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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 May 2007, 18:04 GMT 19:04 UK
Scot Dario becomes an American idol
By Julian Shea

Dario Franchitti
Franchitti holding the traditional Indy winner's bottle of milk
He collects Ferraris, flies a helicopter, is married to a Hollywood actress, and has won one of the blue riband events of world motorsport.

And he can walk the streets of his hometown Edinburgh largely unrecognised.

But on Sunday millions of television viewers around the world certainly knew who Dario Franchitti was, as the 34-year-old Scot won the 91st running of America's most prestigious motor race, the Indianapolis 500.

Franchitti's win for the Andretti Green Racing team emulates the success of all-time greats such as Graham Hill and Jim Clark, who also both crossed the Atlantic to triumph at the circuit known as the Brickyard.

When he went to the US I was certain he would be a power to be reckoned with over there

Sir Jackie Stewart
Clark is such an inspiration to Franchitti that he has a room in his house set aside specifically for memorabilia of the two-time Formula One world champion.

And Franchitti could have followed his fellow Scot into the world of F1 had he not chosen to move to America 10 years ago, having paid his dues in the lower categories of European competition.

Three-time F1 world champion Sir Jackie Stewart, who twice raced in the Indy 500 himself, knows Franchitti well from those early days.

"I always saw Dario as a top-flight talent," Stewart told BBC Sport.

"In the early 1990s he was a leading force for Paul Stewart Racing, the team I had with my son.

"When he went to the US I was certain he would be a power to be reckoned with over there."

Dario Franchitti
Age: 34
Birthplace: Edinburgh
Married: Ashley Judd
Lives: Nashville
Scottish Junior Kart champion 1984
British Junior Kart champion 1985, 1986
Scottish Senior Kart champion 1988
Formula Vauxhall Junior champion 1991
McLaren/Autosport Young Driver of the Year 1992
Formula Vauxhall Lotus Champion 1993
German Touring Car Championship, fifth place 1995
Debut season in US Cart series 1997
US Cart series runner-up 1999
Suffers serious back injury 2003
Indy 500 winner 2007

But when Franchitti broke his back in a motorbike accident in Scotland in 2003, the mere prospect of driving again, let alone winning the Indy 500, must have seemed a distant dream.

"He was out of racing for a while after injuring his back in a motorbike accident and some people thought it might have destroyed his entire career," said Stewart.

"So it's great for him to come back and win after people wrote him off."

Franchitti's father George owned a string of ice cream parlours in Scotland before retiring, and now travels the world watching all his son's races.

And despite Franchitti having entered the world of A-grade American celebrity through his marriage to actress and singer Ashley Judd, Stewart said these family ties ensure his feet remain firmly on the ground.

"He's never lost his Scottishness, his accent, or any of his values," he said.

"Dario's very straightforward, he hasn't changed at all with his fame, and becoming a celebrity.

"He enjoys his life fully, is good with his sponsors and presents himself well - he's one of the nicest men I know."

Collecting Ferraris, attending red-carpet premieres and flying your own helicopter are a lifetime away from the junior karting circuit, where the young Franchitti began his racing career.

He worked and won his way up the junior ranks before entering the Formula Vauxhall Lotus championship for Paul Stewart Racing in 1992.

He's a gentleman, a very nice guy - he'll stop and talk to the people in the pits

Bill McDonald
Vice-chair, Scotland Kart Club

The following year he won the class, and spent the next three years competing in Formula Three and German Touring Cars before trying his luck in American Cart racing in 1997.

One of his few career disappointments occurred in 2000, when he had an unsuccessful try-out with the Jaguar F1 team.

"I think he was good material for F1 but perhaps he had stayed too long in America before making the approach to get a test drive," said Stewart.

"The drive went well, but because of his canniness he spent the morning getting to know the car, not putting in quick laps.

"But there was a mechanical problem which prevented him doing the laps he might have done later, so the laps he did in the morning may not have met the expectation of those in power. He was definitely worthy of more testing.

"The reality of life is that you play with the cards you pick out of the pack. I'm sure he would have preferred some of his success to be in F1 but it was not to be.

Dario Franchitti
Dario Franchitti and wife Ashley Judd celebrate his Indy 500 win

"But outside winning the Indy 500, he can be very proud of what he's achieved in his life."

Even before he could walk, motor racing was already part of Franchitti's life.

As a baby, he watched his father drive karts at the West of Scotland Kart Club, and club vice-chairperson Bill McDonald remembers him as a talented youngster.

"He had good equipment and it was always well maintained and well set-up, which comes from the family background," he told BBC Sport.

"The Franchittis have been involved in motorsport for years and that knowledge got funnelled down to the youngsters early on."

Despite being one of the club's most successful graduates, Franchitti is treated the same as anyone else on his frequent return visits - not that he is the sort to complain.

"He just turns up like anyone else and walks about - there are still a lot of people here who know him from his young days," said McDonald.

"He's a gentleman, a very nice guy - he'll not walk past you, he'll stop and talk to the people in the pits. He's certainly not aloof."

His journey from Bathgate to Hollywood has certainly not been without its setbacks and moments of hardship.

But as the victor's garland was put around his neck last Sunday, Dario Franchitti was living proof that sometimes life really does produce a Hollywood ending.

Scot Franchitti clinches Indy 500
27 May 07 |  Motorsport


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