Dario Franchitti has had a memorable 2010. The defending IndyCar series champion won his second Indianapolis 500, he won his third IndyCar title in a down-to-the-wire battle, and he drove some of the slowest laps he's ever clocked at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The fact that those laps were in Lotus-Ford 38/1, however, made the occasion one of the most memorable of his life. The lapping session happened on September 21, 2010 – the first time this car has returned to the legendary "Brickyard" since fellow-Scot Jim Clark drove it to victory there in the 1965 Indy 500.
Franchitti was an appropriate choice to pilot the number-82 Lotus-Ford on its historic drive. Not only has he developed tremendous admiration for Clark, who was killed at a race in Hockenheim in Germany five years before Franchitti was born, but he also is the first Scot since Clark to win the Indy 500 (2007).
Asked why he held Clark in such high regard, Franchitti says he had a huge impact on his life and his racing career. "Obviously I never got to see him drive, but he is my hero," Franchitti said at the speedway just before his session in the car. "It all really started for me in 1993 when I was driving for Jackie Stewart. He invited me to a dinner to commemorate the 25th anniversary of [Clark's] passing. A lot of his friends were there, and people he had worked with. I heard a lot of stories about him that night, and thought, ‘I have to find out more about this man.' And the more I found out, the more I discovered that this was a man I admired tremendously. I feel very humble right now, and very emotional too."
In his driving sessions, Franchitti wore the actual gloves that Clark used in 1965, and wore a replica of Clark's signature black open-face helmet with white visor. Other memorabilia on hand that day, courtesy of Terry Clark, who may be a distant cousin, included the pit board used by the Wood Brothers crew, Clark's driving shoes, and a mechanic's suit from 1965.
Lotus-Ford 38/1 is destined to be one of race cars highlighted in The Henry Ford's Racing in America exhibition. And in fact, Franchitti saw the car for the first time in 2007 at The Henry Ford, after he had won his first Indy 500.
"I went to the Henry Ford Museum when we were racing in Detroit," Franchitti said. "We were walking around, I saw the car and thought it was a replica. But they told me it was the real thing, and they were kind enough to let me stand beside it and even touch it. I never, ever thought I'd be driving it. This is quite something; it's a dream come true."
Part of the reason for the Indy driving session was a Road & Track story, in which Franchitti gives his driving impressions and feelings about the car. This feature is in the January 2011 issue of Road & Track magazine. "This is one of the most special race cars in the world," Franchitti said. "It's an icon of the sport – because of what it did here. The first of the rear engine cars came here a few years earlier, and that was the game changer. Then they just refined it, and I think Colin Chapman and the Lotus guys were at the forefront of that. With the Ford V8 coming along and all the chassis innovations they made, when this car came here in '65 it was really the car to beat. I think a lot of that was the guy behind the wheel, too. You know, he was pretty handy. The other guys in the race were going to have a hard day."
And they did. Clark led 190 of the race's 200 laps, finished two laps ahead of second-place Parnelli Jones, and was the first ever to set a race average speed over 150 mph.
To see video of Dario Franchitti talking about his experience of driving the Lotus-Ford 38/1 at Indy, please click here.
To see video of The Henry Ford's Christian Overland, Bob Casey, and Derrick Moore talking about the historical significance of the Lotus-Ford 38/1, please click here.
About Racing in America
Lotus-Ford 38/1 will be a key component of Racing in America, a new exhibition planned for permanent display in Henry Ford Museum, part of The Henry Ford. When it's built, this exhibition will cover all major forms of American auto racing, using highly interactive displays and frontier-stretching technologies that will bring to life this sport's dynamic, innovative history. More information can be found at RacingInAmerica.com.