From a425couple@21:1/5 to All on Wed Jan 18 18:44:51 2017
What the Hell Happened to Paul Tracy?
After the collapse of Champ Car, how could its most fiery and entertaining bad-boy driver not land a full-time ride in the Indy Racing League?
Jul 2010 By JOHN PHILLIPS
Still shaken, Tracy was determined to impress his silver-haired boss. In
1993, at Phoenix, that's exactly what he did. Briefly. "Nobody could touch
me there," he says. "By lap 100, I'd lapped the field twice. I was in the
zone, in my own world, just blasting. Then with about 30 laps to go, Roger
says on my radio, 'All right, let's back it down.' And I'm like, back it
down? I'm killin' out here. Guys are swerving to get out of my way. I was furious. And that's when I hit the wall. After the race, Roger was silent again, glaring, and the team wouldn't look at me, either. Shithouse, Round Two."
From the Phoenix debacle, Tracy drove directly to L.A. for the Long Beach
Grand Prix. To kill time midweek, he and a friend rented a pair of shifter karts and went at each other with a vengeance. At 90 mph, they tangled.
Both karts flipped. "I had no gloves," Tracy remembers, "and I slid down the straight on my hands, hips, elbows, arms. I'm road rash top to bottom-pure hamburger. And the next day is press day at Long Beach. I showed up,
bandages leaking blood, and I lied. I told everyone I was exercising on a mountain bike and fell down the whole friggin' mountain. I had to get [Dr. Terry] Trammell to give me a medical just so I could drive. When Roger saw
me, man, the look on his face . . . it was like, 'Kiddo, I am so done with you.'
"I was neck-deep in shit. It was one of those times I knew I had to pull the rabbit outta the hat. So I led the race, got a flat tire, came back out,
passed [Nigel] Mansell-who had been on the pole and at the time was God's
gift to the steering wheel-and won. Roger started talking to me again."
As usual, the warm feelings were short-lived. At Mid-Ohio that year,
Fittipaldi and Mansell were in a tight championship battle. "Minutes before
the race," Tracy recalls, "while I'm sitting in my car on the grid, Roger
comes out to talk to me. It was odd. Why not talk to me on the radio? He
leans into the cockpit and says, 'If you and [teammate] Emerson are one-two, you're gonna let him past.' Team orders. I was so furious I couldn't see straight. My thought was, 'Well, you know what, Roger? I'm gonna lap the
whole field, then I'm gonna park it just shy of the start-finish line, turn
the car off, and give you the finger.' So when the race started, I was
driving purely out of rage, rackin' qualifying times. I built up 25 seconds over Emerson. I'm thinkin', 'What are you gonna do when I pass everyone,
Roger, tell me to lose a lap?' And that's when I came up on Scott Pruett so fast I didn't even see him. Spun into the gravel trap. Day over. More silent treatment. Shithouse, Round Three."
And so it continued, race to race, essentially throughout Tracy's
pyrotechnic career. Observed longtime crew chief Neil Micklewright: "One weekend, Paul would be Jimmy Clark. The next weekend, he'd be Jimmy
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As the '95 season approached, Penske announced he'd be "lending" Tracy to Bettenhausen Racing, where Paul would drive year-old cars. "My dad and I
just blew a gasket. We said, 'Bullshit, no way.' Roger was quiet, said
nothin' for a couple weeks. Then he goes, 'Paul, if you don't like it, maybe you should do something else.' " Tracy did. He signed with Newman/Haas
Racing, teaming with Michael Andretti for 1995, and his paycheck leapt from $75,000 to $1.5 million.
Strangely, he would return, for the 1996 and '97 seasons, to Penske Racing, where Tracy boldly told Roger's lawyers, "I'll only come back if I make the same money as Al [Unser Jr.]." Penske agreed, and Tracy's salary soared to
$3.5 million, including use of the company jet. But he'd again be dismissed
by the captain, first for referring to the Penske chassis on live TV as a "piece a shit," an appellation that resulted in a "real ugly come-to-Jesus meeting with Roger." And then Tracy strongly urged Penske to dump the Penske-Mercedes car for a Reynard-Honda. That led to a five-minute meeting
in which Penske's lawyers "dismissed" Tracy in a San Diego hotel room. (For this story, Penske declined to comment.)
No matter. He remained a hot property in CART, immediately landing a ride
with Barry Green's Team Kool Green in '98, where he took a $2.1 million pay
cut but got the Reynard he so wanted. In 2002, he passed Helio Castroneves
on the last lap of the Indy 500, easily crossing the finish line first, only
to learn he'd been docked a position for passing under the yellow. "Roger
was God in the IRL then," Tracy comments, "and Helio was in Roger's car. And here I am, the CART poster boy who'd always said the IRL was shit."
In 2003, P.T. moved to the best team of his career, Player's/Forsythe
Racing. In his tenure there, he delivered a dozen wins and a championship.
He also found himself, finally, psychologically in sync with a team owner, Gerry Forsythe, who made his fortune constructing power plants. Tracy says
he was earning $5 million a year, including bonuses, with Forsythe promising "whatever it takes to win."
But it wasn't long before Forsythe had his eye less on Tracy than on the slow-motion disintegration of the series in what would become a 12-year war with the IRL. In late 2003, Forsythe, along with Kevin Kalkhoven and Paul Gentilozzi, purchased the CART series and changed its name to the Champ Car World Series.
"Gerry pumped millions into Champ Car," Tracy says, "but the series just
bled it out as fast as he'd pour it in. Gerry got depressed, I think. He actually stopped coming to races because so many guys would come up to him begging money, bitching, asking favors. He became bitter about it."
And then came the final fizzle. In 2008, Champ Car managed only one race-at Long Beach-then, unable to stanch its massive fiscal hemorrhaging, was
absorbed by the IRL. "And that's the last Gerry ever spoke to me," Tracy
says. "He went back to his businesses, and for him it was like flipping a
light switch, as if racing had never even existed. I felt bad for the guy,
but I wanted to continue with my career, you know, move to the IRL. But
Gerry still held my contract and hated the IRL. I was legally his driver, no one else's. Frozen."
Forsythe insists there was no contract, just a verbal agreement. "Paul was
an employee at will, at our agreed-upon salary," he says. "I paid Paul
through the final Champ Car race, then had no further obligation because I
had no job for him."
In truth, there was no hope of a top IRL ride in 2008. "All of those seats
had long since been secured for the only teams I'd consider-Penske, Ganassi,
or Andretti," Tracy says. "They're the only teams paying their drivers,
mostly around $2 million per year. The rest of the field is basically rent-a-rides. And why would I want to rent a ride? What would I prove
running midpack in a shitbox? People would just say, 'See, he's lost it. Tracy's done.' "
By 2009, the recession was suffocating the IRL, and the leading teams still
had their drivers under contract. Tracy's only hope was to snag a few
one-offs, including a drive in an A.J. Foyt car at Milwaukee. "That thing
was so bad that A.J. called his engineer over and said, 'Son, I'd like to
smash this computer over your head.' " Tracy also ran five races for KV
Racing Technology, including the Indy 500, where he finished ninth.
This year, KVRT granted Tracy a drive at Indy (he did not qualify), and he'll contest two Canadian venues, where he'll reliably boost attendance. "A win
at Indy would've been a nice career capper," he says. "But otherwise, it
feels like a shitty way to end my career. You know, my dad [now 79] always told me, 'If you can't win the race, be so spectacular that people talk more about you than the winner.' Maybe that explains my driving style, just balls
to the wall, flat-out, win or crash. If a crew chief told me, 'Let's drive
for points in this race,' well, I couldn't control myself if I saw a chance
to win. I'm a from-the-gut guy, not a strategic driver, which is why I suck when the team tells me to save fuel."
Looking back, Tracy insists he harbors few regrets. "Calling the race
steward [Chris Kneifel] a 'clown' on TV wasn't the smartest," he admits.
"And maybe I've driven a little overboard sometimes [crashing into Tagliani
at San Jose and Bourdais on the last lap at Denver]. But it's my job to
drive the wheels off the mother, right? And if I wrecked other guys' cars, well, sorry, but don't start whining, 'cause once I take off my helmet, I
turn off the adrenaline and begin thinking about the next race. So let's all just move on."
Tracy's idea of moving on is getting one final full season in 2011. On the other hand, he's also hedging his bets. He owns an apartment complex in California, plus a strip mall in Vegas. He has no interest in piloting
sports cars, like ex-Indy-car star Scott Pruett, nor does he care to be a
team owner. "Too easy to blow all your money," he says. "I saved for 20
years. Why squander it now?" Nor does he care to be a driving coach like
Rick Mears. "I can't teach," he says. "I don't understand why I'm fast. I couldn't break it down and say, 'Well, I do this, or I don't do that.' "
Asked how he'd like to be remembered were he hit by a bus tomorrow, Tracy doesn't hesitate: "I'm a race-car driver. At the last second, I'd swerve and avoid the bus."
So Tracy is fast, but apparently has little self-discipline, both as regards activity on the track and what comes out of his mouth. If no one wants him
to drive for them with that as long-standing prologue, should anyone really
i don't think he's doing too bad, he's got his toys, and several tv appearences, so he'll land somewhere soon but only if he wants to