Rick Mears, whose retirement announcement nearly 21 years ago stunned the motorsports community, can relate to Dario Franchitti's decision to retire from the sport while still in his prime.
Franchitti announced Nov. 14 that he has retired from motorsports on the advice of physicians following an incident on the final lap of the penultimate race of the IZOD IndyCar Series season in which he suffered a spinal fracture, concussion and right ankle fracture.
Franchitti, 40, a four-time IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said it was initially difficult to accept because he still has the passion to compete.
Click it: Others weigh in || Franchitti's full statement || Send Franchitti a personal note
“(Doctors) have made it very clear that the risks involved in further racing are too great and could be detrimental to my long term well-being,” he said in a statement. “Based on this medical advice, I have no choice but to stop.
“Racing has been my life for over 30 years and it’s really tough to think that the driving side is now over. I was really looking forward to the 2014 season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, with a goal of winning a fourth Indianapolis 500 and a fifth IndyCar Series championship.”
The decision by Mears, who retired at age 41, wasn’t primarily driven by medical reasons. Mears, a longtime driver consultant for Team Penske, said Franchitti did not contact him for advice.
Mears’ announcement during a Christmas party Dec. 10, 1992, at the Team Penske headquarters in Reading, Pa., stunned everyone but the team owner.
Mears had won the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race four times (1979, ’84, ’88 and ’91) and it was a given that he would break a tie with A.J. Foyt and Al Unser to become the sole five-time winner. A combination of factors contributed to his decision.
“The hardest part of my decision to retire was knowing how much the team wanted a fifth win (at Indianapolis) to break the record, because all four of them had been with this team,” Mears said. “In that respect, it weighed heavy on the decision. I felt, in a way, I was letting the team down.
“Then I woke up one morning and thought if the desire isn’t there you’re not going to get the fifth win anyway. So it was time to go. There were two people I talked to about retirement and that was my wife and eventually my brother (Roger), because I knew it had to be a decision that I had to make and I didn’t want any outside influences. Once I made the decision I went to Roger and told him.”
Mears suffered a broken foot and sprained wrist in practice at the Speedway in May and aggravated the wrist injury in the race in contact with the car driven by Jim Crawford.
“What happened at Indy probably speeded up the process, but I had started thinking about getting out of the car even before we went to Australia (for the first race of the ’92 season),” Mears said. “I had always told myself, if it got to this point, I was going to get out.”