Paul Tracy didn’t want to stop racing when he did, nor was he so inclined to accept an initial opportunity to be a television racing analyst.
The 48-year-old Canadian has conceded he had more enemies than friends when he was driving. Although highly successful with 31 career Indy car wins that tie Will Power and Dario Franchitti for ninth on the all-time list, the always-aggressive Tracy reveled in an oft-times controversial reputation as a no-nonsense bad boy.
But Tracy eventually realized life is too quiet away from motorsports.
In 2014, he agreed to become an NBCSN color commentator. He wondered how long it would last, given his knack for unfiltered observations, but Tracy is still in the booth this Verizon IndyCar Series season and has proven himself capable of offering candid opinions without going too far.
“When they hired me to do it, they said, ‘Be yourself, just don’t swear on TV,’” a smiling Tracy said while preparing for the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational’s Indy Legends Charity Pro/Am race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on June 17. “I can be very candid.”
That elicited an immediate response from three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser, grand marshal for the fourth annual Sportscar Vintage Racing Association event. Unser has always been one of the most expressive voices in motorsports and made the same transition in retirement to the TV booth.
“You’ve made it so far,” Unser said. “I went 14 years when nobody thought I’d make it six months.”
“I have made it so far,” Tracy said, “so I try to call things the way I see it.”
Not that he’s mellowed, but Tracy isn’t so convinced of his initial takes that he is unable to accept another viewpoint.
“Sometimes I see it the wrong way,” he said. “Last week, I had a disagreement with (fellow analyst) Townsend Bell on what was going on with blocking (in the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway). Once I saw another angle of it, I said, ‘I’m wrong.’ I tend to just call things as it’s happening on the fly and the way I see it as a race driver.”
Tracy had one of the most dominant seasons in history in 2003, when he captured the Champ Car World Series championship with seven victories and six poles in 18 starts for Player’s Forsythe Racing.
His breakthrough season came a decade earlier in 1993, when he won five races for eventual Hall of Fame car owner Roger Penske. Tracy enjoyed multiple race victories in nine seasons for Penske, Newman/Haas Racing, Team KOOL Green, Player’s Forsythe Racing and Forsythe Championship Racing.
To this day, he insists he won the 2002 Indianapolis 500 for Team Green, although race control determined he had not yet passed winner Helio Castroneves before a late caution flag, thus slotting Tracy second. An appeal upheld Castroneves as the winner. It was the closest Tracy would come to an Indy 500 victory in seven starts.
When Tracy won the B class Indy Legends Charity Pro/Am race with Gary Moore last year, he couldn’t resist referring to the previous controversy after swigging milk in Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s victory lane.
“Finally,” Tracy said. “I want to thank Gary (Moore) and SVRA for the opportunity and to get my second win at Indy.”
Tracy’s triumphant SVRA debut in 2016 was the first time he had raced in nearly five years. His last Indy car start was in the 2011 season finale at Las Vegas, where Dan Wheldon was killed and the race canceled.
“I decided I was going to stop,” Tracy said. “I had a hard time accepting stopping. I didn’t want to stop, but I did stop. It was a hard transition.
“Like everybody here, I had raced every single week since I was 5 years old. So when you suddenly stop all of a sudden, whether it’s you decide to stop or you get hurt, I think all race drivers go through a transition where it’s hard to figure out, ‘What do I do now?’
“I got the invitation to start doing TV. It was another thing that I kind of didn’t want to do at first because I always looked at TV guys like, as soon as you go in the TV booth, you’re not a driver anymore. After a couple of years, I decided to go and do it. I actually enjoy it, being back at the racetrack every week and seeing your fans.”
Tracy and the NBCSN team will be back calling the action for the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway later this week. Live qualifying coverage airs at 3 p.m. ET Saturday. NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network kick off coverage of the 300-lap race at 5 p.m. Sunday.