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.”