Long-sought title reflects Tracy's perseverance

ON MOTOR SPORTS

November 02, 2003|By SANDRA McKEE

On Tuesday at CART's annual awards ceremony in Palm Springs, Calif., Paul Tracy will be honored as the series' new champion. For Tracy, it will be a sign of his accomplishment and a reward for his perseverance.

The 13-year veteran, who will turn 35 next month, has done things his way.

"You could say that," he said shortly after clinching the championship last weekend. "I didn't go out there racing for points. I won it by racing the maximum every weekend. I went out and gave it everything I had every weekend, and sometimes I won and sometimes I failed."

It's been that way his whole career.

There have been seasons of great success followed by seasons with no success. But never a season quite like this one, in which he became one of six drivers in CART history to win seven times in one year.

And yet, even with seven victories, it took a maximum effort and a DNF for his closest competitor, Bruno Junqueira, in last weekend's race in Australia for Tracy to clinch his first CART championship.

The race scheduled for this weekend in Fontana, Calif., was canceled due to the wildfires in the area.

"Everyone has got their own style of racing," Tracy said. "For me, the way I have driven my whole life is to go out there and try to win and try to do - put it all out on the line every time. I guess you can't - a leopard can't change its spots, I guess. This is the way I am."

It has cost him over the years. When he first entered the CART series, he was brash. It worried car owners and fellow drivers, but it never kept him from good rides because his talent was always so obvious.

He started with Dale Coyne Racing and then moved on. He had rides with Roger Penske, twice, each one ending because of his lack of corporate charm.

Spiked green hair and direct, critical comments about Penske's noncompetitive cars did little to endear him. He moved on to Newman/Haas and Team KOOL Green and finally to Player's/Forsythe Racing.

Along the way he has become CART's leader in career victories (26) among active drivers and was voted by fans as last season's most popular driver. He has also finished third in the points chase three times.

But his aggressive driving was sometimes too much for a car owner or competing driver.

"Paul has always been a very talented driver," retired driver and champion Mario Andretti said recently. "I've always thought he's just needed to calm down a little bit."

Once, Tracy was leading a race at Fontana with five laps to go but didn't win because he spun out under yellow.

"As much as people have told me through the years, you have got to do this and you have got to do that, I can't change the way - change what my natural instincts are," Tracy said. "Some people are guys that will not take risks and go out there and finish in the points every weekend. Some guys are natural risk-takers. I guess that's the category I'm in. ... I take chances."

He has this tough-guy image, and yet when he heard on his radio that Junqueira was out of the race and that he (Tracy) had clinched the championship, Tracy began to cry inside his helmet. And when he was presented the champion's trophy on the podium after the race, he again began to sob.

"It's just been - it's taken longer than I wanted it to and there has been a lot of frustration," he said. "The emotions of the hard work and the sacrifice and, you know, the ups and the downs you go through throughout a career ... I have won so many races and led so many laps, but I have never been able to get to this point. It's never all fallen together for me. It was just a big release of joy. It just feels like a weight has been lifted from me."

Helping out

Though the CART series canceled the King Taco 500 at Fontana this weekend, food had been ordered by teams for the event and hospitality vehicles and CART's state-of-the-art medical unit were already on site.

After the cancellation, CART officials and its teams donated the food to help those affected by the fires and offered use of the hospitality vehicles and the medical unit to local government officials to help meet their emergency needs.

Keyser honored

The Grand American Champions weekend that concludes at Daytona International Raceway today in Daytona Beach, Fla., is featuring a bright yellow and black Porsche GTI with a paint job that replicates that on cars owned and raced in the 1970s by Butler resident Michael Keyser.

The Porsche, owned by Kevin Jeanette, has Chad McQueen (the son of the late actor Steve McQueen) and veteran sports car driver Milt Minter sharing the driving duties.

In the '70s, Jeanette co-drove yellow and black Porsches with Keyser, who is now an author and film producer. Keyser called his old team Toad Hall. It is a team name that brings a smile to Jeanette's face, as he recalls the team got its name because Keyser was a big fan of the children's book The Wind in the Willows. That book details the adventures of Ratty, the Mole, Otter, Mr. Badger and the memorable Mr. Toad, who resided at Toad Hall.

The car in today's race acknowledges Keyser's accomplishments over the years.

Another Andretti champ

Champion drivers Mario and Michael Andretti have hung up their helmets, but there is another Andretti starting to make his move in motor sports.

Marco Andretti, Michael's 16-year-old son, has clinched the Skip Barber 2.0-liter Formula Dodge Eastern Region championship. Marco won eight times in the 14-race series and had five other podium finishes. He beat third-year driver Peter Ludwig of New Paltz, N.Y., by 24 points.

"I am extremely proud of the job Marco did," said Michael, who holds the CART record for wins (41). "The experience he's getting is invaluable - and at 16, he is already two years ahead of where I was at his age."

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