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Why Britain Should (But Doesn’t) Adore Dario Franchitti

28 May

2012 Indy 500 Winner Dario Franchitti celebrating with his wife, Ashley Judd.

Sunday 27 May – a great day in Motor sport. The Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix, right? Well yes, and it was quite a good race around the streets of Monte Carlo, but it was nothing compared to the excitement of the Indianapolis 500 and the brilliant 3rd win notched up by our very own Dario Franchitti…..

….Dario who? Yes, that’s right. Our most accomplished current racing driver in a major racing series (3 wins of the Indy 500 and 4 Indy Car Series titles)  and many Brits won’t recognise his accomplishments when they really, really should. If Lewis Hamilton had achieved the same levels  of accomplishment in Formula 1 yesterday (let’s substitute Monaco for the Indy 500) as Dario has in Indy Car it would be headline news on every news bulletin and newspaper. Instead, there are minor news stories and limited recognition.

As a passionate, British petrol head it makes me really sad that Dario doesn’t get the recognition he deserves here in Britain. This is my take on why we really should cherish this great racer, but we don’t.

Dario checks all the boxes when it comes to reasons why might love him: British, lots of prestigious wins, extremely good-looking, famous wife….all the things that Brits seem to look for in their sporting heroes (we’re a shallow bunch, aren’t we?).

The Indy Car driver fraternity always seems like more of a family than their equivalents in Formula 1, and Dario is clearly loved by his racing brothers. Their collective ongoing tributes to the brother they lost so tragically last year in Las Vegas, Dan Wheldon, have been incredibly moving. I follow Dario, his wife Ashley and Dan’s sister Holly on twitter, and the ongoing love and support between the Franchittis and the Wheldons is always so touching.

For a country so obsessed with WAGs, we ought to be in awe of Dario’s wife, actress Ashley Judd. As well as being a talented actress, Ashley is an activist, writer and feminist. Perhaps if she had a perma-tan, plastic boobs, and the ability to inspire young girls to want to marry a rich sportsman when they grow up so they can shop all day, we’d know more? I have very little time for the WAGs of most British sportsmen (let’s face it they’re not the most inspirational bunch) but have a total girl crush on Ashley.

So why doesn’t Dario grace our sporting headlines more?

The answer is, inevitably, the British media. Our national motor sport is Formula 1 and sports editors have very little time for other motor series both here in the UK and overseas. Finding stories about the Indy 500 takes some effort, let alone other race results during the Indy Car season. I looked across all the main UK newspaper websites today, and there were no major headlines in the sports sections about yesterday’s victory, just stories most of the way down the page or tucked away in the motor sport section. The Independent and The Daily Express had no story at all. The Daily Telegraph probably had the best story out of the broadsheets which included a video (woohoo!), while the Metro had a big spread on the story in their print edition.

As part of my research for this article I watched tonight’s Reporting Scotland (the BBC local news programme for Scotland) via Sky, and Dario’s win was covered there as the final sporting story. The sports reporter described it as a “Major Scottish Success”. Scotland are clearly proud of their man from West Lothian, but that pride really should extend to the rest of Britain.

Our media coverage of sport is incredibly insular, and it is ironic that our media here in Britain which normally sneers at their American counterparts for committing that very sin are guilty of not looking at the accomplishments of their fellow Brits racing across the pond.

Many British Indy Car fans were seething last year at the British media coverage of the tragic death of our other forgotten racing hero, Dan Wheldon. His Indy 500 glory earlier that year got the same limited media coverage as Dario’s did this year, and many Brits probably hadn’t even heard of Dan, but as soon as there was a tragedy to feast on, the press were all over it like a flock of vultures.

It is disgraceful that tragedy needs to strike in order for a British Indy Car driver to be headline news here.

BBC Sports Personality of the Year

If a British Formula 1 driver wins the Drivers Championship (or at least comes jolly close) it is almost automatic that they are on the nominee list for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell, Graham Hill, Stirling Moss, Jackie Stewart and Jim Clark all either won the award or 2nd or 3rd place awards. The late rally driver, Colin McRae came 3rd a few years back. Other British motor sport drivers don’t stand a chance as the public never get to hear about them properly.

When the 2011 nominees were announced I remember Dario expressing his sadness that Dan wasn’t on the list, and his sad acceptance that he himself was always overlooked. I fear it is inevitable that the same will happen again in 2012, particularly with it being an Olympic year. Dario won the BBC Scotland Sports Personality of the Year award in 2007 but, again, he should be recognised across Britain.

Thankfully the community of racing fans I know through twitter do know and mostly love Dario Franchitti. We’re proud of our man, and so I can only conclude by thinking “quality not quantity” when it comes to the British contingent of “Team Franchitti”.