DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The day before qualifying for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Dario Franchitti posted an Instagram photo of Scott Dixon jogging past a Daytona Beach hotel.
“The things you see when you’re driving back to your hotel,” Franchitti wrote. “@scottdixon9 out burning off the holiday calories?”
Surprised to see his buddy and teammate hanging from the passenger side of a car and taking his photo, Dixon smiled and waved. Later, in the comments to the photo, @scottdixon9 responded: “what a machine haha.”
Welcome to the bromance between two drivers who rank among the best to have ever raced. Both are key components in this weekend’s 55th running of the Rolex 24 endurance sports car race – Franchitti as the race’s grand marshal and Dixon as one of three drivers of the No. 67 Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT that will start second Saturday in the GT Le Mans class and 16th overall.
Franchitti ranks 10th in Indy car history with 31 victories in his career, while Dixon ranks fourth all-time with 40 wins. Both drivers have collected four Verizon IndyCar Series championships. Franchitti won three Indianapolis 500s; Dixon won the iconic race in 2008.
Franchitti retired after the 2013 season, while Dixon, 36, shows no signs of slowing down. Longtime friends and collaborators with Ganassi’s race teams, they’ve been offering public praise for each other lately. It started with Franchitti’s comments last week during the Autosport International trade show in Birmingham, England, and continued today when Dixon responded.
But, as of this afternoon, they still hadn’t discussed any of it with each other.
“I hadn’t even read what he said until yesterday,” Dixon (shown at right with Rolex 24 teammates Ryan Briscoe and Sebastien Bourdais) said of Franchitti's comments. “I saw it pop off on Twitter last week, but I was on holiday and didn’t get a chance to read it. Those were some very kind words. I saw him yesterday, but it was very briefly, so haven’t had a chance to chat.”
Franchitti said last week that Dixon doesn’t receive enough accolades for his accomplishments.
“I think Scott deserves more credit,” Franchitti told NBC Sports during the interview at Autosport International. “He’s bloody impressive in what he’s able to do in an Indy car and what he’s able to do in any car.”
Franchitti has a strong point in his praise, and statistics to back it up. Dixon is just two wins from tying Michael Andretti for third place on the all-time Indy car list. Once there, Dixon will trail only A.J. Foyt (67 victories) and Mario Andretti (52).
Franchitti, an advisor and driving coach for Ganassi since his retirement, said he has never been surprised by Dixon’s success.
“Of all the teammates I’ve had, he’s the one who can make the most out of an average car,” Franchitti said. “Part of my job with working with the Ganassi team is helping him to push him to make the car perfect.
“That was always my side of the desk when we were teammates. I was pushing to make the car absolutely perfect. He taught me that sometimes you’ve just got to hang onto it. I taught him that you’ve got to make the car absolutely as spot on as it can be.
“I still do that with him now more so because that’s my job. I love it when I can help him out a bit. He’s an exceptional, exceptional driver.”
Dixon returned the kind words today at Daytona International Speedway.
“Dario and I have great respect for one another,” said Dixon, who will team with Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook in the No. 67 on the 3.56-mile road course that incorporates part of the high-banked oval. “He was a huge help to me in understanding how to make the car do what you need as opposed to just driving around the problems. His attention to detail is amazing.
“Dario is never afraid to voice his opinion on things he can change, even if it’s the smallest of details, and I was always the opposite of that. We’re extremely good friends, but it’s always nice to hear someone like him say nice things.”
The two also have an extensive history with the annual 24-hour race at Daytona, which starts Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET (airing from 2-5 p.m. on FOX, then moving over to FS2 and FS1 for live coverage in 23 of its 24 hours). Dixon has competed in it 13 times, winning twice – in 2006 with Casey Mears and the late Dan Wheldon, and in 2015 with Tony Kanaan, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray. Franchitti has eight Rolex 24s to his credit, including a victory in 2008 with Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Juan Pablo Montoya.
When asked in jest if Franchitti’s flattering comments were the result of an unpaid debt, Dixon laughed.
“I’d say that was money well spent,” Dixon said with a smile. “I don’t know what he’s looking for.”