Tracy lends expertise to Canada’s future racers
At 42, there are those who suggest Paul Tracy — a.k.a. the Thrill from West Hill and Bad Boy of Racing — is closer to over the hill, and the veteran open-wheel racer does admit his days are numbered in the ultra competitive Izod IndyCar Series.
But, while still competing in a handful of races this season, the Ontario native is more than set in his plans to move on to the next stage of his brilliant career, which will include further blazing of the asphalt trail for the younger generation of Canadian drivers.
In town to promote the Edmonton Indy, set for July 22-24 at the City Centre Airport, Tracy announced his intention of working with local 18-year-old racer Stefan Rzadzinski, who is coming off his first win in the Skip Barber Racing Summer Series this past weekend at the Virginia International Raceway.
It’s Tracy’s intention to not only coach, but help attract sponsorship for the former Archbishop MacDonald high school and current MacEwan University business student so that he may get an Indy Lights ride in Edmonton that July race weekend.
“I think it’s a great opportunity. It’s all contingent on trying to find some sponsorship, but we’re working on that,” said Tracy, who is cozying up to his Dragon Racing teammate Davey Hamilton, who has an Indy Lights team. “We’re trying to get Stefan a deal to run the Canadian races and maybe a couple of road courses in the United States, maybe Sonoma or Mid-Ohio.”
Tracy — the veteran of 18 years of open-wheel racing, including the former CART and ChampCar series, and a winner of 31 IndyCar races — hinted that next season will likely be his last. He has competed in a reduced schedule the last two years, running just a handful of races in 2010 with his best finish being a sixth in Edmonton. Of course, sponsorship, or the lack thereof, has a lot to do with it.
“I haven’t put an exclamation point or a final point to it. I think we — my partners that I’m working with — are trying to plan some retirement year for my fans,” he told a media gathering on Wednesday, suggesting age 43 was his target point. “Having some of this time off has preserved me in some ways, has preserved my desire to keep driving because I haven’t been out there in the grind of racing. … I still have the desire to do it, to compete, but I know time is a factor.
What’s next for Tracy?
“When I retire from open-wheel it doesn’t mean I’ll retire for good,” added Tracy, who named endurance racing as a possibility. “I have plenty of things on my plate if I want to keep myself visible. The next plan for me is try and help younger drivers, kids like Stefan and seeing how (fellow Canadian James) Hinchcliffe is doing now (on the IndyCar circuit). He’s doing a great job this year. How do we see the next Paul Tracys come up?”
Rzadzinski himself is looking forward to the help.
“We have some ideas we’re kicking around with Paul and the management crew, trying to push our way into the Indy (weekend),” said Rzadzinski, who began driving go-karts at age eight and continued until he was 15. He also represented Canada in Italy in 2007 and then made the jump to formula cars.
“My only option was to go out east to get seat time in Canada,” he said of moving to the Formula Ford championship in Ontario at age 16 where he won rookie-of-the-year honors and was the championship runner-up. He was runner-up again in 2010 at age 17, and this year won a Skip Barber regional scholarship and is now racing on that series.
“It’s huge,” he said, of getting help from Tracy. “Incredible. It’s all you dream about. Growing up, since I was a baby, watching racing, watching Paul Tracy — being my hero, really. Just being able to work with him is almost surreal. It’s a fantastic opportunity and there couldn’t be a better guy to work with.
“He’s committed to helping out younger guys and he wants to see the next wave. He knows he has a few years left and he wants to stay in motor sports, for sure, but he wants to see that next generation of Canadians. It’s tough to move forward, though. Finding the funding and everything required to move forward. Paul’s trying to help us out in that way. I’m really excited and really looking forward to it.”
As is Tracy of getting back behind the wheel for upcoming IndyCar races.
“We don’t have a full season put together, we’re actively working at trying to fill in more races for the rest of the year,” said Tracy, who just moved to Arizona from Las Vegas two days ago. “What we really focused on was hitting all the big events of the year, not only for myself, but my sponsors and where they wanted to be.
“Those stops include Long Beach (his one and only start so far this year where he finished 14th), Texas, Indianapolis, Toronto, Edmonton and maybe Sonoma.”
He will be attempting to qualify at Indianapolis 500, but as of now there are 42 car-and-driver combinations with only 33 open spots.
“The field is so competitive and so tough. We really just have to work diligently and smart and not make any mistakes on track,” Tracy said of preparations, for not only him, but teammates Hamilton, Ana Beatriz and Justin Wilson. “Not get led down the wrong path in terms of setup. Because even though there is a week of practice, if you get going in the wrong direction you can definitely get yourself backed into a corner.”
And as for Tracy’s popularity, Anne Roy, the general manager for Octane Motorsports, the new overseer of the Edmonton Indy, says the Thrill from West Hill is still the most popular driver for the local event.
“He’s a sponsors’ dream,” she said in introducing him to the media. “He’s great on track. Yes, when the visor goes down he means business and when the visor goes back up, I’ve seen it time and time again, he shows up on time takes really good care of his sponsors and does what he needs to do. He’s a great example for all the young drivers out there.”
Rzadzinski included. Canada.com