Q&A with Paul Tracy and A.J. Foyt
Paul Tracy will compete in place of the injured Vitor Meira this weekend at the ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt 225 at the Milwaukee Mile, driving A.J. Foyt’s No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara-Honda.
PAUL TRACY: Well, for sure, for sure it’s inspiring because I looked up to A.J. as a driver and also as a personality in the sport my whole career. You know, this race is named after him. It’s the home race for the sponsor. Like I said, it’s a fantastic track for me. I’m just super excited to get the opportunity.
And I think that we’ll work well together. I’ve changed a lot. I think I’ve calmed down as a driver since ’03, when I won the championship. I was always pretty frantic to try to get that championship. I think I’m a little bit easier to work with now that I’ve been able to do that. A little bit more patient than I used to be.
As was seen on Sunday, I wasn’t – even though the car wasn’t as good, I didn’t take it too far, ask to get too much. So my goal this weekend is to give the team – they’ve had some hard breaks this year, and give the team their first good finish of the year, to get the momentum up in the team and get the spirits up.
Q: Paul, you seemingly made this look pretty easy, hopping into the car for occasional races. What’s the biggest challenge when you’re not on the tracks constantly, moving from vehicle to vehicle?
PAUL TRACY: I think the biggest challenge for me is when I’m not racing, I get mad about it. I’m not happy about it. You know, it’s tough to keep motivated and keep working out and keep focused on wanting to go racing when there’s nothing – there hasn’t been a lot on the horizon over the beginning of last year.
I got the one race in Edmonton, and then nothing happened after that. Nothing happened over the winter. Then you got to kind of switch your focus from your whole career being a race driver to a sponsor finder. And that’s not what my specialty is.
You know, so that’s the hard part. You got to dedicate a lot of time nowadays to find money to make the wheels turn on these things. And that’s not what I’ve ever had to do. So, you know, that’s probably the hardest thing.
It’s not hard to get in the car and drive it. You know, like A.J. would tell you, I’ve been doing this my whole life, now since I was six years old. To get in the car and drive is the easy part. It’s finding the operating budget to do it is the hard part.
Q: A.J., you’re a four-time Indy winner. Helio Castroneves is creeping up on you with three wins. Do you think he can get to four and maybe even five?
A.J. FOYT: You know, the way I look at things, I was the first one. I’ll always remain the first one. But records are made to be broken. I broke a lot of records. I look for them to go by the wayside. I mean, records aren’t made to stay there forever. So you’re gonna have somebody break it. I mean, he’s still got to break it. He hasn’t done it yet.
So you had Al Unser, Rick Mears, all them, they could have won maybe them five times. Me, I won it two or three times I probably shouldn’t and lost it four or five times I should have won.
Race day, everything’s got to fall your way. Your crew’s got to be good. It’s like we made a bad mistake for Vitor. He wouldn’t have been in that wreck if we wouldn’t have made a mistake. He was up there running good. You know, you just cannot make mistakes on Race Day at a big race like that.
Some people, under a big race like, that they panic. It wasn’t my driver, it was my crew. And I blame whoever made the mistakes. I don’t care if it’s me, you. I’m just kind of like Paul, I speak my mind. We just screwed up and we got a driver hurt. Thank God we’re being able to replace him with a great race driver. Normally that doesn’t happen.
Just like he said, the whole name of this game is going out and finding the sponsors, which A.J. Foyt in his day wouldn’t have been worth a damn. I’m kind of like Paul: driving was easy, but going out here and doing this other stuff, that might fit Mario Andretti’s program, but it don’t fit my program.
I’ve had great sponsors, don’t get me wrong. I think we’ve had great sponsors because of our performance. But as far as me just going out and selling, that’s really hard to do. That’s not A.J.’s game.
Now, my young boy Larry, he fits that deal. It’s a different breed of people today. And he fits in there perfect.
Q: Paul, you were running real well at Indy. I think you hit some debris or something from Tony (Kanaan)’s wreck. How difficult did that make the rest of your day?
PAUL TRACY: Well, it didn’t help. You know, we started the car a little bit too conservative. I didn’t practice the second week because we were on a short race program. So, I didn’t get a lot of – we really didn’t get any drafting practice, and kind of relied on what the teammates were doing.
On Carb Day, my car was real loose. We started out with a little bit too much rear downforce, not enough front, and that’s part of it. We were adjusting on it, making it better, making it better with every stop, not getting too crazy with it, just riding along and getting towards the end of the race. And we had gotten the thing pretty good and got up into fourth place on that one stop.
And I run over some debris from Kanaan’s wreck. There were parts all over the track. And I was kind of weaving my way through it and then, boom, ran over a computer box that was laying right in the middle of the road. It went under the car and tore a hole in the underwing and did some damage, you know, almost tore the brake line off the A arm as it bounced around in there.
You know, these cars are so, so sensitive, that at 230 mph on the straightaway, any type of wind reduction just adds drag to the car. It slowed the car down by about 2 mph average speed. So I really just had to hang onto it and fight and fight and fight to hold the guys off to get the ninth-place finish.
So it was disappointing, because I felt we were just getting the car good. We were getting in position for the last 100 miles, and then we had a problem.
Q: Reports of coming out of Indianapolis this morning that Tony George has been relieved of his duties at the speedway. There’s a more recent report that says he’s denying it. Can you put any light on this matter?
A.J. FOYT: I really know nothing about it. To be truthful, nobody’s called me. I don’t know if Paul might know more than I know. I’m just a little Texas boy down here.
PAUL TRACY: I’ve been in a motorhome for the past 35 hours and fixing tires on the side of the road. You know, obviously I’ve heard about it. It kind of hit the news this morning, but I don’t know if it’s fact or it’s speculation or what the story is. So I can’t really comment on it.
Q: I have to say one of the highlights of the 500 race this past Sunday was seeing you, Paul, go side-by-side with Townsend Bell. He was your teammate, and he didn’t seem to understand that, but it made the race exciting. Milwaukee is a track that has been known in the past to have drivers go maybe three- and four-wide. I’m thinking back a number of years. I don’t know what the situation is with the Dallara now. Paul, you have driven on the street course in Edmonton and the superspeedway at Indy. What do you think is going to happen when you get in the Dallara on a short oval where you haven’t used that car before?
PAUL TRACY: Obviously, I’ve driven a lot of different Indy cars at the mile. If you look at the years leading up to, you know, till we got into the 2000s, we had different cars every year. You know, we get a brand-new car. Every car was a little bit different, handled a little bit different, took a little bit different of a setup to make it work. So, you know, from that standpoint, it’s not really anything new to me to get in a different car there.
Ultimately you got to find the right balance and be confident in the balance to get the best lap time there. So from that standpoint, I’m not apprehensive about going there because I’ve driven a lot of different cars. So I’m looking forward to it.
Q: A.J., I know you’re in a tough situation with Vitor being injured. What kind of thought process did you go through before you decided – I don’t know how many other drivers were out there that you could choose from, but what made you settle on Paul Tracy?
A.J. FOYT: I know when he gets in the car, you’re going to have to beat him. He gives 110 percent. That’s what we’re looking for. It wasn’t hard to decide.
Q: You mentioned off the top nothing has been settled after Milwaukee. You want to talk a little bit more. What might be some of the issues that you want to resolve? I’m wondering, given, Paul, that you have the deal with KV for the two Canadian races...
PAUL TRACY: I haven’t had the chance to talk to A.J. and Larry about it. Like I said, I was driving. They were dealing with Vitor and how long he’s going to be out. Obviously Milwaukee, you don’t have a lot of time to react. And obviously, there’s lots of drivers out there looking for rides. But I think for Milwaukee, I was the best choice to go there for A.J. You know, I’m happy with that.
Obviously I’ve got a commitment. We’ve already made an announcement for Toronto and Edmonton. We’ve got a sponsor signed, so I’m committed on that deal. But I would love to drive for A.J. some more. But the plan right now is to just get through this weekend and see what happens.
Q: A.J., is that sort of your view, too? It’s happened quickly; you just want to sort of get Milwaukee out of the way?
A.J. FOYT: Well, that’s true. And I respect Paul. When you make a commitment, I was always been that type, come good or bad, you know. When you make a commitment, you’re just a man of your word. That’s the way I look at it.
Nowadays, there’s not too much of that happening. One day they can give you their word, the next day it’s different. I respect Paul very highly for that. We’re going to have to sit down and talk and see what we can do. I know he’s committed for those two races. It might be for them two races, we’ll have to try somebody else, then Paul will come back after that. So I respect him highly for that.
Q: Do you prefer to have one racer in the seat until Vitor comes back?
A.J. FOYT: Well, yeah. We didn’t know how long he’d be out. You know, I broke my back racing a couple times. That’s something that you definitely have to heal, because I know in ’65, when my back was broke, I got the doctor to forge the papers. He said, Well, you know, if you get into trouble, hit the wall again, you could be paralyzed.
Right before qualifying, I come off of (Turn) two, I broke up, started spinning. My whole life went. I said, ‘What the hell am I doing in this car for?’ Thank God, I didn’t hit it that hard. Then we come back, sit on the pole. A racer is a racer. You’ll try everything.
I know Vitor. He’s a super guy. A super friend of all of ours. I know Paul likes him. All the crew likes him. It’s our fault he got hurt. It’s very simple. I mean, he don’t want to hear it that way. But I call a spade a spade. Like I said, we screwed up and had him in that position. He shouldn’t have been back that far. He wasn’t back that far. When you screw up in the pits, that’s what happens. We just have to pay the consequences. I’m glad to be able to pick up somebody like Paul that was available.
PAUL TRACY: I’d like to comment on that, too. I mean, racers are kind of all the same. I hurt my back the year before last at Long Beach, and I had a fractured vertebrae. You know, I think all racers are the same. They think if the doctor says it’s 15 weeks, they think they can do it in 10. You know, I did the same. I twisted (Dr. Terry) Trammell’s arm to let me drive. I probably got in the car a little sooner than I should have. I didn’t feel good in the car till towards the end of the year.
It’s one of those things that the back is a sensitive area, there’s a lot of G loads go up and down your spine vertically, bottoming the car out, you know, left and right in the corner. So it’s just one of those things, it takes a long time. You know, I still have a little bit of aches and pains now, and it’s been over a year. It’s just one of those things that once you had a back problem, it’s one of those things that sticks around.
A.J. FOYT: Let me clue you in. It takes a lot longer than a year. I still got aches and pains (laughter).
Q: A.J., I want to go back, I know you don’t have a comment on the Tony George story being ousted as the CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Maybe the question should have been, I know what a great friend you were with the late Tony Hulman, the late Tony Hulman his grandfather. Comment on the job that Tony has been able to do. Maybe a comment on the job that Tony has done to carry on what his grandfather built.
A.J. FOYT: Well, you know, there’s a lot that helped carry it on after the grandfather. He’s got a lot of sisters. His mother’s still living. So it’s really hard for me to comment because instead of being business or seeing what they do and that, I’ve always kept my nose out. I’ve just been friends of the Georges and Hulmans my whole life. A lot of their kids are the same age as my kids.
It’s been more of a friendship the, instead of me sticking my nose in their business or they sticking theirs in mine. It’s just been a friendship through the years. Mr. Hulman, like Joe Cloutier that run it after, we were friends.
I really have no comment because I really know nothing about it. I don’t even know, if I knew something about it, if I would comment on it ‘cause I think the world of all of them, the daughters and all of them. I’m good friends with all of them.
You know, some things work out and some things don’t. I’m quite sure they got their reasonings, if something went wrong, why they’re doing this. Like I say, I really have no comment.
Q: Paul, I was wondering if you could tell me what kind of car you were heading to buy in Houston.
PAUL TRACY: I went down there and picked up a ’64 – A.J. might like this. Kind of his style than some the Hot Rods I’ve had, and some of the European cars. My thing’s kind of changed lately from that. It’s a 1964 Lincoln Continental.
Q: What color?
PAUL TRACY: Black. Black on black.
A.J. FOYT: That’s me, black on black (laughter).
Q: Any reservations, you blow a tire in the motorhome, it’s going to go out at 220 miles an hour or whatever this weekend?
PAUL TRACY: No. We were on the road. You know, I left the banquet. I got my check and I had the motorhome warmed up ready to go. A couple of my buddies in there. I slid out the back door. We jumped in and we drove all night. And then, you know, down into Houston, we blew the tire out. You know, probably got a puncture on it or something. I got a set of Michelins on the bus. Maybe I should switch over to Firestones.
A.J. FOYT: All I can say is I talked to him. He said, I’m in trouble, I blowed a tire, I got to stop. I said, Bye, I’ll talk to you later (laughter).
Q: Paul, you’ve been the young guy coming up and racing with some of your idols, guys like A.J. Now you’re one of the idols. Now that you’ve been away for a bit and you’re coming back to a series where there’s a whole bunch of young guys you’ve never driven with before, how is it being with all these young guys who are maybe looking up to you?
PAUL TRACY: I don’t know if they look up to me or not. I think the attitudes of these drivers has changed. When I came up, when I first started, I mean, I didn’t say nothing to anybody. I looked down. You know, I saw A.J., Rick, Mario, I’d look down at the ground like a scared dog.
So the drivers nowadays have big attitudes and they’re highly confident in themselves, never think they’re wrong about anything. I think if I did some of the stuff that goes on on the tracks today at the age of some of these young kids, running guys, you know, down into the grass and into the pit wall, I mean, if I did that when I was 21, 22 years old to a guy like A.J. or Mario, they’d come down and pull me behind the garage and kick the crap out of me.
You know, that’s kind of what goes on on the track now. It’s just everybody has gotten way aggressive. You know, guys, they’re fighting for, you know, 15th position like it’s a win, like it’s the last lap, but it’s the beginning of the race.
Q: Paul, among the active drivers, you’ve got more wins than anybody. Here we are in the second year of unification and you’re still looking for a full-time ride. Why is that? What’s happening there?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, last year when unification happened, you know, I was under contract to Forsythe, was committed to Forsythe. You know, he decided not to go racing, but I was still under a contract. It took me a long time. Gerry can be a bit of a funny guy. Once he’s decided he’s not going to do something, you’re not going to change his mind. I couldn’t reach him, couldn’t get any clarification from the employees that were left to run the team on what I should do. It took me a long, long time to get in a position to where I was comfortable to go out and look for something else, to get free of the contract.
From that standpoint, it was a third to halfway into the season last year before I felt comfortable talking to other people. I was able to do the one race at Edmonton, which was facilitated by Tony (George) and his marketing people. They found a sponsor. I thought, ‘OK, for sure after the run I had something would pick up for this year or maybe a couple more races. As that season ended, we went into the off-season, everything was like the perfect storm. The economy tanked. Everybody’s investments tanked. People’s real estate tanked. It’s affected everybody across the board, from a team owner to a driver to sponsors to everybody. It just didn’t happen.
So it’s not just one thing. I don’t think there’s one reason why. I think it’s just a combination of a lot of things. But things are starting to turn around now. I got this deal at Indy. Everything went good there. Like A.J. said, you hate to get into the car for somebody who’s injured, but that happens. You know, the wheels don’t stop. Racing keeps going on. You know, we’ll just see how it goes.
Q: I note on July 12th, you get a chance to sort of show the reunified circuit what you can do in your hometown. What does that mean to you?
PAUL TRACY: Well, that’s always been the most important race of year for me in my career. I have a win there in ‘93 and I’ve won there a few times. I’ve always been very successful in Toronto and Vancouver and Edmonton. So, you know, I’m looking forward to it.
They had a year off last year. The race didn’t happen. I was off that year. So I’m looking forward to coming back and racing again in my hometown.