Thursday, November 14, 2013

Injuries force Dario Franchitti to retire from racing

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
Four IndyCar Championships (second on the all-time list). Three Indianapolis 500 wins (10th driver to do so). More than 260 starts, 31 wins, 32 poles and more than 100 top-five and top-10 finishes in a race car.

That's a summary of Scotland native Dario Franchitti's Indy racing career, which started in 1997. Thursday, he announced his retirement from the great sport of auto racing. The injuries Franchitti, 40, sustained in a spectacular crash Oct. 6 near the end of the Houston Grand Prix are proving to be too great for him to continue.

He broke his back, an ankle and got a concussion. He was told by doctors that he could no longer race.

When I saw the news come across on social media, my jaw literally dropped open. Really. I guess I just figured he would have the offseason to heal and would return to the driver's seat in 2014.

Don't get me wrong, the crash in Houston in which he went airborne and connected with the catch fence, sending flying debris into the stands, was a pretty scary scene. I think everyone in the racing community was just happy to hear that he was alright. Recent tragedies like that of Dan Wheldon make us all a little more cautious when those more serious crashes occur, I think.

News all over Twitter
As hard as it may be for Franchitti to enter into a forced retirement due to injuries, at least he's still here. The outpouring on Twitter just this afternoon was impressive. I particularly liked this one, from @JaseKM:
"As a friend of Greg Moore & Dan Wheldon, Im sure Dario knows all too well that walking away on your own terms is the greatest victory of all"
Franchitti Tweeted a statement along with a post-Indy 500 victory photo, explaining the situation and expressing thank-yous to many. Over the photo, he added the phrase: "As my buddy Greg Moore would say, 'See you up front.'" Moore was killed in a crash at the Fontana track in 1999.

Franchitti said he hopes to continue with IndyCar in some off-track capacity. I'd welcome that. He's become a notable name, even to those not in tune with the racing world (even if it was because he was married to Ashley Judd). I hope he can continue to promote the sport, join a broadcast team or maybe follow in the footsteps of his fellow drivers Jimmy Vasser and Michael Andretti and own a team.

Plenty of success, just not this year
Franchitti had a bit of a down year in 2013. A dominant racer on one of the elite teams, Team Target Chip Ganassi, he failed to win a race and wasn't in championship contention. The last race he won was the 2012 Indy 500, marking his third victory at the brickyard.

Franchitti not only won the Indy 500 in 2010, he also won at Mid-Ohio that year. It was a race I attended with my dad, and the first (and only, so far) time I've been to that beautiful track.

I will always have a little soft spot for those drivers who were in the CART (and later, ChampCar) series, following the IndyCar split in the mid-90s. Franchitti is one of those guys. I'll overlook 2008 when he went over to the dark side (NASCAR). He raced with the character Paul Tracy for Team KOOL Green. He's also one of the drivers who loves the four-mile road course Road America in Wisconsin. Gotta love that.

Whatever Franchitti decides to do next, after he is fully recovered, I hope he stays in racing somehow. Sure, he kind of annoyed me because he would win all the time (I like underdogs and some variety.), but I hope he can be around to increase the publicity for the sport.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Wild finally break through in the shootout

Brace yourselves. The Minnesota Wild did something the other night that it hasn't accomplished in this young season: Score a shootout goal. And get the SO win.

Before Saturday night's road game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Wild hadn't won in a shootout. Not only that, it was 0-for-7 in SO scoring opportunities. The game before in Washington also went to a shootout, and that was the first time the Wild netminders stopped a shootout shot this season.

Not only did the Wild score in the shootout, it scored on all three tries from Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Jason Pominville. It gave the team a 3-2 win against the eastern conference team.

Calm down
It was too early to panic about the Wild's lack of any success in shootouts, of course, but it was still painful to watch. If the Wild got into an overtime situation, you just hoped that it would end sometime within that five minutes. Because you knew if it got to a shootout, things didn't look good.

The Wild victory over the Canes was a huge boost.

All that being said, the Wild are in a pretty good situation right now. The shootout loss against the Capitals ended a four-game winning streak. Goaltender Josh Harding has the hot glove right now and has played well, giving his team a chance each game.

The Wild are 10-4-4 and are tied with three other teams in the Western Conference with 24 points. With the West being a stronger conference, the Wild are behind the streaking Colorado Avalanche (13-2-0, 26 points), Chicago Blackhawks (11-2-4, 26) and St. Louis Blues (11-2-2, 24) in a very strong Central Division.

Keep up the solid play
It's a tight race already, and the Wild are in the middle of it. Too early to be standings-watching, maybe, but it's still a lot better than where clubs like Edmonton, Florida, Buffalo or Philly are. All have five wins or less.

Let's hope the Wild can continue to do well. Every point counts. Even in shootout losses.

The Wild just got Charlie Coyle back, and he scored his first goal, after being sidelined with an injury for a few weeks. Mikael Granlund is doing well and has put up points. Rookie Justin Fontaine has found the back of the net all too often so far in the first month; he already has six goals, third-most on the team. Pommer leads the team in goals with 11, Parise is the points leader with 15.

Stick up for your teammates, don't bully them

I don't write a lot about the National Football League, and I rarely write about football. It's not something I follow closely. I'm more likely to keep up with preps or college games, actually.

But with the recent stories in the NFL taking center stage, I wanted to weigh in on the situation involving the Miami Dolphins, Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. There's now an investigation into allegations that Incognito bullied his teammate Martin. Incognito has been suspended and Martin has left the team. Incognito allegedly left a voicemail for Martin where, in part, he said, "I'll kill you."

Oh, and by the way, other NFL players are defending this kind of behavior.

What happens in the locker room
I've heard that players are sticking up for the locker room culture, whatever that is. I've heard players criticize Martin for not being tough enough or not being able to be a man and stand up for himself. I've also read about how teams have all kinds of hazing that goes on. What is this, high school?

Now, there are probably lots of inside jokes or team initiations that can be qualified as pretty harmless. It's about bonding and building that team chemistry camaraderie within locker rooms across professional sports. For example, I know the Minnesota Twins bullpen has, or used to have, a Barbie backpack that rookies would carry out to the pen.

But bullying of teammates shouldn't be tolerated, like in the case of Incognito and Martin. Just saying "that's how locker rooms are" is no different than saying "kids will be kids" when talking about bullying in schools. An NFL teammate who uses the N word and threatens to kill you in a voicemail is crossing the line. There's no need for that.

Tough guys versus cavemen
I know NFL players want to come off as these major-league tough guys - just look at how they pound their chests like cavemen after making a big play during a game. However, being a tough guy isn't the same thing as being a bully.

There needs to be respect between teammates, whether you like them as people off the field or not. At least treat them with respect. Bullying someone, defending those actions and telling the victim to "be a man" are not examples of respect.

This one incident probably won't have a profound affect on the NFL as a whole. I don't think much will change. I guess I'd hope that if there are other bullying instances happening, it would be great to read stories about players stepping up to change that part of the culture for the better, or stick up for a teammate.

I've heard experts talk about how it might be tough for Martin to continue to play in the NFL, because players will view him differently or as being a guy who isn't strong enough to stand up for himself. I don't doubt that this is true, unfortunately, but I hope this doesn't turn out to be the case.