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CART MEDIA CONFERENCE

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART MEDIA CONFERENCE

Paul Tracy
April 29, 1997


T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. I'm pleased that you could all join us this afternoon, and we'd like to extend a special welcome to our guest, driver Paul Tracy, from Marlboro Team Penske. Paul earned his 11th career victory Sunday in the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix presented by Toyota at Nazareth Speedway. He won from the pole for the fourth time in his PPG CART World Series career, collecting $70,000 from the Marlboro pole Award Fund for doing so. That breaks down to 10,000 for winning the pole position on Saturday and another 60,000 in roll-over bonus money for becoming the first driver of the 1997 PPG Cup season to win from the pole. Welcome, Paul.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

T.E. McHALE: Sunday's victory was Paul's first in 27 PPG CART World Series starts, dating back to a win at the Milwaukee Mile on June 4th, 1995. It was the first win in 20 races for Marlboro Team Penske, dating back to Al Unser Jr.'s victory at the Molson Indy Vancouver on September 3rd, 1995. Paul's pole position was the 11th of his PPG CART World Series career -- correct that -- the 10th of his PPG CART World Series career, and his pole winning speed of 191.174 miles per hour was a world record for a one mile oval. With 45 points, he currently stands third in the PPG Cup standings behind Michael Andretti with 51 points, and Scott Pruett with 47. With that, we're going to open it up for questions.

Q. Yes, Paul, our race here at the Bud Willow 300 is coming up and you guys aren't going to test on it I think until the Wednesday before the Saturday race. Could you talk about that a little bit, what kind of problems that's going to present, how you're going to attack it?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I guess we're just going to have to go off of, you know, what we do at Brazil and what we've done at Nazareth. Set up for a fairly similar -- I saw some footage of the track on a Handy-Cam, and it looks fairly similar to Phoenix, Phoenix International Raceway, just the way it's laid out, but it's a little longer. So, we tested at Phoenix over the winter, and we'll just have to go with this as the same setup.

Q. Will it be a guessing game on tires or how will you do that?

PAUL TRACY: Pretty much. I mean, it's tough not having an opportunity to test there and having to go in there cold turkey. It's going to be a big gamble on both Goodyear and Firestone's part on which tire we're going to use.

Q. It seems like in the last four or five, the hot rumor of course was Roger wasn't going to take you anymore if you kept crashing after you were leading. Talk a little bit just how you approach -- what's your relationship like with him, and maybe what's happened in the last year or so, and has your situation ever been where you thought you were out?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I don't think so. There was always rumors, and I had to deal with that from when I started with Penske, but my relationship now with Roger is real strong. We struggled last year, and, you know, everybody -- everyone on the whole team were a little bit on edge, and everybody was wrestling with the fact that we hadn't won a race. But, I guess winning the race this weekend in front of, you know, our home town shop 30 miles away, and Phillip Morris, had to get gas there, and every crew member there had a family there. So, I mean, it was a big deal for everybody, and Roger was real happy.

Q. Paul, just a follow-up: So is your contract, you guys have like -- do you re-up every year? Can you talk a little bit about that.

PAUL TRACY: My contract is a three-year deal which started last year, so this year and another year contract.

Q. Hi, Paul. What's more important given the situation you had and the team had, the win or your position in points?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think both. I mean, our position and the points is always critical to win the championship, but I guess what was most important finally was get a win, and everybody was looking for that. And it's always -- that's why we're out there is to win, and not only to win the championship, but try to do the best we can in every race. So, I mean, to win there in front of everybody was just a great deal.

Q. The thing is, you've never had this many points after this many races?

PAUL TRACY: No. It's a good feeling. I mean, I was laying in bed last night when I got back, and I said, Well, if I had the points from Australia and a slightly better finish in Long Beach, I'd be looking real good right now. But, I guess there's no point in focusing on that. I'm trying to finish every race. Had one DNF, and that's all I'm going to try to ask.

Q. One other thing: Prize money is never talked about in CART, but does it still -- I mean, obviously, you got the 60,000, but in terms of a payout from the race, do you still collect your 45, 50 percent from a fund?

PAUL TRACY: Yes. This month is going to be a good month for us and covers the fine, I guess. But, that's not the most part. It's just winning and getting that trophy. The prize money is always a nice bonus.

Q. How much prize money was there? Can you say?

PAUL TRACY: I don't even know what it was. I won't know until I get it.

Q. Yeah, Paul, I'd like you to talk about last year. Do you feel that sometimes, you know, because of the struggles you had last year and the pressure, that sometimes you were really overdriving the car just to try to get the results?

PAUL TRACY: Well, yeah, I'm sure. Everybody does that when things aren't going right. I've also been in situations, you're just trying to get the most out of the car all the time. And, you know, to try to win a race nowadays, everything has to go exactly perfect for you, and sometimes, you know, when they're not, then you're trying to force things to happen. Usually that's when bad things happen.

Q. Thanks. Good morning, Paul, or good afternoon, wherever you happen to be. Tell us what you did last night after the race, or rather, Sunday night after the race and what you've been doing since then.

PAUL TRACY: Well, I hung around the track for awhile, and the crew guys came over and the coach and hung around and talked about the race, and everybody kind of partied a little bit and then flew home, and I've just been actually just cleaning up and doing laundry and figuring out what I need to take to Brazil. We've got a test coming up on the weekend and before to Brazil so I'm just getting ready for that.

Q. Will you be testing in Nazareth or somewhere else?

PAUL TRACY: At Milwaukee.

Q. Is there some reason why you're testing in a non-Penske track?

PAUL TRACY: No. I mean, you know, we've raced there, and two races from now, and there was some things that we learned from this weekend that we want to try at Milwaukee, so see how it works there. So, we're just, you know, we're working every single week to try to win the championship. And Milwaukee is a track, and we haven't had an opportunity to test there yet, so with this break with a weekend off, it's our opportunity.

Q. And, finally, the last time a driver publicly kissed a car owner, I think it was actually the other way around. It was Mario Andretti and Andy Granacelli (phonetic). Can you tell us whether you were thinking about that situation at the time or was it just spontaneous?

PAUL TRACY: It was spontaneous. I could see how happy he was from the look in his eye, and we just kind of grabbed each other, and it was a pretty special moment for him. Obviously, he has never ever come to Winner's Circle, and I wasn't expecting to see him there because he only goes to the Winner's Circle at Indianapolis. And it was just good to see him there and see how happy he was.

Q. Paul, I just wanted to ask you, the race ended under a yellow, and sometimes -- or most times that's sort of disappointing for the fans, whether you're they're favorite driver or not or whoever wins is their favorite driver, it's just sort of a letdown. Is there any way from a driver's perspective that you could come up with a reason for ending under green or a way that you could end under green?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, the race distance was only supposed to be 225, and we were geared up on that fuel, so there's really no way they can extend the race. But, you know, I think the fans got a good show. Michael and I, you know, we went back and forth during the race, and the last 80 laps, we were off the tail. So, I mean, a little bit disappointing that we didn't run right to the checkered flag, but I mean, things happen. The guy's engine blew, and there was oil all over the track and turned two and all the way back down the straightaway, so for safety, you really have to try to clean it up because we were running at speeds, there definitely could have been an accident.

Q. You said the weekend you talked a bit about, you know, the Goodyear Tires, how well they worked and how much better the new chassis is compared to last year's. With the Mercedes engine, is there -- has a lot changed there significantly over last year? Is it much better? And in what ways, you know, has that developed and helped?

PAUL TRACY: Well, it really has. The job that Mercedes has done, it's -- they built a new motor every year which has been a total redesign, not just a fix-up here and a little change there. They've redesigned the engine every year and going to 40 inches this year full time. They built a new engine for us, and I think really we've got the best engine out there. It has really good straight-line speeds everywhere, but it's real competitive. I mean, Ford was not really there last year; they're right there this year. And Honda hasn't really done all that much this year. So, it's totally -- the face of the engine war has changed quite a bit from last year to this year. And I think right now that the Mercedes package is probably the best out there. They've been on the second for the last six, I think, in a row, so missing out on the Winner's Circle, and I was glad that I was able to do it for them.

Q. Congratulations, Paul, on your win at Nazareth.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

Q. I'd like to go back to last year, though, about this time or maybe a little bit earlier, you had an operation on your eyes. It has to be successful. I don't see you wearing glasses.

PAUL TRACY: Well, it really was. I was nearsighted, which I needed glasses to see far. So, a guy in Phoenix who does that operation did it for me, and I came out 20/20 in one eye and 20/25 in the other, and that's good enough for me, and that's near on perfect. So, I mean, I'm pretty happy with it.

Q. Paul, you know, getting back to that incident in the Winner's Circle there where you and Roger were sort of embracing, I mean, Roger always seems to us to be a very tightly wound guy, and I know that, you know, that the team had gone 20 races without a victory. Now, was it getting to the point where the pressure was almost so much that I think Roger's solution that any problem is for everybody to work harder, and I was wondering if it was getting to that point where everybody was just so intent on winning, that was actually kind of working against you a little bit -- you know what I mean? -- you wanting it so badly, the whole team, that it gets to a point where it's very difficult to win under those circumstances? Did it ever get to that point with you and you could feel that everybody was maybe kind of losing it a bit?

PAUL TRACY: I wouldn't say "losing it." There's times when we'd get tired. I mean, the amount of testing that we've done, I mean, I've only been at home for probably -- since about January, I've probably only been home maybe 7 to 10 days, so this -- you know, I got home Sunday until when I have to leave on Saturday is the longest I've been home since the turn of the year. I mean, Roger's solution to fixing problems is obviously working harder, doing more testing, with the testing everywhere we can possibly get on. And, you know, at times it kind of runs a lot of the mechanics into the ground, and I don't have to work at the shop every day, you know. I know how much I have to travel, and those guys are working every day, so it's definitely hard on the mechanics and engineers and the families and just really focused on what we've had to do, and we knew a win was going to come sooner or later, but we definitely put a lot of effort into it.

Q. First of all, Paul, going back to everything that you had to go through before you captured your first victory, including the leg injury, and the period of the last victory until this 11th one, which victory means the most to you?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, every victory is pretty special in its own right. But, I mean, I would have to say the best victory that I've probably ever had was when I won in Toronto, my home town. But this one is right there, because I've been searching for a win for almost two years now, since Milwaukee in '95, so that's coming up in about a month. I haven't won since then. So, definitely this is -- this was a very satisfying victory, and also because of the amount of effort that everybody has put into this Marlboro Team. Nobody -- I don't think there's any other team out there that's worked harder than us to get back to the Winner's Circle, and I think we've all put a lot of effort in, and it's paid off.

Q. You spoke earlier about during this period of sometimes maybe overdriving the car. There has been so much said, so much written about that period, and of course the fine at the Long Beach race. If you were producing or writing a story about that period and about the possibility of Paul Tracy overdriving the car, what would you say about it instead of, you know, normally we say, and drivers come back and say, "You never know. You're not in the car."

PAUL TRACY: Well, it's hard to say. I'd really have to sit down and think about it, but, I mean, there was a lot of things in my personal life that was going on at that time, and I was wrestling with my racing career. But, you know, it just took a couple months over the season to really sit down and focus and think about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to achieve and really put that effort into everything, all the testing and, you know, everything that we had to do to get the car back in the Winner's Circle, and that's what we focused on from the day after the season ended, started testing in Portland with the Reynard and trying to learn, trying to figure out, you know, what direction we wanted to go with the car and the team, and that's what was able to get us back.

Q. Do you feel that sometimes we, the media, have been too critical of you?

PAUL TRACY: You know, it's hard to say. That's what you guys are paid to do is look into the, you know, we're the racing community is kind of a -- it's kind of a bubble, and you guys have to look inside of it and put your finger on certain points. And, you know, myself not winning in the amount of time that I haven't won, and obviously Roger's team, the most successful team in Indy Car racing, not having won a race in 20 races, that's a big story, and there's a lot of changes that were made to fix that.

Q. Paul, I'm interested in some clarification of comments you made before the race that was on a little minuet that ABC ran about the competitiveness and perhaps the nonpersonal relationships amongst the drivers. Can you comment a little further on that?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, I'm not best friends with any of the drivers out there. I don't think any of us are. I mean, everybody has their personal friends from wherever, high school or growing up when they were kids. And it's a competitive sport, and, you know, this racing, everybody is out there to win. Nobody is out there to let a guy by or give up position to anybody, and that was just my feeling on that.

Q. Is it a conscious decision to not become too friendly with fellow drivers so that it won't affect your competitiveness?

PAUL TRACY: I think so. I mean, I'm friendly with everybody, but, you know, when it's time to go racing, it's time to go racing. And I think that's the same in any sport, whether basketball or football or hockey. And, you know, hockey, if you're buddies with a guy, then you're definitely not going to put him into the board as hard going for the puck. So, you know, in racing, you know, we're out there to win. I know I'm out there to win, and if I'm, you know, real close with somebody, then I might be a little softer on trying to make a move or put a pass on someone. That's not the situation.

Q. Hi, Paul. How are you?

PAUL TRACY: Hi.

Q. A couple questions for you: Most of them have been answered already. But as a professional athlete, I know when you guys drive around a track, there's a lot of G-forces

pulling. Have you ever, as a professional athlete, suffered from taco neck syndrome?

PAUL TRACY: What's -- no, I don't think so.

Q. That's the only question I have. Thank you, Paul, very much. We enjoy you.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

Q. Paul, you were just talking about when you're trying to get by somebody or keep someone from getting by, in those situations where you've been leading and you crash, what is happening in your mind? Is it a really emotional situation when you're battling with someone or are you able to calculate the, you know, what's going to happen if you do this or if you do that?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I usually, in a situation like that, you're usually struggling with the handling of the car, and I'm pushing to try to stay in front or you're pushing to try to get by someone. And usually when a car is right, everything is good, going right, but when things aren't right, you're wrestling with the car, and you're trying to hold off the guy behind you. And usually, I mean, driving as hard or as long as you can, you know, if you're having a problem with the car, it's hard to drive exactly on the limit all the time, especially when you have somebody that's breathing down your neck. And usually, you know, sometimes a mistake will happen when you're trying to get more out of the car than is there.

Q. What about when you're trying to get past someone, is that -- you're talking about when you're trying to hold someone off.

PAUL TRACY: Uh-huh.

Q. What about when you're trying to get past somebody else?

PAUL TRACY: Well, usually it's the opposite situation. The guy in front of you is not handling as well as you are, he's busy looking in his mirrors trying to find a way to keep you behind. That's part of racing, though, I guess. It's kind of a give-take sport. There's always going to be one winner and one loser. Sometimes it's tough for the guy who's in a position to lose the race to give up and let the guy go by.

Q. Is that what happened with you, it's just hard to give up?

PAUL TRACY: Yeah, I mean, definitely. I don't like to lose to anybody. You know, I think this year, I've shown that we're finishing races, taking what I can get from each race. Long Beach, all we were capable of was a 7, and I took those points, and without those points right now, I wouldn't be up in the championship as far as I am, so you have to take what we can get at every race, whether it's a win or 12th place.

Q. Is there ever a time when if you let somebody go, you might be able to get them later like at another lap or the next corner, something like that?

PAUL TRACY: Yeah. I mean, it just depends on the situation. Most of the cases on a street course or on a road course, you've really got only one opportunity. It's so hard to pass at a lot of the places we go to. On ovals, it's not so bad because of handling yellows, but street courses are particularly tough to get by people, and if an opportunity comes up or you miss on an opportunity, you might not get that opportunity again.

Q. Hey, Paul, going back a little bit to the team being friends with your fellow drivers and stuff. There's always been -- it's been kind of a -- I would say an uneasy piece between you and Junior, and there was a story last year you guys didn't even share information because it was -- was that true or false, and how is your relationship now?

PAUL TRACY: Our relationship is good. Can you hang on one second?

Q. Sure.

PAUL TRACY: Hello?

Q. Oh, hi. Paul?

T.E. McHALE: Excuse me, Brenda. I don't think the question was finished.

PAUL TRACY: I didn't get to finish that question.

T.E. McHALE: Let him finish the answer, if you would, please.

PAUL TRACY: You know, sure, at times there was times when Al and I didn't get along. But we're great, and I think that's just a fact that he is so competitive and I'm so competitive and -- but over the last year, from about Detroit on last year, we've really gotten along a lot better and shared a lot more information. And, you know, having gone through this last winter, we tested so much together and been around each other a lot. Because of the amount of testing we've been doing, we really got to know each other a lot better. We really didn't know each other that well, just really as competitors, and we do get along a lot better. We're sharing a lot of information. I think it shows in his performance this weekend. I did the testing at Nazareth, and he had to set up, as well, and, I mean, we're just really getting along a lot better. But, you know, we definitely still want to beat each other, but we realize what the goal is. And the goal, first off, was to get one of these cars back in the Winner's Circle regardless of who it was.

Q. Hey, Paul, was it the kind of situation where R.P. stepped in and said, "Hey, I'm paying you guys to win, but you're going to start talking to each other and getting along"?

PAUL TRACY: He really didn't have to say that. I think we both realized it. We're both still very, very competitive, and we still have our own ideas on what we want to do on race setup, but we realized it ourselves, to get the most out of this team and get the most out of the crew guys, everybody has to be working together. And it can't just be Al's team and Paul's team, two separate trucks, two separate teams. So it's been -- I think we both realize that and both put our heads together, and I think it's helped a lot.

Q. Paul, this is just kind of a follow-up to all of this relationship you have with the other drivers, but Greg Moore, a fellow Canadian driver criticized you quite a bit after the Long Beach race. I guess that was the race where you were penalized for reckless driving. Now, I mean, just because Greg is from Canada, a guy that you know, I mean, what's your relationship with him? And just a second part to that question, you've always been a very, you know, confident individual, and I wondered the fact that the team had gone 20 races without a win - 27 races in your case - were you beginning to doubt yourself at all? I mean, and I just wondered if when you start to doubt yourself, do you lose that edge that you had when you were, you know, a fairly consistent winner?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think there's times in every person's career that they go through highs and lows, and we definitely went through some lows last year. But, you know, over the winter, I really tried to rebuild my confidence, and training all winter and testing and pretty much when the team started, I was ready to go. And I knew I was going to win a race pretty soon, and showed that at Miami, showed that at Australia, showed -- we were strong at Long Beach, given the fact that, you know, we had some trouble there. But, the question about Greg, I mean, Greg and I get along real well. I mean, when we would be in Phoenix and he would come to town, he'll give me a call and we'll go out to dinner. At the time that happened, I went and looked for him after the race. I wanted to apologize and say it was a mistake. I didn't mean for it to happen and purposely tried to bump into him, but having not found him and opened up the papers and obviously heard from my father who lives in Canada. I was a little disappointed at the reaction, because it definitely wasn't on purpose or anything, and I just think that he should have given me an opportunity to talk to him first.

Q. Paul, one last thing. Did you find because you had gone 27 races without a win, a lot of people have been predicting that, you know, you were having a break-through year when you were going to win a championship and you're going to win a number of races. Did you ever get to the point where you think, Well, I'm now 28 years old, I better get my act in gear and get going here? I mean, did you ever get to that point where you were now just the circumstances made you a better driver because you realized your options were being limited?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think -- I think, you know, a lot of it was circumstance. We didn't have the best package the last couple years. I think the opportunity was really there in '93 to win the championship, but I dropped the ball. I had five wins and should have won probably eight races, and the opportunity was there, but I guess everything comes when you're ready for it mentally and, you know, when the team is ready for it. You know, we've had to do a lot of restructuring on the team. We had to really refocus everybody, and I think the opportunity is there now, but, you know, we're doing everything we can. I think I'm doing everything I can to try to get myself in position. I'm driving a lot better and definitely a lot more focused.

T.E. McHALE: Thank you. Our time with Paul is getting very short. We'll take one more question, and then we'll let him go.

Q. All four cars in the lead lap were running Goodyear, and are we seeing a major change in the tire wars here? They seem to be working phenomenally.

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think Goodyear has done a great job. I mean, since the end of last year, they've put a lot of focus into the tire testing. I know that I've done a lot of tire testing. I think Firestone was up at Nazareth a couple days before we had a Goodyear test there, and they really didn't capitalize on the opportunity to test. They thought it was too cold and wasn't going to get productive results, and I think that showed at Nazareth. We got out there at our test, and we ran and ran and tried different tires. And I think there's just been a big focus on Goodyear's part to try to get back into the Winner's Circle. Obviously, with St. Louis coming up and Indianapolis, which we're also competing in. So it's, you know, they're very focused. They put a lot of attention and a lot of attention to detail in the product in the last six months, and it showed at the start of the season. You know, Michael won it. And at Miami, we had the best tire there. I obviously was running very strong. And, in Australia, had an opportunity for Goodyear to win there. And obviously Show was on the pole by a long way in Long Beach, and, you know, the opportunity there was -- there was an opportunity there to win, as well, but kind of slipped through his fingers and it showed this weekend. We've been competitive everywhere on all types of circuits, which was not the case last year.

Q. That's great, Paul. Congratulations.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

T.E. McHALE: Thank you. With that, we'll wrap it up. Paul, we want to thank you for being with us, wish you the best of luck in the Hollywood Rio 400 which comes up on May 11th in Rio de Janeiro. Paul, thanks again for being with us today. Good luck the rest of the year.



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