There's a ride open at Chip Ganassi Racing.
Dario Franchitti's announcement Thursday afternoon that he's retiring means Ganassi or his lieutenant, Mike Hull, will be fielding phone calls from drivers seeking employment, either now or very soon.
One of the first was from - or soon will be - Conor Daly.
Daly's dad Derek was seen as somewhat callous during his career when he said that one way of climbing auto racing's ladder is to be ready when another driver has an accident and is too hurt to drive.
"You pick up the phone and call the car owner, or team owner, and offer to help," Derek Daly said - once upon a time. "Somebody is going to drive that car and it might as well be you."
So don't be surprised if Conor winds up in the running.
The announcement that Franchitti is retiring came Thursday in a statement from Ganassi:
"Target Chip Ganassi Racing announced today that three-time Indianapolis 500 Winner and four-time IndyCar Series Champion Dario Franchitti will be unable to continue his auto racing career. The IndyCar Series legend ends his career with 31 Indy car wins (tied for eighth on the all-time list) and 33 poles (sixth on the all-time list)."
Said Franchitti, in a statement later: “Since my racing accident in Houston, I have been in the expert care of some of the leading doctors and nurses, all of whom have made my health, my safety and my recovery their top priority. . .
"One month removed from the crash and based upon the expert advice of the doctors who have treated and assessed my head and spinal injuries post-accident, it is their best medical opinion that I must stop racing. They 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. 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.
"I'd like to thank all my fellow competitors, teammates, crew and sponsors for their incredible support over the course of this amazing ride. I'd also like to thank Hogan Racing, Team KOOL Green and Andretti Green Racing for the opportunities to compete on the racetrack, and especially Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who have become like a family to me since I joined their team back in 2008. I would be remiss if I didn't thank all my fans around the world. I can't thank you enough for standing by my side for all these years.
"Hopefully, in time, I'll be able to continue in some off-track capacity with the IndyCar Series. I love open-wheel racing and I want to see it succeed. I'll be working with Chip to see how I can stay involved with the team, and with all the amazing friends I've made over the years at Target.
"As my buddy Greg Moore would say, 'See you up front.' "
So ends an amazing career that started in North American in 1997.
Franchitti, after a junior formula car career in Europe that also included a stint in the German Touring Car Series, joined Carl Hogan's team for the '97 CART season and won the pole for that year's Molson Indy Toronto. He partnered Paul Tracy at Team KOOL Green into the new century but went to the IRL in 2003 with what became Andretti Green Racing while Tracy stayed in Champ Car.
He moved to Ganassi's operation in 2008 and suffered one of his rare failures: he was unable to adapt to stock cars. He's in good company: Sprint car star Steve Kinser and X-Games champion Travis Pastrana are two others who could never learn to drive the taxis. In 2008, he returned to IndyCar - still with Ganassi - and was almost unbeatable most years since.
The closest I came to meeting Franchitti - other than as a reporter - came during the 2002 CART season. It's a long story but actor Sean Connery made a movie in which he played a newspaperman. Connery didn't know how to type and I was asked by the film's producers to make my hands available to act as "stand-ins" for Connery's.
Franchitti's favourite actor was Connery. At the race that year at Nazareth, Pa., one of the Team KOOL Green PR people told him that a journalist covering the race had hands that doubled as Connery's in the movie and Franchitti said he'd like to meet me.
But it didn't happen - just as meeting TV star Craig T. Nelson at the Molson Indy Vancouver didn't happen and that was something that also involved the same PR guy but is a story for another day.
I know that people will say it's a shame that Franchitti has retired, but it was time. He is 40 years old and he came so very close to dying in that crash at Houston. You only get so many escapes in a dangerous sport like IndyCar racing and he had nothing left to prove so why continue to tempt fate?
Besides, as Derek Daly knows - and his son is probably following up on - this means there's a job opening for a young driver. It's the way of the world, and Franchitti did the right thing in calling it a career.
- NORRIS McDONALD