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Driving days over, Franchitti shifts gears

Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dario Franchitti of Britain dons his headgear ahead of the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Ind
Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Dario Franchitti of Britain dons his headgear ahead of the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Ind

By Steve Keating

(Reuters) - Three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti tried to convince himself there was a way back from a career-ending head injury but all roads led to a dead end and his racing days are over, said the IndyCar champion on Thursday.

Speaking publicly for the first time since a horrific last lap crash at the Houston Grand Prix on October 6 left him with two spinal fractures, a concussion and a broken ankle, Franchitti said he tried to negotiate a deal with himself but discovered there was no deal to be made that would see him return to the cockpit of a race car.

"I spent two days thinking, "OK how can I get around this because I have done it before," said Franchitti, during a press briefing at Chip Ganassi Racing headquarters in Indianapolis. "There have been quite a few broken body parts over the years and I kept thinking, there's got to be a way, some kind of negotiation here and there wasn't."

The October crash ended one of IndyCar racing's great careers.

Along with his three Indy 500 titles, the 40-year-old native of Scotland claimed the IndyCar series driver's crown on four occasions, second only to A.J. Foyt. He won 31 Indy Car races from 265 career starts.

"I'm looking forward to the future and rather than being bummed about not getting to drive the number 10 Target car again and other things after that, I'm just very thankful for the career, for the racing I was able to do," said Franchitti, who hobbled into the press conference on crutches. "I've had fun doing this, I'm looking forward to the future now.

"There's been some crap days, there's been some devastating days but for the last 30 years I have had a really good time."

One of those devastating moments came in the October crash when Franchitti's car made contact with Japanese driver Takuma Sato's, went airborne and destroyed a portion of the catch fence before spinning several times while debris was sprayed toward the grandstands.

He exited with few regrets but admitted that if he could have one more race it would be back at the famed Brickyard and a shot at fourth Indy 500 title.

Franchitti, who was married to actress Ashley Judd for more than decade before they separated this year, won the Indy 500 in 2007, 2010 and 2012. The only drivers to have won more are A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr and Rick Mears, who each won four times.

"If I had to pick one race to do, Le Mans was something I wanted to do in the future but the allure of going for a fourth (Indy 500 win) would be tough to turn down," said Franchitti.

"That's one of the hard things really...but that's the hand you're dealt isn't it."

After spending most of his life as a driver, Franchitti said he is now prepared to shift gears and move into the management side of the sport. The charismatic Scot also indicated he might even try his hand at television as a motor racing commentator.

"I'd love to stay involved with IndyCar racing and certainly with the Target team and that is something we are working on," said Franchitti. "Hopefully that will come along soon and I can start really getting involved and working with the team.

"It's something I really want to do."

(Editing by Gene Cherry)

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