A Tale of Two Scots: Jim Clark & Dario Franchitti

HAMMOND, IN: The nation of Scotland is hardly considered a hotbed of oval track racing. Given that fact, it doesn?t seem very likely that two of the most gifted ?bullring racers? of the modern era of American open wheel racing came from the lush green hills of Bonnie Scotland. Strangely enough, however, it happens to be true.

When the legendary Jim Clark of Duns, Scotland first came to the U.S. oval scene to contest the 1963 Indy 500 for Team Lotus-Ford, it marked the first time that the ?Wee Scot? had raced on an oval of any kind. Equipped with the well funded, lightweight rear-engined ?funny car? created by Lotus founder Colin Chapman, Clark was immediately on the pace. Largely outshining his more experienced American teammate, Dan Gurney, Clark contended for victory all day on his way to a controversial second place finish just behind an oil-spewing Parnelli Jones. With the 1963 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year award safely tucked away, Jim Clark and Team Lotus looked down the road for other oval worlds to conquer.

In 1963, the only two paved ovals on the Indy car circuit, excluding the Speedway itself, were the one mile ?bullrings? located in Milwaukee and Trenton. The fact that Jim Clark had never even seen anything like the Milwaukee Mile before didn?t prevent him from completely dominating the day?s activities. The ?unlucky? green Lotus-Ford not only destroyed the track record in winning the pole, it then proceeded to lead all 200 miles totally unchallenged. With the exception of second place A.J. Foyt, Clark lapped the entire field on his way to victory, including his teammate, Dan Gurney. It was a truly awe inspiring performance!

In an attempt to rub salt in the wound, Clark, Gurney and Team Lotus-Ford dully appeared at Trenton a few weeks later that summer for another 200 miler. And, once again, Jim Clark proceeded to stamp his authority on the proceedings, winning the pole with another new track record, and screaming away from teammate Gurney and the rest of the pack at the drop of the green flag. This time, however, the lightweight Lotus failed to go the distance. While he was on the track, however, Jim Clark had once again been in a world of his own.

Although Jim Clark never again ran an Indy car on a short oval, history shows us that he went on to two F-1 World Championships and victory at Indianapolis in 1965. But, in the summer of 1963, Scotsman Jim Clark proved himself to be a ?bullring? phenomenon!

And now, some 40 years later, another Scottish ?oval-meister? has appeared on the scene.

In 1997, when Edinburgh, Scotland?s Dario Franchitti arrived in America to compete as a rookie in the CART series, few realized that the new Scottish ?oval-meister? had arrived. Dario, an admitted disciple of his legendary countryman Jim Clark, was fresh off a successful career in European sedan racing. However, as time passed, it became apparent that he had obviously inherited the same uncanny knack for success on short ovals that his Scottish hero had possessed some 40 years previously.

The first indication that Dario Franchitti might possess a special talent for short ovals probably came on the short-lived former horse track known as Chicago Speedway in 2000. In the CART event that day, an embarrassingly small ?crowd? saw Franchitti scream away from the field to easily dominate the race before an encounter with a lapped car sidelined him. For the few who actually witnessed the event, it had been an eye-opening and unexpected performance.

And then, in July of 2004, Dario became the second Scot in history to score a dominating win on the same Milwaukee Mile where, 41 years before, the great Jim Clark had made ?America?s Legendary Oval? his personal playground.

And now, with a victory in the 2007 Indy 500 safely tucked away, and a healthy point lead in the IRL championship chase in hand, Dario Franchitti is doing his best to continue the oval track dominance shown by his countryman and personal hero, Jim Clark, so many years ago.

Why did two of the most naturally gifted short oval racers of all time come from as unlikely a location as Scotland? Your guess is a good as mine?but it might just be one of ?them racin? deals?.

But, it certainly is interesting?

John Atlas

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