Paul Tracy with former nemesis now good friend Sebastien Bourdais earlier this year in Phoenix. IndyCar

Paul Tracy has no taste for ‘vanilla’ IndyCar racing, wants drivers to get nastier

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TORONTO (AP) — Paul Tracy wants drivers to get a little nastier.

Back when he was racing, Tracy was famously involved in dustups, notably with fellow drivers Alex Tagliani and Sebastien Bourdais, going so far as to criticize them for keeping their helmets on during confrontations.

Tracy won 31 times in IndyCar and has no regrets about how he handled himself on the track. In fact, the 49-year-old Canadian believes the series’ current drivers are too “vanilla” and “corporate,” unwilling to stir up the rivalries he says are necessary to market the sport.

“I was OK with being the guy that wore the black hat in this series for a long time,” Tracy told The Canadian Press by phone this week.

“That’s kind of what the series is lacking, I think, in terms of trying to promote the series. Everyone wants to be the good guy and no wants to be the bad guy.”

Tracy, an NBC commentator for this weekend’s Toronto Indy, says a few clashes involving driver Alexander Rossi, including one with Robert Wickens, haven’t been properly tapped for their entertainment value.

“(Rossi has) made some aggressive moves, he’s pushed and shoved some guys around,” Tracy said. “But he doesn’t want to wear the black hat. He wants to be a good guy, but on the race track he’s pretty tough.”

Wickens was leading after 69 laps during his IndyCar debut at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March until Rossi’s attempt to overtake him sent him spinning. Wickens downplayed it all, saying he should have foreseen the maneuver.

A second run-in with Rossi at Road America last month prompted a harsher response, with Wickens calling him “ruthless.” But Wickens maintains that even though they are friends off the track, they don’t need to hate each other enough to have a rivalry.

“We’ve had on-track incidents. We’ve spoken our minds in the press, but we kind of get on with life and move on,” he said Wednesday.

Tracy said he spoke to Wickens last week and suggested that the IndyCar rookie adopt a more vigilante approach to injustices on the track.

“I said, ‘Listen, if you’re tired of getting pushed around, you’ve got to push back,”‘ he said. “Doesn’t matter what sport you’re in whether you’re playing football, basketball or hockey. If a guy is going to shove you around and you let them, they’re always going to shove you around.”

Wickens says drivers today are forced to be a “little more vanilla.” He adds that when Tracy was driving, North American racing had higher budgets and he was given more rope to express himself.

“If one sponsor doesn’t like what you do and they pull out, you don’t have a ride anymore,” Wickens said.

“Back then he had all the tobacco money and they had like unlimited budgets,” he said. “You could be different, you could be the person you want to be. And I’m not saying I’m not the person I want to be – I’m still being who I want to be – I’ve never fought anyone in my entire life. I think I’ve sparred a couple times at the gym with the helmets and stuff on, but I think that’s as far as I’ve ever gone.”

Tracy, pointing to NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Formula One’s Michael Schumacher, insists a driver’s performance alone isn’t enough to generate fans.

“This is more than just racing around the track. A lot of these guys need to realize some of this is entertainment and . you’ve got to play up on that to create interest,” he said. “And I think a lot of these guys just don’t want to do that.”

Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”