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Car Racing Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

Car Racing Media Conference

Paul Tracy
May 6, 1996


Q. Paul, have you decided yet what happened in the pits? I guess that's the question that everybody wondered about out of that race, whether the brakes locked up on the paint or what it was, in your mind?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, I didn't think I came in any harder than I normally would, but honestly I think there were some factors involved, mostly tire wear and blisters that I had on the tires from being -- having such soft compound tires. I ran the softest tire that Goodyear had and had blistered them, the right front tires, and that's the tire that locks. I mean, I think under normal circumstance, when the tires would have been fine, it wouldn't have been a problem coming in, but just that last couple of feet locked up that right front and with the stagger that drives the rear, when the you lock the front, the stagger in the rear obviously makes the car want to turn left. Under any circumstance, the way the cameras are set up, the way the toes are set up, you've got to actually -- when you're going straight, you have to turn right to make the car go straight, so I was turning into the box, had locked the front tire and the stagger jerked the front end over and I think that's what happened. I mean, it's just -- I this the problem was just the blisters and two worn out tires, I couldn't stop like I normally would.

Q. Did it seem as quick to you as it did seeing it? I mean, was it like an instant thing?

PAUL TRACY: Yes, I mean, it was just an instant thing. I guess -- the good thing is that nobody got hurt. I mean, Matt was fine, he was back in the shop on Monday and ready to go and I guess a good thing is that nobody got hurt out of it. Everybody�s going to be ready to go, and I guess we just learned from it and go onto the next one.

Q. Paul, what do you do in a case like that; do you get the guys together to talk it out or is it just kind of forgotten?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean I talked to each of them individually, but just to tell them how I felt about it, tried to try to make sure that it didn't happen again and we're going to have a little talk in Michigan when we get there like on Thursday or Friday, and everybody sit down and just think about what we need to do in the future.

Q. The obvious question for this month is your feelings about Michigan versus Indy; does it seem strange not to be at Indy and on the track already?

PAUL TRACY: I didn't really think about it until yesterday, before I left, to come to Chicago, I turned on the TV and they had the practice on from Indianapolis,' it was rained out. I haven't really even thought about it. I've just been thinking about -- haven't thought about Indianapolis at all. I've just been thinking about the US 500. Really, the other race hasn't even come into my mind. I mean, it's just how focused I've been on this month, so that's where I'm going to be racing, so really, Indianapolis hasn't really come into my mind at all.

Q. If I can follow-up on that, since the IRL announced its '97 chassis rules and so on, it seems to me that more and more people are thinking maybe this won't be resolved any time soon, and that maybe Carts are going to become more of an international series and IRL will be the domestic series. What are your thoughts along that line?

PAUL TRACY: I really haven't thought about it. I didn't know they announced the rules. Judging by how they had the rules, I mean, they change the rules every other week, so you can't take their booklet in any type of confidence. They change boost levels, they change what they're going to do on motor size every other week. I have to wait and see what really happens. I've just been concentrating on IndyCar and trying to win races the championships and really whatever else happens. I mean, I watch other types of racing, but it really doesn't concern me that much.

Q. You went into this season with high hopes getting back with Penske and having a really good car and the spring training at Homestead seemed to confirm that you were really in a good position. How frustrating has the season been so far to you?

PAUL TRACY: It has been frustrating, but I guess I haven't been letting it get to me. I know I've got a long term deal with Penske and the opportunity is going to come when it comes and there's no sense trying to beat myself to death like I have in the past trying to win every single race. I mean, we have been competitive. We have got a good oval car which we proved at Miami by qualifying on the pole there and breaking that world record at Nazareth. We're a little bit off on the road courses, but we have still been competitive. I've qualified well both in Australia and Long Beach, so I think overall, our package is good. We're a little bit down on horsepower to the Hondas. I think that will show a little bit at Michigan. I think Goodyear's responded well, but we still got some work to do and, you know, the question of series is getting so competitive that it's getting to be -- a lot of it is have and have nots. You've got to have the right package and right now, the right package -- I think the Reynard/Honda/Firestone combination is the right package to have. We have just got to work harder and do our homework and hopefully we can pass above them.

Q. You mentioned the fact that the car may be down on horsepower to the Honda. How do you compensate for that in two ways; one, physically with the car, and then in your mind, how do you compensate for the fact that you go into Michigan thinking that you may be down on horsepower?

PAUL TRACY: Well, it's tough, but you've just got to realize that's the way it is and there's not much you can do about it. You can't make up for the horsepower as king, and you can't make up for it in driving. We have just got to qualify well. The key is going to be reliability, keeping the car underneath you, making sure the wheel bearing temperatures are good and resolve the problems that people had last year, just general mechanics on the car; wiring failures and engine failures, just making sure that you've checked everything or triple checked everything to finish that race. That's going to be really the most important thing. I think, you know, it's going to be pretty tough to say we're going to be a threat for the fall. I don't think that will happen, but if we can qualify inside the top 10 and the most important thing is to race well all day and have a good strategy and pit stops, and hopefully that will bring us to the front.

Q. Mentally do you have to fight yourself to make sure you don't do more than the car can do?

PAUL TRACY: I think you have to realize, I've been in this position before over the last couple of years. I think we will run good speeds, but I think in the race it's a different story than qualifying. Qualifying really doesn't mean a lot at Michigan. You can start anywhere; it's a passing track, it's a drafting track. You can really race people there, a lot more than you can at Indianapolis. It's really a strategy type of track where you keep yourself on the lead lap and race guys all day.

Q. You've had a strong car in both of the true ovals this year, both at Homestead and at Nazareth, and going into Michigan, you're obviously going to have at least one of the cars to be contended with, but your Achilles heel seems to happen when you come into the pits, with five and six pit stops in a race, do you have any extra concern over that or are you doing anything special to alleviate those problems going into the US 500?

PAUL TRACY: We did have a gear box failure, but we learned from that when we beefed up the gear box kickstand with stronger dog rings and gears. We don't think that will be the problem. The biggest problem with doing 500 mile races is the clutch. You don't realize that there's really small clutches on IndyCars. You can really fry a clutch if you slip the clutch real badly in the pits, and with having to do five or six stops, it takes its toll on that. It's something you have to be careful not to slip the clutch too far down the pit lane, because you run such long gears on the super speedway. The speeds are so high, so that's the biggest thing, is keeping -- not burning the clutch out, getting in and out of the pits. Once you lose a clutch and then you come in for a stop, you can't get it in gear. We've seen that before with guys with Guerrero and Sullivan at Indianapolis, who lost a clutch and had to push the car halfway down the pit and then you try to jam it into gear to get it out of the pits, that's when you could cause some damage.

Q. As I recall, the pit lane there is split; it's half asphalt and half concrete. Did that transition give you any trouble in taking care of the car?

PAUL TRACY: No. They've done a good job. The pit lane there is real smooth, not bumpy at all. I think Indianapolis is the same way. A lot of tracks you go to, the pit boxes are concrete.

Q. With the success you've had this year on the oval and previous good runs at New Hampshire, how disappointing is it not to be going back there this year?

PAUL TRACY: It is disappointing. I've always thought it's been a fantastic racetrack. They've got a great facility there. It's disappointing not to go back. I've always run real well. But obviously they've made the decision that they wanted to go with the IRL. That's their business, but I think they definitely had great IndyCar races there and it's disappointing for me personally because it's always been a good track for me.

Q. Paul, first of all, how difficult was it for you to regain your focus after that pit incident in Nazareth and how did you regain your focus?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, it was real difficult. I had -- couldn't really concentrate on what I had to do and just kind of went real docile and just kind of was just driving around to finish the race and it was difficult to keep focused, because I kept thinking about how Matt was and I would radio in every 15 laps and say "do you know how he is" and they weren't sure yet. Then after the last yellow -- during the yellow, they went down there, I think it was Susan that went down there, and gave him a radio and he was fine. He was sitting there on the hospital bed with a Coke in his hand watching the race, so he was propped up and he got on the radio and said he wanted the me to kick some but. That really got me charged up and the last 40 laps was good for me. You know, we made up three for four spots past Rahal on the last lap for fifth, so I was -- although it was a disappointing day for us, we still were able to finish and points are what counts. You've got to try to finish in the top four or five every single race to achieve a championship, so I guess it's a step in the right direction.

Q. The next question, when you're talking about grip, and you have the new Goodyear tires and then you have the lower down force, is there a difference as a driver in a total grip between the tires and the down force, can you sense that?

PAUL TRACY: If it's not showing up as much on the ovals, but we just had a test -- I think it was a combination of a couple of things, but we were quite a lot slower, almost three seconds slower than what the lap record was. I think when you see getting to the tracks like Mid-Ohio, Elkhart, the tougher road courses where down force means a lot to get through the corners, I think it will show that cars are slower, but on the ovals, I mean, grip level is a lot, means a lot in horsepower, and the cars obviously have more as horsepower than last year, and the grip level of the tires much more so. The tires are getting faster.

Q. Finally, about qualifying at Michigan, would you prefer a system like at Indy, where you have four laps to run rather than the standard two laps?

PAUL TRACY: I mean, it doesn't really matter. I mean, almost two laps -- they take the best of two laps, you can get your best speed and sometimes be higher up the grid. It really doesn't really matter what procedure. I mean, it's just kind of irrelevant, the starting position at a race like Michigan isn't really that important. I mean, it's getting the car to last all day and finishing the race.

Q. Paul, I'm just wondering what you and/or the team is going to do. I guess there will be a couple of weeks of downtown between actual qualifying for the race and the race itself. Usually you're at Indy for the whole month and things going on every day, I'm wondering what you're going to be doing during that time?

PAUL TRACY: We're going to be testing, obviously. We're going to go to Elkhart, going to Milwaukee, keep pretty busy really. I mean, getting some stuff done. I mean normally, at this time last year, the guys -- the crew guys are getting stretched fairly thin, I mean, with Australia and Brazil back-to-back and then going Long Beach, Nazareth and then straight into Indy for a whole month, the guys have been away from home for five to six weeks on the trot without seeing their families. So it's a good opportunity to get back to the shop, do some work, and get maintenance up on the cars and rebuild the cars properly for the race, because at Indianapolis, when you're running every day through the whole month, you don't really get the opportunity to truly go through the car and rebuild the thing from the ground up. I had the opportunity to do that, get the mechanics some rest, and get some testing in as well.

Q. I'm just curious, the sentiment among the drivers, is it going to be tough to reconcile the competitive fire that you all have, in terms of not being able to go to Indy and drive there?

PAUL TRACY: For me personally, the most important thing is to be able to compete against the best drivers. I know where they're going to be, so I won't have any problems about getting motivated or fired up about racing. Any type of race, it doesn't matter to me what the venue is, it could be out in the middle of a grass field. If there is a race going on, I'm just as competitive as anybody, so there won't be any problem, from my end, on motivation.

Q. Just a follow-up question. With regard to what's happened this month in the division between the factions in IndyCar racing, how is Tony George generally viewed upon by the drivers on your end?

PAUL TRACY: Pardon me?

Q. How is Tony George viewed, is he considered like a pariah in this whole thing?

PAUL TRACY: I don't know. I haven't really followed it that closely. I've just been -- you know, it's tough to make comments. I think there has been bad judgment calls on either side. I think both sides have to agree to agree and make changes. I mean, there is issues for both sides. I'm not really that politically involved and know all of them, but I know everything is a compromise, and both parties have to agree to agree with each other, and they haven't been able

Q. It was announced this week that they are going to run the Lights for the supporting race on the oval up there as well. You were in the Lights program a couple of years ago and did very, very well. If we were rolling back the clock, if you were in Lights car right now, and they said, okay, we're going to go run the oval in Michigan, what kind of thoughts would you have?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I think it's great. I mean, I was in the Lights program and we ran at Pocono and it was a fantastic opportunity. The biggest transition from a Lights car to an IndyCar is the super speedways. You don't get the opportunity to run at Michigan or Indianapolis. You get a lot of experience on the one-milers in places like Miami and Phoenix, and I think that's the biggest transition and I think it's a good opportunity for those guys. They'll put on a good show, because that will be -- it will be like a stock car race, it will be drafting each other. It will be a good show for a Saturday crowd.

Q. When you look at the season so far, obviously you don't have as many points as you would have hoped to have had at this point, but do you view it positively, that you have been able to salvage some points, despite all kinds of misfortune so far?

PAUL TRACY: I think so. I think it's been under difficult situations again at Long Beach and Nazareth, but we still salvaged a good result out of what happened. The time is going to come, we've just got to not kill ourselves trying to get to it and I guess that's the biggest thing. I said earlier, I've got a long term deal and I'm not under any pressure to perform like I was in the past, and just kind of let things happen for themselves and it will come.

Q. Paul, just on a personal note, you spent just over a year now living in the Scottsdale area; any thoughts or regrets?

PAUL TRACY: No. I mean, The weather is great. I left yesterday and it was 95, went to Chicago and it was about 35 degree out. The weather has been great. I mean, really the only problem, I've been doing so much testing and racing that just -- I was saying to Susan earlier, I've been back and forth from the west coast to the east coast, it will be five times this last week. It gets a little -- it gets you worn down a little bit, but overall, I'm enjoying it and I'm liking the weather a lot.

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