- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 25, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - In the frantic moments after Dan Wheldon’s fatal accident, the cruel stakes of auto racing again hit a heartbroken Dario Franchitti.

Franchitti lost his best friend, Greg Moore, in the 1999 season finale. Now, another friend is gone, prompting questions about the safety of their sport and whether the reward is ever worth the risk.

A week after two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Wheldon was killed in a fiery, 15-car accident in the Oct. 16 season finale at Las Vegas, Franchitti knows there are no easy answers.

“We know as safe as we try to make it, it’s still a dangerous sport. And we’re going to keep trying to make it safer.

“We didn’t want to lose a friend. You’d give anything to have him back here,” Franchitti, choking back tears, told The Associated Press in his only extensive interview since Wheldon’s death.

Leaning back in his chair, running his hand through his hair, the Scot stared hard at the wall, remembering an unbelievable week for his sport.

Wheldon’s death happened on what was supposed to be a showcase day for the series, then, a week later, as IndyCar prepared for a public memorial for Wheldon, the 6-year-old son of Barry Wanser, the strategist for Franchitti’s team, lost his battle with leukemia. Hours before that, Italian MotoGP star Marco Simoncelli was killed in a violent wreck in Malaysia.

All of it left Franchitti spent.

“It’s tough. It’s a horrible part of the sport, and it’s a horrible part of life, really. When you see Dan’s family, see (wife) Susie and the boys, you realize `whoa.’ That’s the tough part, really,” Franchitti said. “The racing part, you can deal with that.”

So despite the roiling emotions and heartache, Franchitti will be back in the car Wednesday testing the 2012 IndyCar at Sebring.

“I’ve definitely wondered if it’s worth it,” he said. “But I believe I still want to race.”

But there’s no joy in racing _ not yet.

Franchitti, the Jimmie Johnson of IndyCar, won his third consecutive series title by default over Will Power when IndyCar canceled the season finale following Wheldon’s accident. His celebratory drive was instead a 5-lap tribute to Wheldon by the entire field.

“Hurt is losing Dan. Hurt is seeing his family and his friends, and as much as the championship meant to me … as hard as I tried to win it, there’s really nothing,” he said. “There’s not a feeling of anything. Maybe with time there will be, but I don’t know.”

Just nine days later, Franchitti wants to keep the focus on supporting Wheldon’s wife and two sons and honoring his former teammate.

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