The Love of Cars: IndyCar champ Dario Franchitti, Barn Find Hunter Tom Cotter discuss the highs and lows of racing
Dario Franchitti and Tom Cotter are distant but kindred spirits. They share a passion for cars and a love of motorsports, and they both know the thrill of a victory lane celebration. Franchitti and Cotter also share firsthand knowledge of just how quickly the joy of racing can turn to heartache.
Franchitti, a four-time IndyCar champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, and Cotter, who worked on the public relations side of racing before becoming the Barn Find Hunter, were guests of co-hosts Justin Bell and Tommy Kendall on Episode 5 of The Love of Cars, presented by Hagerty. This week’s show focused on the guests’ automotive roots and their love of automobiles, but both spoke of the same horrific accident—the fatal crash of Canadian racing driver Greg Moore in October 1999—as a defining moment in their lives.
“It was harder with Greg because I was younger,” says Franchitti, who was 26 when Moore was killed. Twelve years later, when two-time Indy winner Dan Wheldon was killed in the season-ending 2011 IndyCar World Championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Franchitti had a different perspective. “With Dan, I was quite hardened by that point, and I was just able to get on with it. I was, I think, maybe mentally stronger. That sounds callous, but I don’t mean it that way. I was just like right back to work. This is what I do. By that point I was prepared to take any risk to be successful.
“I look back now … and I’m in the swimming pool today with my two daughters … and I just think, I don’t recognize that person. But that was my reality. That’s what I was prepared to risk, to do.”
Cotter, who worked for Charlotte Motor Speedway for four years before starting his own communications firm, worked in the motorsports world for 25 years. He represented Roger Penske when Penske driver Al Unser, Jr. won the Indianapolis 500 in 1994 and remembers the celebration fondly. Years later, Cotter was the PR rep for Moore’s Mercedes-Benz team when the Canadian driver was killed in the Marlboro 500 in Las Vegas.
“You stand on victory lane at Indy, and then you have to handle funeral arrangements,” Cotter says. “In PR you have to wear all the hats.”
Cotter eventually sold his communications firm—and immediately bought his dream car, a Shelby Cobra. He has since authored 17 books. As host of Hagerty’s Barn Find Hunter, Cotter drives around the country in a 1939 Ford woody wagon, which he bought when he was 15, and searches for forgotten automotive treasure. His enthusiastic passion for cars is palpable.
“I like to find cars in an organic way,” says Cotter, who filled in admirably on The Love of Cars after Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason had to postpone his appearance on the show. “It’s all about the search … My passion is to find cars and give people encouragement to go out and find their own.”
Franchitti, who was born and raised in Scotland, credits his grandmother’s gift of miniature F1 model cars as the start of his enthusiasm for cars. “When I was a boy, my grandmother—she’s still with us; she’s 94—spoiled me something crazy,” he says with a laugh. Franchitti joked that his father, George, owned some great cars (like a Ferrari Dino and Porsche 911 Turbo) before “he blew all his money on my racing.”
“That passion for cars hasn’t diminished,” Franchitti says. “If anything, it’s gotten worse.”
He then shared a video of his most recent purchase, a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona—one of only 19 European versions built. Referring to it as “my kids’ inheritance,” Franchitti says the car “blew the toy budget out of the water.”
Franchitti’s racing career ended prematurely when he was involved in a violent crash on the final lap of the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston. He suffered two fractured vertebrae, a broken ankle, and a concussion. “I never thought it would end in a parking lot in Houston, I have to say. I thought if anything was going to bite me it was going to be one of the big ovals.”
Franchitti named Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart, Stirling Moss, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, and A.J. Foyt among his racing heroes. He is very close to Stewart, and he says he and Jones became “great pals” after Franchitti finally worked up the courage to introduce himself to the legend. “He was granite … I was afraid of him,” Franchitti says. “And he was delightful.”
Franchitti lived in Nashville for 14 years—he no longer lives in the U.S.—and says he enjoyed some great driving roads in Tennessee. Nothing, however, compares to his homeland. “Scotland is where it’s at,” Franchitti says. “A road trip in Scotland in the right month—October, maybe, just before the weather turns and when the crowds are smaller. We’ve had some of the best times driving all kinds of cars in the north of Scotland.”
Sounds like love.
There’s so much more to see in Episode 5 of The Love of Cars, so check it out below. If you want to watch the show live each week, new episodes air every Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.