical and competition aspects. “I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the business of professional racing my entire life, and I have gained valuable experience from many different angles,’’ Walker said. “Leading the operations and competition aspects of IndyCar is a perfect place to leverage my experiences and relationships to help ensure that IndyCar racing is exciting and engaging for our fans, that our drivers and owners are able to showcase their talents through our events, and that our technical partners are able to use our racing platform for innovation and development.’’ . . . When Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened its gates last weekend, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was missing the huge presence of its former chief operating officer, Scott Roembke, who died last Sept. 9 at age 51 after a lengthy illness. After cobbling together a deal that brought 24-year-old Graham Rahal into the fold as driver for his father, Bobby Rahal, the 1986 winner of the Indy 500, it had been Roembke’s goal to be on the radio for the young Rahal at Indy. “Of course, we sure miss not having Scott Roembke with us,’’ said Bobby Rahal. “He was such an important part of this team. But I think we’re feeling his vibe.’’ Rahal said he had to fight to keep IndyCar officials from stealing Roembke from his race team. “I felt Scott had a tremendous sense of what the sport should be, where it should be. He was selfless. He was never looking at how it was going to be good for him; it was all about what was going to be good for the sport.’’
The NASCAR community, gearing up for the Sprint All-Star Weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, reflected on the death of Dick Trickle, 71, a former Sprint Cup driver and short-track legend from Wisconsin who died Thursday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Trickle was winless in 303 Sprint Cup career starts, but won twice on the former Busch Series circuit. Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and native of Cambridge, Wis., fondly recalled Friday watching Trickle race for the first time. “I remember the first time we went to Madison [Wis.] — it was called Capital Speedway then — and there was an [American Speed Association] and it was Trickle and Mark Martin and Ted Musgrave and Bobby Dotter. I mean, it was just like you [couldn’t] believe all the people that were in that race — Alan Kulwicki,’’ Kenseth said. “I remember watching those guys. I mean, like I said, Dick was a — is a legend for a lot of things. For the way he raced, for the way he conducted himself after the races, for all his different formulas for how much sleep he needed and just all the different stuff. He was just a racer’s racer.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com. Material from personal interviews, various sanctioning bodies, track publicity departments, race teams, sponsors, and manufacturers was used in the preparation of this report.