Racer2Racer has been one of the most popular features of RACER magazine since its inception in 2008. It's where Indy car race-winner Bryan Herta sits down with past and present stars of the sport and turns journalist. Magazines being finite, though, space often precludes us from including all of it. (In fact, in John Force's case, we probably published about 15 percent of what he gave us…)
In the August issue of RACER, Paul Tracy was Herta's latest “victim,” and the surfeit of material was inevitable. For one thing, P.T.'s happiest time outside the cockpit of a racecar is talking about being inside the cockpit of a racecar. Secondly, Bryan was one of his on-track rivals. And most recently, it was Bryan Herta Autosport that benefited when Paul and KV Racing missed the grid at this year's Indy 500. You can read their exchanges on that and many other topics by subscribing to RACER. While you wait for your August issue to arrive, however, here are some tasters that didn't make the cut.
On getting the racing bug…
BH: When did you start karting?
PT: When I was about six.
BH: I heard your dad used to just drop you off at the track with a can of gas and leave you to get on with it.
PT: Well, you could do that back then. We knew the people who owned the track. Dad would drop me off with a five-gallon can of gas, five dollars to buy a hot dog and a drink at lunch time, and go off to work. And so I'd just keep filling up the tank and go 'round and 'round until I ran out!
BH: Do you still go karting?
PT: Not in a while. Since the kart track closed in Vegas, there's not been a good outlet for it. It became more work than it is fun. You know as well as I do that it's fun, but once you get into the exotic motors and all the best bits, suddenly you've got a garage with $20,000 of stuff. For the time you're driving it, you're working on it 10 times that amount. You want to run with the fast guys who have these Sweetech motors that are $8,000 apiece; I don't want to be out there to be a second or a second-and-a-half slower than the quick guys. So for me it just got to be too much of a pain, you know?
BH: You did Formula Ford in Canada, right?
PT: Yeah, they didn't have shifter karts: they had four-cycle karts when I started. I did that for about four or five years, and then I went to two-stroke karts – 100cc, direct drive. Then, at 15, I did Formula Ford and went to Scott Goodyear's racing school in Shannonville, Ontario, while still racing karts. At 16 I raced Formula Ford, at 17 I was in F2000, and I won the last ever Can-Am race, and at 18 I did a little bit of Atlantics in New Zealand, and then I went into Indy Lights.
BH: And, for that era, you were really young to be in Indy Lights and then IndyCar. Now you see guys who are literally 18 getting in Indy cars.
PT: Yeah, and guys like Fernando Alonso, who was Formula 1 World Champion at what, 24? But, I mean, you had Al Jr. doing Can-Am when he was 17 or 18 so it wasn't totally unheard of. Michael [Andretti] was pretty young when he was in Super Vee and Atlantics, too. But then they had the family name. I made my Indy car debut at 22, as a one-off with Dale Coyne at Long Beach in 1991 because no one else was interested.
BH: So the Indy Lights champion couldn't get a ride…
PT: So the thing's come full circle! When you won it three years later and when Tony [Kanaan] won it, drivers could graduate. Now it's gone dysfunctional again.
On left-foot braking…
BH: When AJ Allmendinger joined Forsythe Racing in 2006, and he won his first three races with the team, you decided to switch to left-foot braking at the age of 38. How hard was that for you.
PT: Actually, I didn't find it that difficult. I thought it would be harder, because we weren't getting much testing by then. But there was such an advantage in the brake zone to have your left foot ready on the brakes as soon as your right foot was coming off the gas, and getting on the gas as soon as you bleed off the brakes. The guys who were doing that were accelerating for just that little bit extra time, because they're not making the transition from brake to gas.
Anyway, I thought it was going to be harder, and when you're testing isn't always the best time to try it: we only have two sets of tires, so if you lock 'em up like I did the first time I tried it, then a) your test gets hampered, and b) the team get pretty pissed at you. So my engineer Eric Zeto told me to start braking with my left foot in my street car, all the time. So I did that a couple of weeks straight, and by the time I tried it in the racecar I was OK with it. It's real easy to burn too much fuel with left-foot braking though: you need to be real careful about getting off the gas when you're braking.
BH: Jimmy Vasser was the one who got me onto it. When he became my teammate at Ganassi in 1994, especially on street courses, he was just killing me in brake zones. I was already having problems because I still had a plate and a rod in my right leg from when I'd crashed at Toronto the year before. So I had pain in my leg and couldn't brake with my right foot properly anyway, so one day I told myself, 'I've got to switch.' Like you, I had it worked up in my head that this was going to be a tough process. But 15 laps in, I stopped thinking about it.
PT: The biggest issue was when you spin, when you need to be dipping the clutch and be on the brakes, so you have to switch both feet across.
BH: The craziest one is Gil de Ferran: he right-foot brakes in some corners and left-foot brakes in others. I'd get confused; sooner or later I'd have both feet on everything! So it was nothing to do with the Panoz on its way with a semi-auto paddle-shift?
PT: No, not really. It's just the simple fact of getting smoked in qualifying! When you discover someone's able to brake 10 or 20 feet later than you, you have to adjust. I've never been that set in my ways, where everything has to be a certain way. I've had certain teammates where they couldn't get competitive unless they had everything specifically the same as when they'd had success in one race. Mario Dominguez – I love him; he's a funny guy, but for him to go fast, he had to have everything in the car the way it was when he was fast at one certain race. He had to have this type of brake disc, this pad, this caliper, or he can't drive it. I don't really care.
BH: But you learned something from every teammate?
PT: Oh yeah: you have to analyze everything, because that's the only way you improve; race in, race out, year in, year out.
On team owners…
BH: Now you're driving for Jimmy. How is that? You've known each other forever, you're friends, and all of us have done a million races together, so I'd have thought it was a weird dynamic. It's not like a normal team owner, who can always hold something over a driver. It's hard for Jimmy to hold much over you, I'd think…
PT: Huh. You'd be surprised at how quickly a driver becomes an owner.
BH: Well, I'm learning!
PT: You'd think with how long Jimmy's been driving, that he'd remember what it was like; but as a team owner, it's amazing how far that pulls you away from the technical side of the sport – the debriefs, the hour-to-hour process of making changes, and so on. Now he's dealing with sponsors and entertaining guests at hospitality. As a driver, all you do is go from racetrack to engineering room, and just occasionally grab lunch and meet people. But generally it's just engineering to track and back again. Once you get removed from that, it's amazing how quickly there are so many other things you have to pay attention to.
And then also, you're looking at the bottom line: How much does it cost? Do we need to do this or that? As a driver, you just think, “Get me the new wing! Get me the new shocks! Get me the new wheels! We need that sway bar!” and so on. Money's no object, right? When you're the owner, you're thinking, “Well that wing costs this, a set of shocks costs that,” and those factors matter.
BH: Trust me, I know! When Saavedra crashed our car in the pit lane on Carb Day, the first thing I did was look across at my team partner Steve Newey and say, “How much is a new nose?”
PT: Yeah, whereas when you were a driver and you damaged a nosecone, you just thought, “Come on, put another one on!”, right? I can't think of how many nose wing assemblies I took off in my career. I mean, the first year – the only year – of the Panoz DP01, 2007, I think I went through about 12 of them. If you even touched a curb, those things could come off and go under the car, and bang – there's $25k gone each time. I think I cleaned out Panoz of front wings during the first half of that season.
For the complete Racer2Racer with Paul Tracy, subscribe to RACER magazine today to ensure that your first issue is August 2010. RACER magazine provides all-exclusive content not available on Racer.com. RACER is not available on newsstands. To get your hands on the essential motorsports monthly, click here for a subscription.