Suspension won't change Tracy's aggressive style

On Motor Sports

April 04, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Mad Max has nothing on race car driver Paul Tracy, Championship Auto Racing Team's bad boy.

Tracy looks like a librarian but often drives as if he's a member of the WWF.

"I think everyone is aggressive out there," said Tracy, before departing for Motegi, Japan, where he will spend this week acclimating himself to the time change and making appearances for his sponsor before next Saturday's Firestone Firehawk 500. "Whether you get in trouble, you have to make clean passes. But if you're not aggressive and pushing all the time, you're not going to win races."

Tracy has won 13 races in his nine-year CART career, but when the season began March 21 in Homestead, Fla., he wasn't competing. Instead, he was in the pits watching, serving the first one-race ban in the series' history.

CART's chief steward, Wally Dallenbach, handed out the penalty after Tracy had basically shoved Michael Andretti into the wall while trying to make a pass in Australia last year.

It was only the latest of many such incidents.

To Tracy's credit, he isn't hiding. Last week, he came on a conference call to talk about his reputation.

"I make mistakes," he said. "I'm willing to admit it. If people want to run with that, OK. Everyone is allowed an opinion."

He said the suspension will not change his driving style. His kamikaze style, after all, is the same one that first gained him notice and made car owners like Roger Penske, for whom he used to drive, say he was going to be a superstar in the sport.

"Yeah, it's a double-edged sword," said Tracy, who now drives for Team Cool Green. "You're a hero if you pull off an aggressive pass and make it work. If not, you're an idiot. I've heard it said. But cars aren't going to fall off the race tracks. You've got to be aggressive and take chances."

But Tracy does add that he might be more selective about when he takes his chances.

"We want to be more consistent," he admitted. "I haven't been that consistent in my career, and that's what we need to do. We've talked about this within the team. If I'm in a position to make a pass, but it's risky and it might result in crashing out of the race, maybe it's not worth making a pass. We're going to try to measure risk and reward."

Of course, that's easy to say off the race track. And Tracy, who finished fifth in Japan last year, is eager to return. The race will reveal if he can remain as cool and calculating in his green machine once the flag drops.

Jumping with joy

There were winners at Hagerstown Speedway last weekend. The track, the fans, the drivers and the owners celebrated as the race track opened on its sixth try this season.

Now, after last week's labors, everyone is taking this weekend off for the Easter holiday. Racing will resume Saturday at 7 p.m. with the 19th annual Shorty Bowers/Bull Durham Memorial for Late Models.

In last weekend's races, big block Modified driver Mike Romano of Johnstown, N.Y., and small block Modified driver Deron Rust of Georgetown, Del., became the first to qualify for October's Syracuse Nationals.

Bigger in Texas

Did you hear about the 7 1/2-hour traffic jam last Sunday? It took place in the parking lots after the Primestar 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Fans were in mud up to their knees, people needing restrooms were forced to use the surrounding fields and police reported one shooting incident.

Track officials said the traffic problem resulted after two accidents and a stalled RV blocked exits, but police said they had no record of any accidents. By the time track owner Bruton Smith sorts out his traffic troubles --this is the second time in three years that traffic at the track has been snarled -- no one may be willing to go back.

Nuts and bolts

Fortune magazine's editor-at-large, Roy S. Johnson, reports on NASCAR's surge in popularity, its revenues and superstar Jeff Gordon in its April 12 issue. One of the most interesting pieces of information? Gordon's income: $2 million in salary, about $3.5 million from product endorsements and some $6 million in licensing income.

On the cutting edge, the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association has announced six of its 21 races this season will be televised by the Nashville Network.

Baltimore's Larry Kopp is currently third in the NHRA Pro Stock Truck series, 40 points out of first place.

Al Unser Jr., who broke his ankle in CART's season opener at Homestead two weeks ago, is six weeks away from getting back in his race car and, says Dr. Terry Trammell, up to 12 weeks away from walking. In the meantime, Penske has hired Brazilian Tarso Marques, 23, to drive the car in Japan next weekend. Marques has seven years of open-wheel experience, including two seasons in Formula One.

Winston Cup points leader Jeff Burton is also the points leader in the Busch Series. Burton's car owner, Jack Rousch, got his 200th career win last weekend when Mark Martin won the Texas Busch race in a Rousch car.

Longtime Indy Car driver Gary Bettenhausen is turning into a driver's coach. Last year Bettenhausen helped Sam Schmidt adapt to Indianapolis. Now, he's working with rookie John Hollansworth Jr. Bettenhausen knows what he's talking about. He has driven in 21 Indy 500s. His best finish came in 1987, when he was fifth.

Rusty Wallace has retired two of his favorite race cars, "Snake," named for Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, and "Ronnie," named for the late chassis builder, Ronnie Hopkins. The new cars, PR-23 and PC-11, will debut next weekend at Bristol and the next week at Martinsville, respectively. Here's hoping he does away with the "2001 Space Odyssey" sounding names for something more human.

Pub Date: 4/04/99

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