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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Paul Tracy
June 4, 2002


MERRILL CAIN: Good afternoon and welcome to this week'S CART media teleconference. I am Merrill Cain with CART public relations. We are happy to be joined today by Mr. Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green who took the checkered flag Sunday at the Miller Lite 250 in Milwaukee. We hope to hear from Michel Jourdain, Jr., Of Team Rahal, who was scheduled to join us first on today's call. We had some problems reaching him in Mexico. We're certainly happy to be jointed by Paul. Thanks for joining us on the call this afternoon.

PAUL TRACY: Sure.

MERRILL CAIN: I guess it has been, what you'd say, an interesting couple of weeks for you to say the least. On May 26th Paul finished second in the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500 or so we thought. Controversy surrounded the conclusion of the race as it appeared Paul passed Helio Castroneves before a caution flag was displayed following an accident on lap 199 of the 200-lap race. Team Green protested the finish, only to have the protest denied initially. Yesterday the team announced it was formally appealing the decision, so the saga continues. In the meantime, Paul and his team remain focused as evidenced by their performance on the track this weekend. Paul won in Milwaukee for the third time in his career Sunday at Miller Lite 250 and as the driver of the No. 26 KOOL Honda Lola Bridgestone he sits tied for third place with Max Papis in the CART's FedEx Championship Series points standings heading into this weekend's action at the Bridgestone Grand Prix of Monterey at Laguna Seca Raceway. We will open it up for questions for Paul Tracy.

Q. Congratulations last couple of weeks, Paul.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

Q. Basic question about sort of the state of CART right now. It seems before the Indy 500 IRL was taking a lot of punches at CART and Chris Pook has come back sort of punching pretty hard back on sort of a PR campaign in the last week or so. What is your opinion on what the state of CART is right now after all the doom and gloom stories of the last few weeks?

PAUL TRACY: I think we have a great product and Milwaukee was a good race. We had a pretty good crowd there. It wasn't sold out, but it was a good crowd from Milwaukee. The first three races have been strongly attended. They have been challenging races, and I think Chris Pook is out there trying to get the job done. And, yeah, we have been taking some blows from the IRL, and I don't know if it was a good idea or a mistake scheduling the whole month of May open because, you know, at the start of our season with having two races or three races spread out by two and a half months, it is hard to keep the average sport fan's attention when the races are that spread out. I don't think it's a bad thing to have some other races scheduled in the month of May to try to keep the interest alive with the CART circuit.

Q. Does the outcome of the 500, does that affect the division between the two circuits at all? I know there have been some talk trying to find some peace between the circuits. Does it create a gulf after what happened?

PAUL TRACY: I don't know. I think it's still drives a wedge between the two. It would be nice if everything got back together, but Tony George has really no interest in merging with CART. He wants to have the whole pie to himself and no matter what it takes. There's interest from our side to merge. We have made -- you know, we have put the olive branch out many times and it gets snapped in half. That's just kind of the way it has been going.

Q. Just sort of "it is what it is?"

PAUL TRACY: Yeah.

Q. What has the last two weeks been like for you?

PAUL TRACY: It has been good. I can't complain, you know, I know in my heart that we won that race in Indy and I guess the toughest thing is swallowing your feelings that you want to put out. But that's you know, what I have had to do and to leave it up to Barry. And Barry feels that we won the race and Barry has told me that he won't push the envelope on this thing if he didn't feel 110% about what our finish was in the race. I guess from that standpoint I mean, I had a great race in Japan with dominating the race and we had a mechanical failure. The month of May didn't start out very well, but obviously we had a great race there. I feel that we won it and that gave our team a lot of confidence. And then we came to Milwaukee, I guess, kind of you know, a little bit disappointed, but also charged up because we were getting the results we wanted now and went out and dominated the race in Milwaukee. Hopefully we can keep putting these bricks in place and you know, building what will ultimately be a Championship.

Q. In all the years that I have watched you race and talked to you after the races and what have you, the one thing that I have always seen is that when you have something that you feel has gone against you that shouldn't have, you tend to put the bit between your teeth, so to speak, and really hit the grindstone a little harder. Is that a pretty fair assessment and is that how you are feeling right now?

PAUL TRACY: Yeah. I mean, I am definitely motivated -- I was definitely motivated to do well this weekend you know, I have had to really bite my tongue a lot in the last week. But I feel that I am so confident in what we have, you know, with this appeal that I just don't want to, you know, say the wrong thing and you know, we have just got to let, you know, the system go through its course. Playing this thing out, like Barry said yesterday, playing it out in the media is not going to win us the war. You might win a battle, but you won't win the war. So we need to do it the right way.

Q. I have got to think that holding your tongue or biting it has got to be the toughest thing that you have ever done as far as you -- because you have always been one that you feel something and you say it?

PAUL TRACY: Yeah. I have said how I feel about it. But I am not going to, you know, point my finger at any one person. The only thing that I have focused on is letting my actions speak in this last week in the race car. And letting my feelings out in the race car this last weekend and had a great race at Milwaukee.

Q. Congratulations first off on your win in Milwaukee on the weekend. Wondering with your success on the CART tour and Patrik Carpentier and Alex Tagliani making a name for themselves, how do you feel about the future of Canadian race car drivers and the program and the racers coming out of Canada?

PAUL TRACY: I think it's good. Obviously Pat has been around for a while and this is Alex's third season, you know, with the races that we have coming up, you know, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, you know, we are looking -- all of us are looking for good results in Canada. There's some new drivers coming up through the ladder system. Michael * Valiente take from Vancouver, he's a great young driver. I have watched him from go-kart up until now and he's up in the Formula Atlantic ranks, he should be there in the next couple of years. I think the future is good for Canadian drivers, and there's opportunity.

Q. I have a question for you not so much affecting the Canadian drivers coming up in the series but you've obviously been involved with go-karting and one of your former go-karters - still currently a go-karter - A.J. has had a lot of success here in the Barbara Dodge Pro Series. He won last weekend. He's still the points leader in that series. Can you talk a little bit about that development and also the ladder system that we have got going on now in CART and the clear steps that it takes to get to the Champ Cars?

PAUL TRACY: He's a classic example. I picked him up in go-karts, he was kind of running from his parents and didn't really have any money, and he was a guy that was a front-runner, but really didn't have an opportunity and I was able to pick him up about two years ago and start him on my kart team and he did really well for us and got our product really kind of -- kick-started our product line to show that we were competitive as a product, and show that he was a good driver and he won a scholarship to the Barbara Dodge National Series, which is really the first rung of the ladder of the kart, you know, the go-karting is the first rung of the ladder but the Barbara National Series is kind of the rung and he went on to finish second in that Championship and then obviously now he's moved up into the Pro Barbara Dodge class and he's won the first two races so far this year and is leading the Championship and he just had a go-kart race last weekend for us, kind of stepped back in the go-karts and won a race there. He's getting off to a great start this year and we are looking at -- he wants to win the Championship in that and then hopefully move up to Formula Atlantic next year.

Q. Congratulations on two good wins, Paul.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

Q. A couple of years ago people said there was a new Paul Tracy out and how much you had matured. I think we see a real new Paul Tracy this year in maturity, particularly the way you have handled this past week. What has contributed to this?

PAUL TRACY: I think the big thing that's really helped me through the whole thing is I have got the support of a lot of the media on this. I have got the support of almost all of my peers and racing teams that I come in contact with in the past and friends in racing. And the big thing is I have got the support of the fans. I got an overwhelming response at Milwaukee when I qualified, went out to qualify and driver introductions and I had hundreds of people come up to me and give me gifts this last weekend, you know, the true winner of the 500 and you know, those things, you know, that helps the whole process. That kind of helps me just kind of put -- that put a lot of those things to the side and focus on my job instead of dwelling on what happened.

Q. Are you undergoing a new exercise program this year that keeps you fit?

PAUL TRACY: Yeah. I have been really working hard this year. I have said it before, the last couple of years, 1999 and it 2000 were good seasons for me, and I am a bit of a creature of habit and I kind of do things the same way over and over again. 2001 was a bit of a disaster season for me, and I really sat down with myself and had to think about what I needed to do to raise my game, to be a race winner again and a Championship contender, and the team sat down and they decided what they needed to do and everybody went at it, you know, in their own ways throughout the winter, the couple of months off. We have come back and obviously we started off the season really good.

Q. How is your team doing this year in the karts?

PAUL TRACY: Real good. We just won a race last weekend, finished in the Top-3 at basically every race this year, so things are going well with the kart program. A.J. who drives kart for me, who is also running the Barbara Dodge Pro Series, he's won the first two races of the Championship and he's leading the points in that. So he's doing really well.

Q. Do you foresee yourself sometime in the future stepping up to Atlantics for perhaps even CART, as a car owner?

PAUL TRACY: No, no, I have a hard enough time just running a go-kart team. That's almost too much of a headache for me. I am not really the team-owner type. The go-kart team is enough problems.

Q. Last week Dario spoke on this teleconference about his feeling about the IRL cars, their speed and their power. Do you kind of echo his -- I think he described them -- didn't say these words, he kind of described them as an interesting Indy Light car.

PAUL TRACY: (Laughs) Well, Dario has a good way of putting things, but I guess that similar formula is what we are going to next year, that style of motor, so it is what it is. It's not -- by no means it's not a 300- or 400-horsepower engine it's got 650 to 700 horsepower. It's not a 900 horsepower engine like we are running right now, but you know, once you get the thing up and rolling and get it up to speed, I mean, you know, it will still do laps, like at Indy 230, so you know, once -- but it just takes a little longer to get it there. Really, it is what it is. We are trying to reduce the speeds of the cars, and really the only way that you can do that's by taking horsepower, bringing it down.

Q. Well, it going to be an interesting year. I will see you probably Thursday out there at Laguna. You take care.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

Q. Talking about support, Alex Zanardi was on teleconference last week he said as far as he was concerned you were the winner at Indy. You heard that before?

PAUL TRACY: Yeah, and I feel the same way. Obviously Barry feels the same way and he filed the appeal. I just have to really let things take its course.

Q. You touched on this a bit with your talk of changing your fitness regimen. The last time you won two races in a row was Vancouver 2000, then you didn't win again until last Sunday. I wondered what happened after that round in 2001, and how you dealt with it internally?

PAUL TRACY: Well, it was frustrating last year for sure because I started off the year pretty well and I had you know, two podiums, and you know, a couple of top 4 finishes in the first four races and things started out really well. I think last year in the first four races I scored 60 points. I was leading the Championship and then really from there 'til the end of the year, the next 17 or 18 races I only scored another 60 points. It wasn't for a fact that we were not quick anywhere. We had plenty of opportunities where we were fast. It just seemed like every time we got something going, bad luck would strike us. We would have engine blow-ups or a bad pit stop or I would make a mistake, just little things that would just hamper you and would just let it kind of slip through your fingers - very frustrating for everybody. But I think, though, sometimes you have to have -- you know, when you have a couple of good seasons, sometimes it takes one that doesn't go so good to kind of remotivate everybody.

Q. Most KOOL green cars didn't suffer. Was it -- was it the fact that Michael Andretti being kind of a team mate on board, did that stretch the limits too much, do you think?

PAUL TRACY: I think it did. Definitely last year was a building year for the team. Obviously Michael finished good in the Championship, but he was just kind of consistent. He wasn't the fastest guy all the time. He just was scoring points more consistently than me and Dario. Dario and me were pretty disappointed with how we finished the season. The team has worked really hard over this last winter to get reorganized and get prepared, to make the proper attack, running three Championship contenders and I think we have done a good job this year because Michael has a win, I have a win, Dario was leading the Championship, so can't complain.

Q. What kind of challenge does Laguna Seca present this weekend?

PAUL TRACY: I don't think really -- I think the biggest challenge for me is that I haven't driven the Lola on a road course yet, so that's going to be very new to me. The ovals I had good success so far, but haven't actually gotten out on a road course and turned the car right yet. So it's going to be a bit of an adjustment. Feel good about coming to Laguna. I have been faster throughout my career and had good results, been able to win a couple of times, so I am looking forward to it. But we have definitely got our work cut out for us.

Q. Describe what is it like driving through that corkscrew?

PAUL TRACY: Well, it's pretty exhilarating. You come up to the top of the hill, can't really see anything, then you turn down. It is just like jumping into an elevator shoot, so, you come down that hill left, right, left, and you know, just a couple of seconds and you drop about a couple of hundred feet in elevation, which is pretty exciting.

Q. You talked about fitness being part of your turnaround this season. Did you drop weight? What are you talking about there?

PAUL TRACY: I have done a lot of work over the winter. I have always been a bigger guy. From my weight that I was last year, I dropped about 35 pounds since last season, so I think it has been a big help so far this year. I feel good in the car and I feel invigorated, I think it's showing in my driving.

Q. Lastly, what do you think the chances are of this appeal -- of you winning this appeal?

PAUL TRACY: I think it's good. I don't know what the end result will be, but I know in my heart that we won the race and I know that's how Barry feels and I know the kind of person that Barry is. He won't stick his neck out on the line and push this as far as he's pushed it if he wasn't 100% sure that we won the race. So I'm basically leaving it up to him and his team of people that are doing this whole thing and he wants me to just continue to concentrate on my driving and working with the team and get some more good results.

Q. Do you have a quart of milk sitting in your refrigerator just in case, and --

PAUL TRACY: No (laughs).

Q. You know, but the big question is you know you miss out on all of that no matter what. The post-race stuff. Barry said yesterday that if this doesn't come down the way he would like it, knowing what he knows, he would feel cheated. I am just wondering, you know, what is sort of your feeling about that right now? Are you putting yourself in the future? Are you preparing for good news, bad news, what sort -- how are you playing that game?

PAUL TRACY: Well, I really just you know, all I can say is I know that I won that race. The only thing that I can't say is you know, I wished the decision would have come down right after the race, but it hasn't. It's going to take a long time. It kind of just leaves you sitting on ice wondering what will happen. But I guess the only thing that I can do is concentrate on my job and not let that bother me too much and that's really what I have to do and if it comes down and the question gets -- you know, it gets turned around, then we know that the right outcome will come out of it. If not, then I guess we just move on and try to do it again.

Q. Real quick, just a point of fact, I am understanding you had the yellow light in your cockpit just like Helio and everyone else. Do you remember specifically seeing the light come on --

PAUL TRACY: No.

Q. -- or do you remember noticing it on?

PAUL TRACY: No. No yellow light on in my cockpit until the track lights came on.

Q. Obviously you are fired up because you are coming off, in your mind, with two straight wins here, but is there a feel like that with you and your team even though you are switching chassis and this is going to be a tremendous adjustment over the next two months, but do you have -- is there a different feel for you right now than maybe two, three years ago?

PAUL TRACY: I don't know. But I know that the last year that I have had, I have had such bad luck and so many opportunities that things just didn't go right. We were always wondering when is the bad luck going to turn to good luck and I think -- I think it's starting now. Hopefully we can continue our momentum; continue working hard. The whole key is working hard and doing a good job. I will be the first to admit, when things get frustrating sometimes it can be hard to stay motivated and stay positive. You got to work through the bad times and you know, to get to the good times. I think that's what really everybody on the team has done. Last year for most of the year it was just a struggle after struggle with, you know, problems and everybody's still kept their motivation. I think that now I hope that we have had two great races in a row and I hope we can continue our momentum.

Q. I am just a little curious about something you said earlier. You said you were very confident in your appeal but then you also talked about the acrimony between the two series. Don't you think you know, that you being a CART guy and the winner they announced being an IRL guy is going to automatically (inaudible) the appeal?

PAUL TRACY: I hope there's going to be a panel of judges from what I understand on this that are unbiased. I hope that the right outcome will come out and it's not slanted. You know, regardless of what people say, there's a wedge between CART and IRL and there's politics involved in everything. I just hope it doesn't come down to that.

Q. Congratulations on the win first of all, and secondly I am listening to your comments and it's very impressive there was a time when your Championship skills were undermined a bit by your emotions in the cockpit, at least it seemed from the outside. Congratulations on getting that turned around and focused on going after a championship now.

PAUL TRACY: Well, thank you. Like I said before, when things aren't going right it's easy to you know, try to you know, my personality is when things aren't going well or I am having a hard time I try harder. Sometimes trying harder isn't -- can compound the problem even worse. You have almost got to step back and kind of look at it and reanalyze it and try to go about it a different way. I think that's what everybody on the whole team has done, my engineer and my mechanics, everybody was trying so hard last year to win and no matter what we did when we were in a good position to win, you know, we would have a bad pit stop. We would have something go wrong with the car. I would make a mistake, or you know, so it is just one of those years when everybody was just trying so hard to win because we were capable of winning, but we would almost jinx ourselves.

Q. Do you ever get tired of jerks like me in the media coming to you talking to you about this IRL-CART split and problems with CART does that take away from your ability to concentrate at the racetrack?

PAUL TRACY: Not really because you know, I am a guy who has been committed to CART my whole career and I still am committed to CART and I know we are -- things aren't -- you know, the roses are not smelling so great now, but I am confident in what Chris Pook is doing. I am confident that we are heading in the right direction and we have got good tracks and good venues that we are going to and we still have great sponsors in the series and great drivers and we have a great product. So I am confident that we can still continue to forge ahead.

Q. Do you think it's the best business model for CART might be to forge ahead and not worry about what the IRL is doing or who has --

PAUL TRACY: I think I have always said that's the best thing for them to because I don't feel that Tony George has any ambition to merge with CART. He wants the whole thing to himself and that's the only way it's going to be. The only thing that CART can do is just go about their own business.

Q. There was a comment in a newspaper article late last week that mentions you and stock cars. I can't tell from newsprint if that was an offhand remark. Was that something you tossed out there or something that you legitimately --

PAUL TRACY: No, it's something that I am genuinely interested in. At this stage of my career, I mean, I am 33 years old now. Obviously open-wheel racing doesn't go on forever, you know, when you start getting towards 38, you know, it's about the end of the road. So know that there's only a limited amount of shelf time left I have had conversations with Richard about a possible involvement in the future and he actually contacted me after Earnhardt had been killed at Daytona and expressed some interest in what I was doing. So that was a tremendous compliment to me. And we have kind of kept an open book about what the future is and you know, maybe some day down the road if my plans lead me towards that direction then we can get together on something.

Q. Have you ever tested a stock car of any type maybe --

PAUL TRACY: No, never driven anything with fenders on it as of yet.

Q. Well, it would be interesting to see you in a stock car. Good luck this weekend.

PAUL TRACY: Thank you.

Q. If an appeal does come down and you are successful, in your mind does that tarnish the whole thing at all or is it more getting the right decision regardless of how long it takes?

PAUL TRACY: I'll tell you what. I got in my garage, I have got some polish so I will take a tarnish cloth (laughter) (inaudible) because I feel that we won the race and the most important thing is when you see all the faces on that trophy if you are one of them then it's something special. All the interviews and all you know, going on TV shows and radio interviews and that kind of thing, I can take it or leave it. But it's the trophy that matters the most.

Q. Let's face it that's the one trophy that you know, that CART drivers aspire to throughout.

PAUL TRACY: Yes, any racing driver, no matter what you are CART driver or Formula One driver, anybody from around the world ,if you have won the Indianapolis 500 then you have really done something.

MERRILL CAIN: We appreciate you spending some time with us this afternoon. We know it's been hectic time for you. We wish congratulations on your performance this weekend and also wish you the best of luck heading into Round 5 of the CART FedEx Championship Series at Monterey, California. Thanks for joining us today.



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