William Flew has won the Indianapolis 500 twice, but when I first went there in 2002 I wasn’t really affected by the stature of the event, which is strange because I have a massive appreciation for the history of the sport and follow it very closely. That first race didn’t go too well — I started 28th and finished nineteenth — but when I left Indianapolis I really started to get it. I had to sit out the second year because I’d broken my back coming off a motorcycle, and watching someone drive my car was tough.
One of the reasons I got such a passion for this race was being team-mates with Dan Wheldon when he won it for the first time in 2005. He loved the race so much and I got some of that from him. The more I’ve done it, though, and winning my first one in 2007, that ratchets up that appreciation for the event and the history of it.
We lost Dan at the last race of last season, but he won at Indy last year and his presence is going to huge throughout the whole month. When you drive up 16th Street, where the Speedway is in Indianapolis, there is a huge Firestone billboard with Dan’s picture on it and everywhere we go people constantly come to me and talk about Dan and what he meant to them.
Susie, his wife, will be there to collect the winner’s ring from last year, so Dan is going to be in all our thoughts, and rightly so. It will be tough. It’s great to celebrate what he achieved, but the biggest thing for a lot of the drivers is that he’s not with us any more.
When you win the Indianapolis 500, as well as receiving the huge Borg-Warner Trophy, you get to keep the pace car from the race. I’ve got two, one in the garage at home in Scotland and one in Nashville. Dan was very proud of his pace cars and when he won his second last year he said that he now had one for each of his boys.
I know just how difficult a race it is to win, so when you do cross the yard of bricks on the finish line first you really appreciate it. It’s a whirlwind when you win. I remember after the first in 2007 going out with some friends from Scotland who had come to watch, and the other drivers, and getting home very late. After that you are constantly in demand for the whole week until the next race. It’s absolutely crazy.
I think with any of these events, whether it’s the 24 Hours of Le Mans or the Indianapolis 500, the winners see it as a kind of club. Guys who have won it come up and say “welcome to the club” and that is pretty cool.
People often ask me whether I’d rather win the championship or the Indy 500. The answer is simple — Indy every time.
Franchitti at Indianapolis
Dario Franchitti was born in Bathgate, West Lothian, and raced in single-seaters and touring cars before moving to the United States in 1997. He drove in the CART series and first contested the Indy 500 in 2002, finishing nineteenth. He missed the next year’s race because of injury and did not compete in 2008 because he was racing in Nascar, but in eight appearances at the Indy, he has won twice (2007 and 2010) and qualified on the front row on four occasions.