When Is It Time To Let Go?

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This past Monday, I was bemoaning the fact that drivers no longer drive for very long in the IZOD IndyCar Series. It seems like many of them last for two or three years, and then they’re gone. There aren’t many drivers that last for ten years or so anymore. Well, there’s another side to that coin.

If you follow sports long enough, you’re sure to come across one of the more pitiful aspect of any sport – the athlete that doesn’t know when it’s time to go. I’m old enough to remember the painful sight of Johnny Unitas closing out his brilliant career in a powder-blue San Diego Chargers uniform. He looked so out of place – that familiar No. 19 in very unfamiliar colors barely able to even go through the motions, as he went through the disgrace and indignity of extending his career just a little longer. Other football legends suffered similar fates. Who can forget the sight of an aging Joe Namath trying to hang on with the Los Angeles Rams, or O.J. Simpson closing out his career with the San Francisco Forty-Niners? Archie Manning didn’t look quite right playing for the Houston Oilers or Minnesota Vikings, either. Ditto, for Randy Moss in the uniform of the Tennessee Titans.

The only time I can think of two icons successfully carrying on their legacy elsewhere, was in the early nineties; when Joe Montana and Marcus Allen finished out their careers with the Kansas City Chiefs. They both played very well in their time with the Chiefs, although it still didn’t look quite right – especially Joe Montana wearing No. 19 instead of his usual No. 16.

Baseball is filled with similarly awkward images. Hank Aaron ended up wrapping up his legendary career as a Milwaukee Brewer. Roger Maris spent his waning days looking out of place as a St. Louis Cardinal. Steve Garvey traded Dodger Blue for those hideous brown and yellow outfits worn by the San Diego Padres in the early eighties.

Racing isn’t immune from this sad phenomenon. Darrell Waltrip hung around the back of the pack for years in NASCAR, until he mercifully retired for the TV booth after the 2000 season. What he was trying to prove, I’m really not too sure. In Indy cars – my all-time favorite, AJ Foyt, lingered on as a driver for way too long. He drove in thirty-five consecutive Indy 500’s and almost made it thirty-six, before abruptly retiring on the morning of Pole Day in 1993. It had been over a decade since Foyt was competitive. He had grown to be so overweight, that he had to have the tub of his Lola enlarged just so he could fit in it. The trouble was, which of his contemporaries were going to tell him it was time to stop, and live to tell about it?

This brings us up to the latest example in a long line of inflated egos trapped inside bodies that are well past their prime – Paul Tracy. After an impressive career that has spanned into its third decade, Paul Tracy is still trying to extend his career. He thinks he is still a top driver in the IZOD IndyCar Series and believes he is capable of beating almost the entire field on any given day. The trouble is, most car-owners just don’t see it that way. His friendship with Jimmy Vasser, of KV Racing Technology Racing, provided a logical team for Tracy to bring his GEICO money to in order to run the Indianapolis 500 and a few other selected races. He did well to finish ninth in 2009, and failed to make the grid in 2010.

Tracy has yet to secure funding for a full-time ride for 2011. In his frustration last week, Tracy got into a Twitter battle with his good friend Vasser. After getting frustrated with Tracy’s constant whining about his lack of sponsorship, Vasser finally posted that “Paul Tracy and his fans should focus their anger towards the sponsors that have said no to him. Team owners can’t run our teams on sympathy”. To which Tracy responded; “And there u have it . The loyalty you get for bringing 2M in sponsorship” It appears their once close relationship has become a little frosty. Yesterday, it got even worse. Tracy even trashed Vasser to fellow unemployed driver Tomas Scheckter, through Twitter. Please.

Rumor has it that Tracy is in the mix for a full-time ride at Conquest Racing – arguably one of the worst rides in the series. Simply wanting to race is one thing, but after driving for such stellar teams like Team Penske, Newman/Haas, Team Kool Green and Forsythe – can a driver with such a high opinion of himself, really rationalize such a move? To say he has lost his dignity is a drastic understatement.

It’s easy for me to sit behind a keyboard in anonymity, and tell Paul Tracy what to do. If I thought I had one last hoorah in me, I might be tempted to give it one more shot as well. But I would hope my close friends would tell me that it’s time to let it go. Perhaps that’s exactly what Jimmy Vasser has been trying to do.

George Phillips

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18 Responses to “When Is It Time To Let Go?”

  1. Mike Rice Says:

    He should see how it goes this year if the deal with Conquest materializes. If he can make it work and show himself (and everyone else) that a full-time ride knocks all the rust off and the results for the season are good, then he should continue to beat his drum about still having something to offer, and make it happen (as much as it’s in his power to do that). His personality and fire would be an asset to the series. But if he gets the ride with Bachelart’s team, and he has a season that mirrors what’s happened in the revolving door team jumping paradigm he’s lived in for the last 3 years, then yeah, he should hang it up…or move to another series with others who’ve moved on as well.

  2. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    PT ought to be happy that 1.) He gets invited to appear on, and 2.) Can still occasionally best Tanner Faust on Battle of the Supercars with Tommy Kendall. In my opinion, Tracy has had many more opportunities to prove himself than others in this business. In the process and much to the dissapopointment of the many teams he has driven for, he has shredded more than his share of equipment along with abruptly ending other more competative drivers races by pulling bone headed stunts on track. Everyone knows that driving a race car competatively can be frustrating and that it requires patience, judgement and skill. Unfortunately, PT has never shown an overwhelming amount of any of those traits. Time to move on to monster trucks PT, let’s just hope he hasn’t thrown out that Mexican wrestling mask just yet…. Chrome Horn….Hah…!!!

  3. Having Paul Tracy in the series would be good for the series. I’d imagine that in a good car he could still be competitive. And even in a bad car, he brings some edginess to a series where so many of the drivers tend to be generally polite, well-spoken and…nice. I’m certainly not complaining about good citizens in the series–and I would never want Indycar to trump up manufactured pro-wrestling type controversies, it’s good to have a Tracy to stir things up a bit. (Other than the Simona fire, the biggest coverage the series got in mainstream media last year had to be Helio’s blow-up.)

  4. I don’t think Tracy’s washed up at all. He’s what, 40? That’s not that old for a racer. It’s just he’s had poor equipment the last few years. He can still put a pretty good performance on, so I think he’s fine.

  5. I’ve never been a huge PT fan, but from a purely meaningless and personal standpoint, I’d be sad to see him hang it up, just because I’m almost exactly the same age as him and it’s good to see an old bastard my age still plugging away.

  6. I think it depends on the driver and their state of mind.

    I would rather see a driver retire at the top of their game, while they’re still competitive, or if they wish to pursue other desires in life. There is such a thing as overstaying your welcome.

  7. I believe it’s reached the point where PT’s sponsors (read lack of sponsors) are about to make that decision for him. We go through this every year with PT. Last year saw him whining and drunk tweeting pictures of all his CART trophies he keeps stashed in the cupboard under his stairs. I commented at the time I couldn’t imagine a sponsor in this economy being willing to run that kind of exposure. Tracy was good in the day, but this economy is not conducive to major corporate sponsors being willing to have someone like PT represent their brand.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    I like to see drivers as good as Tracy go out on their own terms, even if those terms are awkward or kinda sad. Al Unser Jr. retired far from the top, but he did it on his terms and more than most, deserved to do it that way.

    My ideal situation would have Tracy in a car for a full season farewell. His is a career worth celebrating.
    Would have liked to have seen the same for Buddy Lazier, and, for what it’s worth, hope this will be the case for Franchitti, Kanaan, Castroneves, etc. when they decide their time comes.

  9. Thesmartestguyintheroom Says:

    Paul Tracy clearly has a higher opinion of himself than the people who move the needle-the teams and sponsors-do. And just as clearly from my perspective, his constant whining, complaining and criticism of drivers, teams, sponsors and the INDYCAR series in general, has clearly not endeared him to those who could conceiveably help him.

    Another point. There is nothing stopping PT from forming his own team if he wants to continue racing. Alex Tagilani did. So did Sarah Fisher. The smartest thing for PT to do would be to get off his can, stop acting like a whiny baby and take control of his destiny. But that would require things which PT lacks, like a brain.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Whinybags might have bought an interest in Vision Racing or Sarah Fisher Racing or A.J. Foyt Racing or Rahal-Letterman Racing … or partnered with someone like Tagliani or Servia or G. Rahal in a new venture — then raced rather than sit idle and whine that someone should pay him megabucks to race after our economy has tanked and tobacco & alcohol & Indeck dollars aren’t free-flowing.
      Now he wants to pedal around at the back of the pack in a cut-rate team and fail to qualify at Indy again? Really smart …

  10. Chris Lukens Says:

    I didn’t vote in this poll, because I’m not sure where I stand. As long as the competitive spark burns in an athlete, I’m not going to be the one to tell him to step aside. He is the only one that can decide when the effort no longer gets the desired rewards ( money, fame, goals, and as a racer – sponsorship ).
    Since you started the blog about football, I have to ask; Does PT look a great deal like Brett Favre, who also hung on for about a year to long.

  11. Christopher Leone Says:

    He’s not washed up – he was still just fine in Champ Car while he still had a full-time ride, and I guarantee you that if Forsythe had made the switch he’d have challenged Oriol Servia in 2008 for best of the ex-CCWS honors.

    I’m usually not one to defend an athlete bitching about his sponsorship going elsewhere within the same team, but you know what? If I was “running (KVRT) on sympathy,” Tracy would have been my lead driver last (and this) year. And I’d have brought back Viso. That’s it.

    I guess if I had a championship and dozens of wins under my belt, but lingered in a part-time schedule while a host of far less talented and reliable drivers had full-time rides below me, I’d be bitter too.

    • Mike Rice Says:

      THAT was very well said, and (despite any appearance through my original comment to the contrary), is very much the view I hold. I just didn’t go into my now well-worn rant about how Paul got SO screwed by Gerry Forsythe.

  12. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Emily Smith, Kerry Powell. Kerry Powell said: When Is It Time To Let Go? « Oilpressure http://bit.ly/eTrDPm [...]

  13. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    When you consistantly trash expensive equipment while you also continue to insist “I’m The Best”…. Eventually the money runs out…. PT’s last 5 years, when he had a ride have been filled with bone headed on track moves and hot dogging stunts, none of which resulted in much of anything but shards of carbon fiber and piles of steaming race car junk…. If you require more proof, You – Tube is but a click away, see below….

  14. I’d prefer top drivers to retire while being competitive. Michael Schumacher did so. Now he’s back and had a not so good 2010, but I’m sure he will fight for podiums this year.

    But if somebody wants to drive, only their skillls should conut, not their age or quantity of starts. If there’s passion, there’s action.

  15. Tracy is one of the most overrated drivers in the history of racing.

    He got fired by BOTH Penske and Newman/Haas.

    And besides one “find a flea on a dog’s ass” type of day in 2002 (when he was nowhere to be seen all month before race day), he has a awful record at Indy.

    If there is a driver that should be bitching about not being in a Indy Car, its Buddy Rice. Or Dan Wheldon. At least they were good at the biggest race on the schedule.

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