When Is It Time To Let Go?
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.