T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon and welcome. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Our guest today is driver Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green who drove to his FedEx Championship Series leading third...
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon and welcome. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Our guest today is driver Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green who drove to his FedEx Championship Series leading third victory of the season in Sunday Molson Indy Vancouver. Good afternoon, Paul, thanks for being with us today. PAUL TRACY: Thank you. T.E. McHALE: Paul, the driver of the No. 26 KOOL Honda Reynard, moved past Danny Sullivan into sole possession of 7th place on CART's all-time victory list with Sunday's win, the 18th of his career. His victory keyed a Team KOOL Green sweep of the top two finishing spots as teammate Dario Franchitti drove to a runnerup result, the fourth time in the past two seasons that Team KOOL Green has posted a one two finish in FedEx Series Championship series competition. Paul also owns victories at Long Beach and Road America this season as well as podium finishes of third at Homestead, Rio de Janeiro, and Toronto. His pole position at Michigan moved him into 8th place in all-time CART history with 12. Most importantly, Paul's victory Sunday vaulted him into second place in the FedEx Championship Series Championship standings heading into Sunday's Shell 300, the featured event of the Honda Grand Prix Monterey in Laguna Seca, California. With 120 points Paul is only 6 off the lead held by Michael Andretti of Newman/Haas Racing in a Championship race in which the Top-5 drivers are separated by only 11 points. The Shell 300, Round 16 of the FedEx Championship Series will be televised live by ESPN this Sunday, September 10th, beginning at noon Eastern time. With that we will open it up to questions for Paul.
Q. I was wondering you are looking like you are in good shape heading down the stretch. You have won at four of the five remaining tracks. You are only 6 points off Michael Andretti. How do you assess your chances of winning the Championship? PAUL TRACY: Well, I think the best that I have ever had. Like you said, we are going into races where I have always been very strong at, but that doesn't mean anything this year, so, really what we have to focus on is just what we have been doing and that is just trying to do a good job on the race car, concentrating on all the changes that we do to make sure they are right. Make sure that we have a good car that I can race with and if we can achieve that, then we will have good races and hopefully score good points.
Q. It has been quite a turnaround from you looking back from the end of 1998, 1999 where you had a bit of a rough season, a rough start to 1999. Now you are battling for the Championship. What has been the big difference for you? PAUL TRACY: Well, I think just getting to know my team better. Getting to understand the car better. Those have been the key things really, I think, I really know the car well now and sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong, but those days, when the car is just average, when you can get a good finish and get a Top-5 finish, that it is going to be important.
Q. I am wondering about if there is any kind of resentment on your part kind of Jacques Villeneuve struggling in Europe still gets a lot of attention with the Canadian media. I am wondering if you think maybe you are being overshadowed a little bit being second in the point standings? PAUL TRACY: No. Not at all. I mean, he has been a CART Champion, a Formula 1 Champion, and I don't really think about it that way who gets the most media attention - really isn't all that important to me. What is important to me is just doing the best I can and doing a good job for my sponsors and my team and make sure that they are happy.
Q. Following that up, you got help from your teammate this weekend Dario, do you think there is something, I mean, something in that that says something special about racing and team racing and things that fans might not know about about racing? PAUL TRACY: I think that a team has got to work together and I think that is what our biggest strength is at Team KOOL Green is that Dario and I really work together and we work hard and concentrate on being fair with each other and, yeah, we have had accidents together, but that hasn't caused any self destruction within the team. I mean, accidents happen and we are still united and we are a strong team.
Q. Is that something that you can look back on, kind of to change in yourself in your outlook to racing over your career from the early days and to now? PAUL TRACY: Well, I mean, I don't think it has really changed for me because I have been in situations where if anybody wants my setup - I have been with a lot of high profiled teammates - I have been -- when I started I was teammates with Rick Mears and Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser, Jr. and Michael Andretti and for me, I mean, my setup book is always an open book. If you want to use my setup, go ahead. I don't have anything to hold back and sometimes it hasn't gone the other way for me, but with Dario, his book is opened and that -- we have a really strong mutual kind of a bond with each other that we are honest with each other and sometimes it is not that way.
Q. Going into these last few races, I mean, I guess obviously you'd like to have an insurmountable lead but it is maybe a little easier chasing the Championship from second or third spot than actually leading going into the last few races? PAUL TRACY: Well, I don't know. I know this is a good situation to be in. I led the Championship for 7, 8 races for quite a while and I would have liked to have checked out, all the points that we missed out on would have been nice to have, but we don't have them. So really, what our focus is, we are not focusing on the Championship so much. I think that was maybe a bit of our problem in the middle of the season is that were -- all we were worried about was points, points, points. What we are focusing on now is having fun and having a good time and going out there and giving our best effort to have a good race. And when it all comes down to the end, when the checkered flag falls at Fontana, if we win the Championship, that is great. But what we have to do is put in an effort every weekend to achieve that and not concentrate so much on the Championship but just concentrate on doing the best that we can.
Q. It is still hard to ignore that that is out there, the Championship is out there? PAUL TRACY: That is definitely out there, but I think if you focus on that, I think that we found on to your team, that if we try to focus on that, then it doesn't seem to -- it kind of breaks our concentration. So what we are going to focus on is just the race car and having good races and where we end up at the end is where we are going to end up.
Q. Paul, you have kind of touched on a lot of what I was going to talk to you about and that was staying focused, I guess not overlooking any of the races which are coming up. You said over the summer you guys kind of changed it from concentrating on the Championship to concentrating on race-by-race. How did you all do that? Did you just sit down and make that agreement? Did you convince the team to kind of change their focus? PAUL TRACY: Really myself and my engineer Tony talked about it first; then we were just through the middle part of the season when we were leading the Championship, we were thinking, okay, we have got to finish in the Top-5. That is all we have got to do every week. Just concentrating too much on just trying to -- on just points alone and not just, you know, having good races and going out there to race. That is what we have been doing. We decided that we are going to do -- we are going to go out there and race and race as hard as we can and go as fast as we can and wherever we end up at the end of the year is what is going to happen. That is what we are focusing on.
Q. Do you find that mindset maybe easier in dealing with it just race-to-race and not putting, I guess, the mental stress and pressure of the overall picture, that will come if you focus on each race, I guess? PAUL TRACY: Yeah, it has worked the last two races, so hopefully it will work the next five.
Q. Talk a little bit about how special it was to go into Vancouver and remembering Greg's spirit there - if you want to use that word - in winning that race knowing that he was probably up there looking down and liking the Canadian flag in the middle position of the podium. . . PAUL TRACY: It was just a great day. Not only -- not only was it a great day, but it was a great week and I think, you know, the atmosphere at the race was just so fantastic. It was more of a celebration of Greg's life and I think the whole weekend with Dario qualifying on the pole and me being able to win and all of his friends doing well in the race, I think it just gave everybody some closure and put everybody in a different frame of mind.
Q. I really don't have an answer for this and I have been asked it a lot. Other than your win in Toronto in 1993 and your win the past weekend in Vancouver, Canadians have notoriously not done very well at their home Indys. Do you have an answer why that is the case? PAUL TRACY: I have no idea why, but I know now that I have won both of them and like I said in the papers, that winning those two races for me is almost like, you know, if there was any two races that I have ever wanted to win, it would be those two.
Q. You have not qualified very well up until the last little while. Improvement has been remarkable. Has it been something mentally you and Tony and Barry have done to improve that or is it something you have done on the car? What can you tell us about this terrific improvement; now that you are within striking of Michael for the Championship. PAUL TRACY: We have struggled with the car quite a lot. The team, as a whole, has struggled quite a lot with the car. Really focusing on all the bad parts of the car and things that we haven't been able to fix, we have just decided, well, the car is not, you know, you see a lot of guys sliding and slipping around and really having to man-handle the cars a lot, and we have just come to the realization that we are not going to be able to get the car to handle like the 1999 car and we just have to deal with the problems. And if the car is bad, we need to make it just a little bit better and every change, if we can make it a little better, a little better, it won't be as bad as when we started. Not trying to focus on: Well, it doesn't handle like last year's car and it doesn't do this like last year's car. Well, it is not going to do that. Trying to make it do that, it is not going to happen.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about your go-kart team out in Las Vegas? PAUL TRACY: Well, I got a go-kart team. I have started manufacturing my own go-karts. They are made in Italy and I have and importer, his name is Mark Zatarian (phonetic). He is in San Diego. I have a go-kart team which is, I sponsor four young guys and we go to all the different races, we select big shifter car races. It has been a lot of fun. We haven't won a race yet this year, but a couple of my guys have been real close winning and there is four races left in their Championship.
Q. As a team owner, even in go-kart series, have you kind of seen a little bit of a perspective of what the pressures are and the demands of being a team owner at any level are? PAUL TRACY: A little bit out there. A little bit of a headache once in a while. I have got a range of guys from their early 20s to 15 years old and you deal with the personal problems that -- to give you an example, the youngest one on the team, he is actually the fastest guy. The other guys on the team, when they were riding around in the truck going to different races, they'd always pick on him because he was the youngest, and his father called me up and said: The kid is all upset. He doesn't want to drive anymore, and it came down to the other guys were razzin (sic) him and it was getting to him. Having to sort out all these problems and logistics, all that kind of thing, can be a little bit overwhelming sometimes.
Q. This year there seems to be a potential of a lot of high profiled seats, you opening up, and a lot of high-profiled drivers such as yourself that have the potential of switching teams. Is that what sort of enticed you, so to speak, to sign a long-term contract with Team KOOL Green? PAUL TRACY: Well, I am not, you know, for me, I had really -- my only other option was the Players deal and they made me an offer and that was kind of my baseline for what I wanted and I went back to Barry and I said, hey, this is what it is going to take and he said, no problem. So I signed with the team. I wanted to stay with Team KOOL Green because I feel we have the best team. I have the best crew guys in the pit lane and the people I am working with I really enjoy working with. I am set now; happy with my situation, and I think it has shown in my performances.
Q. Does that factor into the fact that the last couple of years, I mean, you have been improving and improving and now you are in a position where you have got the shot at the Championship, is that one of the big factors in wanting to stay with Team KOOL Green? PAUL TRACY: I think so. I just really like working with the people that I am working with and I think that, you know, the atmosphere that I have is conducive for me to do well. This was the best case scenario with for me was to stay with the team I was with, and I -- we were all able to put it together.
Q. Looking ahead we have drivers like Fernandez talking about doing a team. I am wondering what Paul Tracy's goals are, in say, 15 years, where do you see yourself? PAUL TRACY: Well, I don't see myself racing in 15 years, that is for sure. I don't have any motivation to own a team or anything like that. I can see his side of it. He has always brought the sponsorship and brought the money and funded the whole team and really there is a profit margin involved when a team owner says: I need X amount of money to run you for the year, you know, there is -- X amount is profit built into the budget. So I think he is looking at it long-term that he has been paying somebody else to do a job. I think he feels that he can put his own program together, maybe run it a little with it more cost effective than what it's cost him and I think he is talking about maybe doing a second car as well. He is looking at it his own long-term security.
Q. Where do you see yourself? PAUL TRACY: I just want to drive. I am at my best when I don't have to think about anything else but just driving. I don't want the headaches of trying to -- I have a go-kart team and that is enough headache as it is. Trying to do -- to be owner of an IndyCar team or any other type of team would be too much to concentrate on driving.
Q. Over the past three years you have matured in your driving. How much of it is just mental that is making you that much of a better driver now? PAUL TRACY: Well, I think I am still as aggressive as I have always been. I think you still have to be that way to win races. But I think I know when to hit my shots and when to pull my punches and know when to attack and when not to. In the past it was always just, you know, go, go, go, charging all the time and I think now I have got a system down where I know what I know what works and I know what doesn't work and the competition now is so much greater than it was in years past and it is so much harder to win a race now; that to win now is even more special than it was earlier.
Q. I know you had talks with Wally Dallenbach and you and your team owner had some words at one time. Who would you credit helping you turn -- get your mental state correct and in the right direction to be winning at this stage? PAUL TRACY: I don't think there is any one person. I think it is just a combination of everybody that I work with. And to my parents, my wife, my team, my engineer, my team owner, everybody is involved, and it is not just me that is out there. I have got a lot of support system, so I get help from everybody.
Q. You think you can pull off a triple with Laguna Seca this weekend? PAUL TRACY: I hope so. I have won there three times before and was fourth last year. A little bit concerned going in. I didn't get to test and Dario didn't have a real good test there, so we are looking at our setup right now and we are going to go in and just do the best we can.
Q. Aside from your go-karting team, do you help in the training and development of Barry's KOOL Indy Lights team with Johnnie and Jess? PAUL TRACY: A little bit. Those guys, any time they needed advice or need help, I am there to assist. But I really -- I haven't driven one of those cars in a long time so I can't really tell them too much. But any time that they need any help we are always there.
Q. With negotiations -- I want to go back to the contract issue, when negotiating for a new contract, does it all come down to just money or do you include things like I want to keep my crew together, I want to keep Tony and my race package combo -- PAUL TRACY: There is always a lot of different variables. I mean, money is the big one, but my motivation was to keep my same crew guys. Tony is a bit of a question mark. He is year-to-year. So we just, you know, all kinds of things involved in doing contracts. But money is -- money and that kind of thing is one of the most important things.
Q. Of the other five drivers in the top six, which one do you feel presents the biggest challenge from keeping you to win the Championship? PAUL TRACY: Well, I think really Michael is going to be the toughest guy because he has been there and he has done it and he has won championships and he knows he can win anywhere on any given day and he has the most experience of anybody. So I think he is going to be the toughest guy.
Q. Just to follow-up on the go-kart team. As demanding as your schedule is as a driver how much time are you able to spend with the team? PAUL TRACY: Quite a bit. I am on the phone with my -- the guy who runs my team, the team manager of the team, I talk to him just about everyday. So they have quite long breaks in between races. It is not like they race every week, so when they are racing at big events, like once a month or and then they just do local club kind of stuff around, go to different tracks, but I am on the phone with the team guys just a couple of times a week with the drivers and my team manager almost every day.
Q. Do you own it as well as sponsor it? PAUL TRACY: Yes.
Q. What is the full name of the team? PAUL TRACY: It is called Paul Tracy Carting. T.E. McHALE: Thank you very much. At this point we will let Paul go for the afternoon. Paul, thanks for joining us this afternoon. Congratulations, again on your two most recent victories and best of luck in the Shell 300 coming up this weekend at Laguna Seca raceway and through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season. PAUL TRACY: Thank you. T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who took the time to be with us this afternoon. Have a good week and we will talk to you next week.