LBGP president happy that Franchitti has become the face of IRL

Dario Franchitti

Jim Michaelian was on the line early Monday morning, and the president/CEO of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach was marveling at Dario Franchitti's dominating victory Sunday in the IZOD IndyCar Series opener in Florida.

"What a start for Dario!" he said of Franchitti's seven-second triumph over pole-sitter Will Power in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. "We all know Dario has been dominant on the oval, but this was a street race and he also proved to be dominant in that."

Of course, Franchitti proved that in the 2009 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which he won to give his actress wife Ashley Judd a stirring gift on her 40th birthday.

Michaelian said he was thrilled because Franchitti – with his back-to-back IndyCar Series championships – has become the high-profile face of open-wheel racing, which is on a rapid ascent after 12 bitter years of internecine warfare between CART and IRL that nearly destroyed the sport.

The opposing factions merged three years ago, and, suddenly, the Indy cars are regaining their popularity with racing purists, much to the joy of Michaelian.

"It's just nice to see the fans' enthusiasm returning to our sport," said Michaelian, the ol' Energizer Bunny now putting in 16-hour days gearing up for his Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach affair that will be staged April 15-17.

Michaelian understands the emergence of Franchitti certainly has contributed to such a development since his glamorous marriage, which commands a lot of publicity on its own, is enhanced even more by those checkered flags he keeps receiving.

Franchitti recently was in Los Angeles on a frenzied one-day media tour in which he made several radio and TV appearances and met with a group of reporters at the ESPN Zone at L.A. Live.

He spoke about how he never felt comfortable during his brief time on the NASCAR circuit – "I'm just more at ease in an Indy car," he said – and how his relationship with car owner Chip Ganassi has been a godsend for him.

Natch, being a TMZ kind of guy, I was more interested in another subject.

"Do the paparazzi drive you nuts?" I asked, since, after all, he is betrothed to a film starlet.

The Scotland native smiled.

"Not really," he said. "We live in the boondocks in the middle of Tennessee where no one goes, not even the paparazzi. And it's the same with our residence in Scotland. I've had no problems with them." Long Beach Press Telegram

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