Published: February 10, 2013
Maybe it’s something in the water or in the racing fuel.
Less than a month after NASCAR diva Danica Patrick announced her seven-year marriage had hit the wall, three-time IndyCar Series champ Dario Franchitti and Ashley Judd confirmed they are calling it quits after 11 years.
It’s not unusual for the ship of matrimony to crash on the rocky reef of discord – it happens all the time – but when it occurs to high-profile celebrity couples it generates attention.
When the dashing race car driver married the beautiful movie actress it was a match made in People Magazine heaven.
Franchitti consented to Judd’s wish to settle in the affluent Williamson County community of Leiper’s Fork, and his arrival coincided with the IndyCar Series’ entry at Nashville Superspeedway.
Overnight, area racing fans had a hometown hot-foot to root for on the IndyCar circuit.
As area media began to converge on Franchitti, he was standoffish about his movie star wife. It seemed to irritate him whenever anyone brought it up. Maybe, it started when somebody referred to Franchitti as “Mr. Ashley Judd.”
Judd, for her part, sent conflicting signals about being drawn into the racing limelight. Prior to one of his Indy 500s, she declined a request for a newspaper interview saying she wanted the attention focused on her husband, not on her.
Her reticence was understandable – until I arrived at the track, where Judd was granting interviews to every TV reporter in a 50-mile radius.
She was on television so much that I wasn’t sure if I was at the Indy 500 or a University of Kentucky basketball game.
Meanwhile, over in NASCAR, the biggest two stories of the offseason have been Patrick’s divorce and her new boyfriend.
After splitting with her husband, Paul Hospenthal, 17 years her senior, the 30-year-old Patrick promptly took up with fellow stock car driver Ricky Stenhouse, five years her junior.
Patrick and Stenhouse will be keeping company both on and off the track; they drive for competing NASCAR teams.
Will the fractured marriages of Franchitti and Patrick affect their on-track performance? That’s a legitimate question concerning two of the biggest names in their respective racing leagues.
Three-time champion Darrell Waltrip once said race drivers, of all professional athletes, are the most vulnerable to disruptions and distractions in their personal lives.
And nothing is more disrupting and distracting than a “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” so painful that Tammy Wynette had to spell it out.
Franchitti can largely escape the media glare because, except for the Indy 500, the media doesn’t glare much on the IndyCar Series.
NASCAR is different.
Its media coverage is hot and heavy, and Patrick’s new relationship will be in the spotlight week after week, at track after track.
It could become a TV soap opera: “As the Wheel Turns.”
That poses the cosmic question: Is it fair to cast a public light on the personal life of a celebrity? Of course, it is.
To borrow a famous line from “The Godfather” – this is the life they chose.
The rich and famous can’t expect to enjoy the benefits of their celebrity one minute, then turn it off like a faucet whenever they decide it is intrusive or inconvenient.
If they choose to bask in the glow of the spotlight, they can’t complain when that light gets too warm.
The bigger the star, the hotter the lights – just ask Elvis Presley, next time you see him in disguise at Burger King.
They can always escape, of course. They can walk off the stage and become a nobody.
No one will pester Joe Sixpack or Wanda Wafflehouse about their personal lives or pry into their decision to split and divide the doublewide trailer.
But as long as celebrities choose to lead public lives – and reap the enormous benefits thereof – their private lives remain fair game.
Enquiring minds will enquire, as Patrick and Franchitti will soon discover.