Las Vegan Tracy pays steep price for taking points off board at Indy

There’s an adage in football that you never take points off the board. I think the same holds true in Canadian football.

It doesn’t always hold true at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If it did, Paul Tracy, the race car driver who grew up on the outskirts of Toronto but now makes his home at Red Rock Canyon, would be back east today, cutting promos for ESPN along with the other drivers who will compete in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 and explaining to the New York media that Danica Patrick and Dan Patrick are not related.

Instead, he’s heading home to Las Vegas without so much as getting his picture taken for the souvenir program.

A lot of racing people thought Tracy had an outside chance of winning this year’s 500. As it turns out, he won’t even be driving in the race.

As time was running out Sunday on the last day of qualifications for the world’s biggest one-day sporting event, Tracy’s team, fearing his speed was in jeopardy, withdrew it. The team sent him back on the track to go faster, because if there’s one thing Paul Tracy is known for, it’s going faster.

But, for once, he didn’t go faster, although he nearly knocked down all four walls during a run reminiscent of the Kamikaze pilots of World War II.

Tracy then thought he would get one last chance to go faster. But another driver, fearful Tracy would pull some last-second miles per hour out of his helmet, also withdrew his speed and tried to go faster. He didn’t.

The gun went off signaling the end of qualifying. Tracy’s car, which would have been next on the track, sat motionless in the qualifying line. The man inside the car was numb. 

That’s Indy. Sometimes you take points off the board and score a touchdown. Sometimes you take points off the board and fumble.

If you’re a stand-up guy like Paul Tracy, you talk about coughing up the football and the disappointment of not having your picture taken for the souvenir program and try not to let them see the tears in your eyes.

But you don’t blame your team over the public address system, like Danica did when her car wasn’t up to speed on Pole Day. If she’s not happy with starting 23rd, I know someone who will trade places with her.

“It’s a team decision,” Tracy said. “You win and lose as a team. I’ve had a lot of wins in my career where we made calls that we’re the right calls. The frustrating part is that the speed was in the car at various times of the day.”

Tracy posted the second-fastest speed of the day in Thursday’s practice, when the temperature was in the 50s. It was in the 90s on Saturday and Sunday. That’s Indy, too.

His car was set up for the Iditarod when he needed a setup for Death Valley, and the crew just didn’t have enough time to turn the wrenches. So that left it up to Tracy’s right foot, which usually isn’t a bad strategy when all else fails.

Paul Tracy has won 31 Indy-style automobile races, placing him seventh on the all-time list. The only men to have won more are named Foyt (A.J.), Andretti (Mario and Michael) and Unser (Bobby, Al, Al Jr.).

If Tracy’s name isn’t as well known as those legendary ones, it’s probably because he has yet to win at Indianapolis. During his prime, he was competing in a rival series. In 2002, he thought he won. But it was ruled Tracy had passed for the lead just as the caution light came on. They took it away from him and gave it to one of Roger Penske’s drivers. The one who danced with the stars.

Tracy went back to the other series, won more races, won the championship. He finally returned to the Brickyard last year, running as high as fourth before finishing ninth. But racing cars at 225 mph is a young man’s game now, and Tracy just turned 41. He realizes he won’t get too many more chances to drive a really fast car at Indianapolis. That’s why he lost 30 pounds riding his bicycle around the scenic 13-mile loop at Red Rock. That’s why he has been existing on salads and water since January.

That’s why this one hurts.

And that’s why he wishes the big 500-mile race was like football, where you don’t take points off the board.    

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352.

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