An Unexpected Last Chance For Paul Tracy

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Belated Happy New Year wishes to everyone! I trust you all had a good Christmas. I know I did. It was good to relax and have the biggest decision of the day to be what to eat or which meaningless bowl game to watch. Not only do I take time off from this site at this time of year to rest up and re-charge my batteries, but there is just not a whole lot going on in the racing world around the holidays. But it’s back to business now – at work, and in the IndyCar world.

One thing that we did learn just as I was pushing away from here a couple of weeks ago, caused quite a stir among the “Perpetually Outraged”. That was that Paul Tracy had been retained by NBC and he will be returning to the IndyCar booth for the 2019 season.

For those that don’t know or remember; earlier this fall, Tracy was accused of engaging with someone on Facebook in what started out as a political discussion – which is never a good idea on social media. It quickly escalated into Tracy allegedly threatening violence to one of his followers and his wife. The posts are out there if you want to Google them, but I won’t repeat them here. Suffice it to say, it was an ugly exchange and it wasn’t a good look for Tracy.

Speculation swirled that Tracy would/should lose his job as IndyCar analyst with NBC. Tracy has angered several with his political views and his desire to share them on social media, which differ from many in the IndyCar world. To say they were looking for any reason to scream for Tracy’s head on a platter would be an understatement

If you’ve followed this site for a long time, you know that I never cared for Paul Tracy the driver. In fact, the very first post I ever wrote here after I kicked off this site almost ten years ago, was about my respect but overall dislike of Tracy.

I have followed his career since the beginning, when he ran one race in 1991 for Dale Coyne at Long Beach (that I really don’t remember) before joining Team Penske later that summer at Michigan when he promptly crashed and broke his leg on Lap Three. At that time, he appeared to be the prototypical Penske driver. He seemed humble, polite and he had a clean-cut look complete with the preppie oval-shaped tortoise-shell glasses. He looked more like someone who would be tearing up the polo fields of Princeton, rather than someone who would be driving an IndyCar at 220 mph.

The beginning of the 1993 season was the first time I can remember seeing the brash Tracy that we have come to know. Rick Mears had retired and Tracy assumed his ride with Penske. He seemed cocky and did not have the skins on the wall to back up that swagger, like his more polished teammate Emerson Fittipaldi. However, after earning his first career win at Long Beach that season, he started collecting wins in the second half of that season. He finished 1993 with five wins and was third in the championship – not bad for a first fulltime season.

But with the wins came a more obnoxious attitude. I won’t chronicle Tracy’s wins over the years, but they were many. But even the wins came at a price. While Tracy was fast and fearless, he tore up a lot of equipment in the process. Combine that with Tracy’s attitude and antics – it became too much for The Captain, and Tracy was released after the 1997 season. He quickly found a home with Team Kool Green, who had also signed a young Dario Franchitti. The pair was a significant upgrade from the anemic Parker Johnstone, whose incompetency in an IndyCar cockpit was surpassed only by his inability as an ABC/ESPN analyst. Before I get hateful comments for disparaging the driving career of Johnstone – I fully acknowledge that he was an accomplished driver in sports cars, but his highlights in CART were few and far between, at best.

Tracy’s tenure with Barry Green was star-crossed. His first year with the team saw Tracy finish no better than fifth along with a series of DNFs. The rough times culminated at Houston, after he was running second and Franchitti was leading. Tracy took them both out. It got worse, as Tracy and Green came to blows in the pits afterwards. That altercation and several off-track incidents earned Tracy a suspension to begin the 1999 season, as he was left to be no more than a spectator at the season-opener at Homestead as he served out his punishment. It must have been effective, because Tracy went on to finish third in the championship despite missing the opener.

In 2002, there was the infamous yellow light dispute during the Indianapolis 500; when Tracy was passing Helio Castroneves for the lead on Lap 199. Did Tracy make the pass before the yellow? Possibly. That will be a matter of dispute forever. But the official ruling was that he did not, therefore Helio Castroneves was declared the winner. Whether or not you like the call, you go with the ruling. You don’t continue to refer to yourself as the “legitimate” winner of the 2002 Indianapolis 500, when it’s Helio’s face on the Borg-Warner trophy.

When Barry Green sold the team to his brother Kim and Michael Andretti – Tracy chose to stay in CART as Andretti-Green moved over to the rival IndyCar Series for the 2003 season. Tracy won the championship while driving for Gerry Forsythe that same year.

As time went on, Tracy’s attitude and demeanor became more and more unlikeable – to me, anyway. He would get into brawls with drivers, most notably with Sébastien Bourdais and Alex Tagliani.

When the open-wheel unification took place in 2008, Tracy got a raw deal. He was still under contract with Forsythe, but Forsythe had no interest in the newly combined racing series. However, Tracy was not allowed out of his contract for months – thereby leaving him on the sidelines as an aging former champion racer with nowhere to race. Although I had long grown tired of Tracy’s act, I thought he deserved to be in a car if he wanted to be.

Paul Tracy never had a fulltime ride again. Not counting the 2002 Indianapolis 500 and the 2008 Champ Car finale at Long Beach; Tracy drove in a total of nineteen IndyCar Series races – the last being the ill-fated 2011 season-finale at Las Vegas. He was mostly an afterthought in practically every start, but in all fairness – he was never connected with a top-tier team.

Tracy did not fade away quietly, however. In 2011 at Toronto, Tracy was involved in what he considered a controversial incident. He allegedly went to TrackForum to post how then-CEO Randy Bernard had conspired against him and intimidated Race Control into ruling against him. He had many unfavorable things to say about Randy Bernard on TrackForum. When he realized there was a backlash against him for being vocal about this, he insisted that his account had been hacked and that he had not written any of it. I wrote a post about it at the time and called it the digital equivalent of “my dog ate my homework”.

I don’t know if Tracy ever officially retired from IndyCar racing, but it didn’t bother me when his name quit popping up for possible rides.

I was also not thrilled in the spring of 2014, when I learned that Tracy was going to be in the booth for a few IndyCar races that season. But a funny thing happened between Paul Tracy the driver, and Paul Tracy the booth analyst. To my surprise, I found that I actually liked Tracy in this new role. He didn’t come off as brash, cocky or unlikeable – which were all words I frequently used to describe him in his driving days. On the contrary, I found him to be insightful, funny and very likeable.

He didn’t talk down to us, as if he were teaching a course of IndyCar 101 – like some recent analysts have been known to do. But he didn’t talk over our heads either. He spoke in very relatable and easy-to-understand terminology. He had an almost self-deprecating sense of humor and his likeability made me wonder if I was all wrong about PT.

I began following Tracy on social media. That’s when I discovered he is not shy on sharing his opinions on politics. Quite honestly, I don’t like it when athletes, celebrities or sports media share their political opinions with me – no matter which side of the aisle they are supporting. Whether it is Bob Costas or Curt Schilling, I don’t need sports figures telling me how I need to think.

If I want to read about politics, I know where to go. I follow drivers and members of IndyCar media because I want to know what’s going on in motorsports. I really don’t care what their opinion is of Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi. I’m more interested in their opinion of who a third engine manufacturer might be for IndyCar or their thoughts on who the next title sponsor is.

I follow sports and IndyCar specifically, as an escape from the harsh realities of everyday life. I don’t normally get on this site and spew my political beliefs. If I did, I don’t think many of you would stick around very long. You come here to get a slightly different take on IndyCar topics or experiences of past Indianapolis 500s. You don’t come here to read my opinions on the Border Wall or Justice Kavanagh.

Once again, Tracy claimed his Facebook account was hacked and he was not the one responsible for those threats. NBC investigated and maintain that they believe him and that he is innocent.

This take will infuriate some, surprise many, while others will silently applaud. Do I think Paul Tracy wrote the threatening Facebook posts in question? Yes, I think he probably did. Do I care? Not really.

As I said earlier, I don’t really want to hear about sports figures and celebrities and their politics. Likewise, I don’t really care about what they do on their own time. From all accounts, I hear that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is a complete jerk. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate watching him play. I think he is in the conversation of the greatest quarterback of all time – along with Peyton Manning, Joe Montana and Johnny Unitas. Unless he is beating up his wife or putting others at risk by driving intoxicated; I really don’t care if he is a jerk away from the field. I tune in to watch him play, not to be my life coach.

Paul Tracy has never been someone I cared for as a driver, but I like what he brings to the table as an NBC IndyCar analyst. What he thinks about US politics or how he conducts his personal life, matters not to me and does not affect how I view the job he does in the booth. I think he has a unique spin on things that not everyone can bring. I don’t have to like him.

I’ve already mentioned how terrible I thought Parker Johnstone was in the analyst role. By all accounts, he is a gifted and multi-talented man who lives an exemplary lifestyle, but he was a terrible TV analyst. Over the past three decades, there have been a lot more bad IndyCar analysts in the TV booth than good ones. Most in the IndyCar community were throwing a party when it was confirmed that they would no longer have to hear Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear on the telecasts.

Gil de Ferran was always one of my favorite drivers, but in his short stint in the booth with Paul Page – he was terrible. Remember the short-lived experiment moving Jack Arute into the booth? There was a reason he quickly went back onto pit lane. How about when they brought in Jason Priestly? That was painful to watch.

Bobby Unser and Sam Posey with Paul Page on ABC, and Derek Daly with Page on ESPN was really the last time I could remember a good collection of analysts until this current NBC booth – and that was over three decades ago. There have been a series of duds since then. Personally, I prefer Tracy’s commentary to that of Townsend Bell. While Bell has good insights, he seems more focused on delivering the next zinger as opposed to relaying good information.

Does it matter to me that Paul Tracy may have gotten drunk one night and foolishly engaged with a fan on Facebook over immigration? If he were a close friend of mine, it would. But he’s a TV personality. As long as he delivers the goods on race weekends, I couldn’t care less about what he does in his personal life. Not only is it not important to me – it’s none of my business.

NBC says they did a thorough internal investigation and reviewed all sorts of data and computer records. Without giving us details, they say they are satisfied with their findings and it’s over as far as they’re concerned. Much like the final verdict of the 2002 Indianapolis 500 – while some may not agree with it, that’s the ruling everyone must live with.

I give credit to NBC. It could have been easier for NBC to have a knee-jerk reaction and cut ties with Tracy to appease those that were screaming the loudest. That would have just been the latest example of removing talent that many appreciated, only to silence the vocal self-righteous. Instead, they decided that what Tracy brought to the IndyCar telecast outweighed the extra baggage that comes along with him – for now.

Paul Tracy should learn to stay off of Twitter, Facebook, TrackForum or any other platform that allows him to engage directly with fans – especially since he likes to politically spar with them. He now has a target on his back. Much like when Charles Barkley couldn’t even go out to get a bite to eat without some fan provoking him; Paul Tracy will constantly be in the crosshairs of his enemies. They know that he probably has one more strike left before NBC shows him the door. There are lots of nuts and losers out there that would each love to have their fifteen minutes of fame and be the one that ended Paul Tracy’s broadcasting career.

In short, Paul Tracy needs to follow the advice of our friend Pressdog – Never engage the crazies.

Soon the Perpetually Outraged will find something new to be outraged about and this will all be forgotten. We need to learn that not everything is as catastrophic and sensational as many make them out to be. We should also realize that just because someone sees the world a little differently than we do; that doesn’t make them wrong or us right – or in some cases, superior. In this case, that applies to Paul Tracy and the person he tangled with on social media.

My wish for 2019 is that we all learn to settle down and relax. Here’s hoping that everyone can stop being offended by every little thing and learn to take a few things in stride. Life is too short to be always enraged about something.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “An Unexpected Last Chance For Paul Tracy”

  1. Tracy on immigration: Studies have shown that most illegal immigrants arrive by air. Now Trump wants 5 billion dollars for a roof.

  2. We used to have free speech. Now it has to be what the political and media elites agree with. What is going on in social media is really the modern equivalent of burning books. Eliminate those ideas they disagree with. Silence those voices. In fact, in a way it’s even worse as they attempt to “criminalize” thoughts and beliefs they disagree with. Even to the point of costing people their jobs and attacking their reputations. Its a scary time in our country. At least in this instance NBC did what was right. But liberty loving Americans have to be concerned by what is going on.

  3. BrandonWright77 Says:

    Thank goodness our long, national nightmare is over….OILPRESSURE IS BACK!! 😀 Hope everyone had a good holidays and some relaxation.

  4. I am a Jerk . Thanks for putting up with me .

  5. Welcome back, George. I thank you for blogging.

  6. Chris Lukens Says:

    I’ll second everybody else that it’s good to see you back. No racing, no Oilpressure, I was starting to have serious withdrawal problems.

    I’m surprised so many people voted for “stay away from politics and stay off of social media.” Paul Tracy has as much right to have an opinion as anybody else. As long as he does not bring it into the booth, I’m alright with it.
    I may have disagreed with the NFL’ers kneeling for Anthem, but I thought that’s OK, that’s their right. I felt this way right up until they brought it onto the field. It didn’t belong there.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    Whether one believes that Tracy’s social media accounts were actually hacked or not, it is worth noting that even relatively minor celebrities are tens of times more likely to be targeted by hackers than the average joe or his friends. “I was hacked” can certainly seem like cheap, disingenuous cover for an ugly online incident, and probably is in many instances, but it is not absurd to believe that Tracy was hacked. Nevertheless, treading lightly is generally good practice for retaining a job in the public eye. Tracy has never cared to do that, nor do I think this incident will cause him to start caring. That’s part of his appeal to many folks, I believe.

    Also to note, Dario Franchitti wound up winning that very wet Houston race in 1998, where Tracy tangled with him on track and with Barry Green in the pits. Tracy won at Houston the following year, with Dario in second, and gave this gem to reporters at the press conference: “I hate to say that any place owed me one, but I definitely stuck that boot right there (the Houston race winner’s trophy) right in my rear last year. It’s better to have the gold boot in my hand than in my butt. I got it right this year.”

    On Juan Montoya’s early exit from that 99 Houston race after running into Helio Castroneves’ disabled car, Tracy opined that Montoya wasn’t warned about Castroneves’ car because “Chip was probably admiring his reflection in the (television/computer) monitor.” I chuckled.

  8. You hit the nail on the head. If NBC still wants him I’m fine with it. He does a great job and is insightful…broadcasts would be worse without him. Personally I’d like to see Dario in the booth with him!

  9. It takes colorful personalities to draw in an audience and PT has that. I don’t really care about his antics outside the booth and I don’t think anyone else should either. Maybe he will learn a lesson with this latest situation but one thing is for sure,he sure was a fast IndyCar driver when he wasn’t crashing. I remember seeing him for my first time live at Nazareth Speedway in those bright orange Marlboro colors. He and Emerson Fittipaldi were frighteningly fast. That track was frighteningly fast. It’s too bad it’s rotting away under ISC ownership.

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      As I recall my timing of an 18 second lap time for Emmo at Nazareth……….. What was just a blurr as he continuously drove (flew) by………

  10. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    He’s a decent in-race analyst and OK in the booth (and for my money a complete jackass otherwise, evidenced yet again on Twitter today, banging on about the 2002 Indy 500 finish) but there are several better choices so it’s really boggling to me that NBC would even consider keeping him and his baggage. My best guess is that some sort of contractual/$$$ issue is the real reason he’s still there. The repetitively tiresome schtick (‘Pruett-fade’, et. al.) lost appeal long ago for me.

    Two in the booth is plenty I think so a great play-by-play plus one color announcer would fit the bill nicely, except a second color for the Indy 500 has worked best i the past. If you haven’t heard Dario on his coverage of the Formula E series, he’s soooooo much more enjoyable to listen to and covering Indycar would only give him more material to work with. He’s the lone reason I ever watched more than one F-e race.

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