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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Paul Tracy
June 8, 1999

T.E. McHALE: Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference, and thanks for being with us this afternoon. For the second consecutive week, we feature a driver from Team KOOL Green today as Paul Tracy joins us following his victory in Sunday's Miller Lite 225 at the Milwaukee Mile. Good afternoon, Paul, and thanks for being with us today.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

T.E. McHALE: Now in his second year with Team KOOL Green, Paul, driver of the No. 26 KOOL sedan Reynard recorded his 14th career victory Sunday, which places him 9th on the all-time CART list, one behind two-time champion Alex Zanardi. This was the 31st first podium finish of Paul's career, and that makes him third among active drivers. Additionally, Paul stands 8th on the all-time roster with 12 career pole positions, and is 7th in career laps led with 2182. He finished third in the FedEx Championship series in both 1993 and '94. Paul's victory Sunday moved him to 8th in this year's PPG Cup points race with 36 points. Tom Montoya of Target Chip Ganassi racing leads with 72 points heading into the June 20th Budweiser GI Joe's 200 presented by Texaco Avalon at Portland International Raceway, and is followed closely by Dario, Paul's team KOOL Green teammate. With 71 points. The Budweiser GI Joe's 200 presented by Texaco Avalon Round Eight of the FedEx Championship series will be televised live an ABC TV on Sunday, June 20th. It begins at 4:00 PM Eastern time. Before we get started with questions for Paul, I'd like to inform you all that CART stewards completed the inquiry regarding a possible infraction involving Gil de Ferran of Walker Racing in Sunday's race, and announced today that the provisional results at the Miller Lite 225 will stand as official with de Ferran finishing third. CART stewards reviewed video and interviewed team personnel in reaching the decision not to penalize for not passing during a caution period in record to circumstances surrounding the incident.

Q. I guess my question is that you've -- the win in Milwaukee really comes after one of the most frustrating and driest spells in your career, and I just would wonder what kinds of lessons -- and not so much lessons, but how your outlook has changed over this more than two-year winless period, and how that's going to kind of, you know, affect your approach to the rest of this season.

PAUL TRACY: Well, I was just on a call with my engineer, Tony Cicale right before we started the teleconference, and we were talking about that. I don't think he feels that we really don't need to do anything different than what we've been doing so far this year. We've been consistent. We've been patient. Been trying to wait for the right opportunity, and we've had some things not go our way. So, really, we are just -- kind of keep trying to do what we've been doing, and hopefully we can continue with good success. Like I said, we've been competitive all year. We've now had two podiums. We need to just be consistent to try to pile on some points and get some better finishes if we can.

Q. And looking at the points situation right now, with Montoya and Dario not really racking up a whole lot of points last week in Milwaukee, suddenly -- you're not exactly breathing down their neck, but this has suddenly put you within shouting distance of being in contention for the championship. And just wondered what your -- presumably, you do feel as though the championship is still very much within reach?

PAUL TRACY: Well, definitely. I think now, you know, 20 points is a big weekend. We've got an opportunity. I mean, if we get consistent and start finishing the races consistently, which has been our goal all along, we're in the points race. I mean, we're only 40 -- 40 points out, around there. Moved up in the championship pretty nicely with one race. If we can continue that, then we'll put ourselves into position to be looking strong towards the end of the season, which is our goal. You know, I think we have a good opportunity.

Q. I don't know if you feel this way, but do you feel this weekend was somewhat of a breakthrough? Given everything that you've gone through the last few years, taking into consideration being on probation, the suspension and accidents. I think you may have this reputation of being a bit of the bad boy of CART. Do you feel that you're kind of coming out of something, or you're starting something new?

PAUL TRACY: I know that I've put in a lot of effort, and the team has put in a lot of effort, and we haven't -- since I joined the team, we haven't gotten a lot out of it. We never gave up. I never gave up. Sometimes it's easy to just kind of bury your head in the sand. But I think our goal is just that -- you know, try to keep swimming our way out of the quicksand, and sooner or later we're going to get on to the higher ground. That's been our goal all along. I think with hard work and dedication, we've been able to do that. A lot of teams would have given up, and drivers given up, and maybe gone and done something else.

Q. I think you've said that in your career, you're either hot or cold, or you've always been winning or not finishing. It seems like an either/or proposition. Have you ever thought you should try for a happy medium, or is that just the way you are? That's the way you feel you can win, as you say, hot or cold?

PAUL TRACY: I've been trying to change that this year. I don't think I have the best car out there on the weekends, but I think we had the best -- we had the best strategy and the best plan throughout the race. A lot of times, that's the key to win races. It's not just really about having the fastest car. I think if we can continue what we've been doing this year and get some luck going our way, consistency will come. In years past, when I was with Penske, there was only certain tracks that in the last couple of years where the car seemed to work really well, and your window of opportunity really was only at a few places. And in '97, I was able to capitalize on that, but really struggled the rest of the year. I think with what we have on our team, we have a consistent package. Our goal is to just, you know, try to be more consistent.

Q. Do you have any, you know, special camaraderie or rapport with any other Canadians on the circuit? Do you consider them all rivals like all other teams?

PAUL TRACY: Greg and Patrick and I, we get along pretty well. Greg and I get along pretty well. And his engineer, he is also Canadian. We try to hang out a little bit. Coincidentally, Greg, after the race, asked me if he could borrow my rental car and said he'd take it back for me. I hope he did. He gave me a ride to the airport and said, "I need to borrow your rental car for a couple days." And I said, "Well, you'd better." So yeah, we get along well.

Q. The other drivers on the circuit, is there anybody that you hang out with in the off-season?

PAUL TRACY: Not really. In the off-season, our season is so busy. And usually the off-seasons are just really dedicated to my wife and my family, mostly. Just spending time with them, because my wife, I drag her around all over the country and all over the world for seven, eight months of the year. And in those four months, it's time to really just do the things that she wants to do and the things we need to do around the house. Really, just kind of get away from the motor racing a little bit, as much as I can in between testing. We're still pretty busy with the testing and all that. But it's really just time at home.

Q. Is there any one or two drivers that you consider your closest friends on the circuit?

PAUL TRACY: It's hard to put your finger. My closest, closest friends are people from high school and things like that. But the guys that I hang out with are, you know, obviously Dario and I hang out with Greg, and Vasser. Jimmy lives here in Vegas; so we spend a lot of time on the same flights with each other and talk pretty regularly.

Q. In an interview I had with Barry Green around Christmas time, we were talking about you and he said: He wanted a driver like that you was aggressive and you're one of the best test drivers in the business. We all can verify that, I guess. But comment on that just a little bit. I mean, after all you don't want an aggressive driver; you want one that's just riding along.

PAUL TRACY: I worked a long time at testing. That was my first contract was a testing contract for Penske. I look at it as: I love driving a race car. And any time that I'm able to get in the race car, I love to be in it. You know, a lot of guys, they don't want -- they just want to come to race weekends and do their thing. But for me to go out and test and try different things, I love doing it. And when I get in the car, I give hundred percent all day long, whether it's a race or chance for practice or whatever. I think Barry enjoys that. Engineers enjoy that. Because when we do to a two-day test, they are going to get two solid days out of me; not one-and-three-quarter or one-and-a-half, busy making phone calls and things like that. I'm there to test, and I want to learn about the car and find out what works and what doesn't work.

Q. I would rather have an aggressive drive and even a bad boy, as someone referred to you as. I don't refer to you as a bad boy, but I would rather have somebody like that that just rides along.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

Q. I was going to ask you if you have felt in any way from a media standpoint, not your own, slightly overshadowed by Dario up until last weekend?

PAUL TRACY: I don't think so. Obviously, Dario has done a tremendous job. He's won some races last year, and he's been very, very consistent this year. You know, he's been finishing on the podium virtually -- virtually every weekend. But I know how much effort that I've put in and how much effort he's put in -- put both of us and both of our cars in a position to do that. I don't think that Dario could have done it without my help, and I could not have won the race this weekend without his help in terms of getting the car set up. I didn't go to test in Milwaukee, and Dario did the test, and he set the car up. And I came and we ran the car the way that he did the test, and I was really happy with the car all weekend. It takes teamwork. And sure, sure we're competitors and we both want to beat each other, but I've been doing this long enough and I've had some pretty high-profile teammates Emerson, and Michael Andretti and Mario that I kind of know what it's like to be overshadowed once in awhile.

Q. Does that put you in good stead then? Obviously, if you had not had that from your past, you might have been slightly more concerned than you have been?

PAUL TRACY: I think -- maybe. But, you know, I was thrust into a really high-profile team with high-profile teammates. You know, I guess I've gotten used to that. If a guy outruns you, you know, he's not the only guy on the track that -- from my standpoint, Dario is not the only guy on the track that I need to worry about.

Q. Paul, if you would, talk about your road course?

PAUL TRACY: I feel really good about the car on the road courses. I felt through the winter that our weak point -- if we had a weak point on the team, it was on the short oval where the team -- generally, we struggled lasted year with the way it was setup, both Dario and myself, and we weren't totally, totally confident that we were out of the woods this year. Felt a lot better about our road course package, or we tested better throughout the winter. And throughout the spring, the tests that we've done, we've been very, very happy with the road course package. I feel good about going into the road course, and I think we have a really great shot at the next four or five races as a team.

Q. Specifically, the one coming up in Portland, what does the car need to do there to get you to make that turn into the winner's circle?

PAUL TRACY: That's a track that we go to that's very, very high speed. We run very little down-force. Some quite fast technical corners; so obviously, you need the car to work mechanically because you have very little down-force on the car. Dario and I both tested there, and we both went really, really quick. We're looking, myself, anyway, I'm looking forward to getting out there, because I feel like I've got a good chance to win there, and I feel good about it.

Q. I notice when you climbed out of the car at Milwaukee and you pulled your helmet off, the normal coolness that Paul Tracy has seemed to be overshadowed by a lot of emotion, and it was as though I saw it in your eyes. Was there a lot of emotion, and what were you feeling when you stood on the side pod?

PAUL TRACY: I was really excited, obviously. And I was talking to my engineer Tony, about it just a minute ago. He said, "You looked pretty tired when you got out of the car." I said, "I really wasn't that tired, but mentally, I was pretty drained." You know, it's been so long since I've gotten into the winner's circle, and the last, you know, 15 laps, when I knew that we were in position to win, I was concentrating so hard and thinking about what I needed to do and not making any mistakes and worrying about everything that could go wrong. And the last 15 laps of the race was just mentally exhausting. And I guess since I haven't won -- I've won a lot of races, but it's been a while since I've won a race, and it's almost like winning your first one again. It's just exhausting. After the race, I was just -- just kind of you, know, relieved and tired, excited, and kind of everything all at once, you know.

Q. Who needed this worse: Paul Tracy or the team?

PAUL TRACY: That's hard to put your finger on. My guys have worked really hard the last couple years. My crew guys were the team for Penske; so they haven't won a race since '95 or '96. I think both. We kind of both -- everybody on the team needed it as much as anybody else. I don't think there was any one person that needed a victory.

Q. And a final question, if I may: Going into Portland, you now know that in actuality, the racing guys are not against you. How different a feeling is that?

PAUL TRACY: We have had a lot of bad luck go our way and a lost misfortune. Now that I feel like we have in a weight lifted off -- I feel like I have had weight lifted off my shoulders. Little bit more relaxed and a little bit more comfortable. That doesn't mean -- you know, I was talking to my wife: "You know, you live, and it seems like you carry -- the bad things that happen always tend to stick out in your mind." Winning the race was great, but I was really happy for a couple of hours, and then right after that, I started thinking about what I needed to do, you know, to win Portland. So the moments seem to last very short for wins, and things that happen badly, they seem to carry on for a while in your memory. Now that we've got this win, it kind of erases a lot of bad things, and it kinds of has lifted a weight off everybody's shoulders.

Q. You've talked a little about Tony Cicale. Have you found a kindred spirit in him? Is he the guy that's making you feel the most comfortable? Talk a little bit about what this whole new feeling is now, having Tony working with you?

PAUL TRACY: I just have supreme confidence in his ability as a race car engineer. We don't really have a lot of stuff that's that different on the car. But, you know, I believe in him, and he believes in me. And he's able to pull things out of me and question me in a lot of ways. And we're able to just -- he's able to generate more out of me, and I'm able to give him more. And we just kind of feed off of each other. It's more productive than any engineer that I've ever worked with before. It's a really good feeling.

Q. Thanks so much and good luck in Portland.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

Q. Watching the race and watching the closing laps, and I wrote: "Paul drove a smart race and let the race come to him." Was I pretty accurate on that?

PAUL TRACY: I think so. Like I said, I don't think we had the fastest car for outright speed. I think we were -- at certain points of the race, we led, and I showed that we were as fast as everybody. But we really had made a decision right after that second stop that, you know, looking at the tires from the first stop and the fuel, when the car was rich, we leaned for a few laps and engineers figured out: Hey, we can do this without stopping again if we get on the ball right now. And they radioed me and told me that -- to go fully in and try to save as much fuel as I could, because they thought we could do in one stop. And if not, if it went yellow, then we'd be pitting and we'd have more fuel than other people, and that might get us out in front. If we weren't going to make it, if it went yellow and we did a pit stop, we'd be paying with more fuel than everybody, and that only gives you a quicker -- takes less time to put fuel in the car. And we might be able to get out in front of everyone, and that would put us in a lead for a sprint at the end. So our strategy was kind of twofold. Our goal was to try to go to the end, but if we don't, try to save as much fuel as we could so we could beat the other guys out of the pit. You know, it was really just playing it smart and listening to the team and them telling me if I was not making the mileage; or if I was, just try and do the best that I could.

Q. Talk about Portland. Where do you see the advantages are going to be for you there?

PAUL TRACY: I think that, like I said, we've got a really good road course car. Portland is a fuel-mileage race and a tire-wear race because of the down-force level that we run. So really, just conserving tires and saving as much fuel as we can and not having to make that extra stop. Again, it's going to be important there.

Q. You mentioned the strategy. Who all goes into developing your race strategy?

PAUL TRACY: It really kind of varies race to race, depending on traffic, depending on conditions that you're running in. But, you know, we have people from our engineers from Honda that are watching everything that's going on. We have our own engineers on the team. And obviously, you know, they are the ones that really have a closer eye on what's going on. And they relay the information to Tony and Barry. And it's really their decision to make the gut call on what to do, whether we're going to try to do it in one stop or two stops or whatever. But it's really the Honda engineers and our telemetry engineers that really figure out what's going on with the car lap to lap, corner to corner; so, they are much more in tune with what's happening.

Q. I know that at the driver's meeting before Gateway you had some comments about safety. And unfortunately, we had the incident at Gateway, and now the one in Milwaukee. Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts on protecting your crew and what Team KOOL Green does to help insure that?

PAUL TRACY: Obviously, the helmet is a big deal. But I was talking to Barry about this the other day. And I've always done my pit stops in the past -- at least when I was in Penske, we never put the car on the ground until the fuel was done. When the fuel guy pulled out, the vent and air jet would pull -- leave at the same time. And that really eliminated you from really going anywhere, and that's typically how I had done it all typically in the past. And now, a lot of teams are letting the car on the ground, and you're in gear; and, you know, the fuel guy is still in. So, you're on the ground in gear, and something goes wrong with the clutch or your foot comes off with the clutch and you're leaving; whereas, if you're in the air, you're not going to go anywhere. And I think it might be a good idea -- I talked to Barry about that, making it mandatory that you're not allowed to put the car on the ground until the fuel is done. And that would eliminate the guy from going anywhere, because your wheels are just going to spin in the air, and it would eliminate guys from getting run over.

Q. Have you all considered either putting the vent or the air jacket in a different location, or extending the disconnect devices that would take the vent man further away from the car when he actually does it where he doesn't have to lean over so far?

PAUL TRACY: I really don't know too much about this. You really have to look at the possibility where he could put it. There was a lot of stuff going on inside the tub, wiring and stuff like that. You know, I'm not the person to ask about another location where we could put that kind of stuff, but I'm sure there is. And anything that we can do is a benefit for everybody.

Q. I know no matter what anybody said about you, you've always had the highest regard for your team's personal safety, and we appreciate that.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

Q. The last couple races, we're able to listen to you guys on the in-car radio, and I've been listening to you and Tony talk a little. Obviously, you guys have real good communication. Were you guys pretty much on the same page vocabulary-wise when you guys got together?

PAUL TRACY: I think so. It didn't really take us long -- long at all to really get together. I mean, I had never worked with him before, but obviously, I know what he has done in the past, and I know who he has worked with in the past, and I know how many championships he has won; so, I have a high regard for him. And it's vice versa. He's only watched me from the start and watched the races that I've won, and he likes racing-type of drivers, aggressive drivers. He's worked with Michael before, and Mario. He was with them for a long time. Obviously, Jacques, he won the championship with Jacques; so he likes that aggressive style of driving. You know, he was -- he was very keen to work with me. So I think there was mutual respect back and forth, and really, it doesn't didn't -- there was no -- we just kind of got off on the right foot, you know, right away personally. And I think that's what really helps us, you know, on the racetrack on a race weekend.

Q. Did you ever find out how much fuel you had left?

PAUL TRACY: We had about two quarts of fuel left. And there was none in the tank and there was like a trap door where the fuel pick-up is. There was just two quarts of fuel in the pick-up area.

Q. Quick question about the business side of things, Paul. There's a lot of pressure on major league baseball players now to where logos on their uniforms and also pro golfers. And, in fact, on Monday, Jeff Maggert, who is a famous professional golfer said that he'd "Hate to see golfers look like race drivers with logos plastered all over them." That was a quote. I wondered, as a race driver, how do you feel about that, and do you feel like you are too over-commercialized?

PAUL TRACY: I don't think so. For us, it's a different type of a sport. It's not such an individual sport. I mean, we've got a whole team to support. We've got race cars to buy. You know, without the support of the sponsors, none of that would be possible. You know, from my standpoint, I mean, our cars, at least on Barry's team, they are not really littered with a lot of different sponsorship names. He's got his one major sponsor is KOOL and Brown Williamson. And we have a lot of other -- paramount of smaller sponsors, but you see a lot of cars and Winston Cup cars that are just littered with names. And Barry likes the car to look pretty clean and well-organized looking. And we've got the budget from a small amount of sponsors that we need to do the job, but without those sponsors, he would not be in business. I think for any team, they have got to try and raise the money to be able to -- provide entertainment; and without that funding, it would not happen.

Q. Did you watch Indianapolis the day after St. Louis, and what were your feelings about that?

PAUL TRACY: I did watch Indianapolis Robby Gordon and I are pretty good friends, and I was pulling for him. I was really bummed out for him that he did not win the race. On Sunday, with our race, I was thinking of Robby when he ran out of fuel, and I thought I was going to run out of fuel. I thought: Oh, this is going to be the same deal, because I didn't think we were going to make it on fuel for the end of the race. But we did. That's a huge race, and I think that you ask any racing driver in the world if he wanted to race in Indianapolis, I'm sure that a hundred percent of them would say yes. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't. I've done it in the past, and I'd like to do it again.

Q. When we last spoke it was in -- it was in Gateway before the St. Louis race, and we were speaking about your relationship with Dario. And then in the race, you guys got together and at his end one of several incidents, and I just wanted to follow-up with our conversation. Did you and Dario ever speak about that, and if so, what did you guys discuss and what were your feelings about the incident?

PAUL TRACY: We discussed it on Thursday. I was testing all week and didn't really have an opportunity, you know. He was doing some media stuff and didn't have an opportunity. Our schedules were kind of conflicting to get a hold of each other, and he came over to my box and we sat down and talked, and he apologized about what happened. And we just kind of decided that we can't really have things like that happen. But, you know, it happened. We can't change what happened. And I think we've gotten to this situation because we both worked together so well and we both -- always on the same page trying to make the car better. And we've gotten both cars competitive within the team. That's pretty rare, really, when you see both cars that close on the grid a lot of the time and you know, running that close together. We've done that because of teamwork. But in the future, it's really Barry's call what are we going to do if we're running first and second, and one guy is breathing down the other guy's neck. It's really going to have to be Barry's call to what's going to happen.

Q. So you guys might actually go to a sort of on-the-fly team orders sort of thing?

PAUL TRACY: Well, our past track record has not been good; so I think, you know, we've call kind of decided that it needs to be a team decision. And that's best for the team. One day, it's going to be good for one guy, and another day it's going to be good for the other guy. That's kind of the way we're going to run it.

Q. I just wondered if you had any thoughts of Montana last year?

PAUL TRACY: Oh, definitely. Every possible scenario same into my mind. I don't know if you heard earlier that I had all these -- mentally, I was exhausted after the race, with just all of the things: If I had enough fuel and not make any mistakes. And I thought we had to restart, and then I had a good restart, and it went yellow. And it was exactly like Montana: I was in first and Greg was in second. Just all these scenarios going through my mind. Sure, I thought about it. That was, you know, a big mistake that basically cost me a million dollars in prize money. I felt that we had the race in hand, and I just did not want to make -- have that happen again.

Q. It just dawned on me a few moments ago: Was this your first win with your new wife?

PAUL TRACY: No. We had three wins in '97. We weren't married at the time, but we were together.

Q. I was just wondering how it felt to be -- how she took to your first win?

PAUL TRACY: Oh, she was just ecstatic. She was ecstatic the first three wins. I think it was kind of a -- probably a little bit tougher for her, because when we first got together, the first three races that she came to, I won three in a row. And I think she thought: Oh, this is pretty easy. And then, you know, it's been pretty tough for her the last year and a half, two years, not having a win. And the disappointment, she takes it harder than I do. And to get that win there in Wisconsin; and that's where she was born and that's where her family lives, her aunts and uncles, all her cousins, they were all at the race. It's a special day for her as well.

Q. Gave you a little extra incentive, I guess?


T.E. McHALE: Paul, we want to thank you for being with us this afternoon. Best of luck can in the Budweiser GI Joe's 200 presented by Texaco Avalon coming up at Portland next week and during the rest of the FedEx Championship Series.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

T.E. McHALE: Thank you all for being with us and we'll talk to you next week.

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