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Paul Tracy recalls his days as ‘The Thrill from West Hill’

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TORONTO – They still remember NBC’s Paul Tracy in this bustling major city, which ranks as the fourth-largest city in North America, especially in his old neighborhood of West Hill. It’s just up the Gardner Expressway on Lake Ontario from downtown Toronto.

Tracy visited his old neighborhood on Thursday and stopped by the local bakery to pick up a box of doughnuts for his father, Tony Tracy.

“The guy working there still recognized me,” Tracy told NBCSports.com. “I’m pretty well known up here.”

Tracy was the first big-name Canadian racing star in CART and the only driver from Canada to win IndyCar races on Canadian soil. He won the Molson Indy Toronto in 1993 and again in 2003. He also won the Molson Indy Vancouver three times in his career.

Other Canadians such as 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner, 1995 CART champion and 1997 Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve didn’t accomplish that. Nor did Toronto’s Scott Goodyear or Oakville, Ontario’s James Hinchcliffe.

WATCH: Honda Indy Toronto, Sunday, July 14 at 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN

In a career that began in CART in 1991 and ended in the NTT IndyCar Series in 2011, Tracy won 31 times and won his only championship in 2003.

He became a crowd favorite because of his highly aggressive racing style and the fact he was intimidating on the racetrack.

“It’s a different era now,” Tracy said. “When I was racing, you had to protect your equipment a little bit. Stuff wasn’t as reliable as it was now, and you could use up your equipment. Now, it’s so reliable, you can run flat-out as fast as you can go from start to finish unless you are trying to do fuel mileage.

“My issue when I started is, I would try to run so fast, I would burn up my equipment. Now, everything is so reliable. Guys like Alexander Rossi. He’s fast. He showed us at the last race at Elkhart Lake. He won by 30 seconds because he was laying down laps like it was qualifying.”

Rossi displays many of the same qualities that Tracy showed in his prime, such as aggressiveness, fearlessness and not backing down.

Is Rossi the closest driver in today’s IndyCar to Paul Tracy?

“I don’t know about that, but he is very, very fast and also has the ability to change things up on the fly,” Tracy said. “I remember one of the races last year where he was leading and all of a sudden, the strategy changed, and he was able to change from going flat-out to going on massive fuel-conservation mode. That is a hard thing to do, to switch gears like that when you get in the mindset. He just has this ability, he can do a super fuel saving like he won Indy with, or he can destroy everybody.

“He has this ability to change his style on the fly, which is pretty unique.”

Tracy also has high praise for five-time NTT IndyCar Series Scott Dixon and calls him “one of the best drivers that has ever been in IndyCar.” Dixon is now 106 points behind points leader Josef Newgarden of Team Penske, and Tracy believes Dixon has to start winning soon or his championship chances will fade.

As part of NBC’s broadcast team that includes Leigh Diffey as the lead announcer, Tracy and Townsend Bell keep things lively with their ongoing debates as color analysts.

This is the first year that all NTT IndyCar Series races are on NBC or NBCSN.

“We’ve had a great year so far,” Tracy said. “The ratings are coming up. The fan support has been good. The racing is good on track. No complaints on my end. I think everything is going really well for IndyCar.

“The NBC Gold Package lets me do different things, like work in the pit, but I’d rather stay in the booth because every time I go into the pits, I get sunburned. They won’t let me wear a hat.

“Everybody on the whole crew gets along great. When we are up there, it’s like we are having casual talk about racing. It doesn’t sound staged or anything like that. We are all enjoying that, and that gets conveyed to the fans.”

As color analyst, Tracy forecasts these items for race fans to watch entering Sunday’s race.

“Qualifying will be key because passing is always tough here,” he said. “It will all depend on what happens in the first third of the race, where the yellows fall, that will determine the strategy. The guys who take the early strategy and go with the fuel-saving mode, or the guys that try to run away. Everything can change based on the yellow.

“We saw that happen with Scott Dixon in 2016, where he had everything under control and then the yellow fell at the wrong time, and he was out of it.”

For Tracy, the best times in his career came on the streets of Toronto, where he was the crowd favorite and known as “The Thrill from West Hill” because of his aggressive racing style and “Bad Boy” personality.

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images“Absolutely,” he said. “This is a place where it all began for me. Racing here was super important for me because it was my hometown, and I wanted to do well. I got a taste of winning here early. I only won here two times, in 1993 and again in 2003, but I also won at Vancouver three times.

“I was lucky to be competitive and run well all the time at these races, and they were the most important ones as well.

“My first race here was 2007 in an F2000 car and in 2008 in an Indy Lights car, and I pretty much ran every year until 2007 and until I quit racing in IndyCar in 2011.”

The race was not held in 2008 after most of the Champ Car Series teams joined the old Indy Racing League to create today’s IndyCar Series but was revived in 2009 by Michael Andretti, Kevin Savoree and Kim Green.

Since 2010, the race has been promoted by Savoree-Green Promotions and has become one of the highlights of the season because it is the only IndyCar race staged inside a major city.

Toronto is the fourth-largest city in North America at 2.8 million. Mexico City is the largest North American city at 9 million, just ahead of New York City at 8.9 million. Los Angeles checks in at No. 3 with 4 million, followed by Toronto, which is just ahead of Chicago (2.75 million).

It is the largest city that hosts an NTT IndyCar Series race, and it’s held against the backdrop of the beautiful Toronto skyline just over the Prince’s Gate.

“This and Long Beach are the only two street races that have been able to stand the test of time,” Tracy said. “Others have come and gone and were popular for two, three or five years, this has been popular for 33 years now. This place has tradition and history. It’s been the same place, same location as Long Beach. And the drivers like racing here.

“The place just has memories.”

 

INDYCAR: what drivers said after Pocono

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Here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s 14th race on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule – the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway:

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) – WINNER: “I had a few issues during the race but we just kept coming back. Full credit to the team. We had a great car and we just kind of hung there and saved fuel and when it was time to go, I went. I was so determined and I really wanted to win. This is my 13th year in a row of winning races and I have been thinking about that. I just wanted to win a race for Verizon and these guys who have worked their butts off all year and just haven’t had the results.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished second: “Definitely gets exciting in that situation. We definitely had some luck. Today the car went through some good changes. The car was pretty quick.  Not sure really what happened on the last stint there. We put more front wing in there, more pressure on the right rear tire. Couldn’t turn the car. We were running 213, 214 (mph), struggling to do 208. So much understeer. Will was definitely extremely strong today. It was good to see him get another victory this season. Had we gone back out, even with headlights on, I think Will was going to take the race. Congrats to him and Team Penske. We’ll keep our head down and see what we can come up with for the last three races.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet) – finished third: “Well, it’s a great day. Very happy for Will and Team Penske to get another win here in Pocono. It’s pretty awesome. I think we showed our cars were the strongest today. Overall it’s a pretty good points day for us on the 22 car this weekend. Obviously, yes, I did think we could have done a little better. At least we would have tried. I think we had the car to do so… Who knows what would have happened, but I think we could have challenged at least. At the end of the day it’s not a bad day. We’ll take it. Go to the next one, keep pushing.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda) – finished fourth: “This weekend has been pretty amazing to have over 120 people here, from family and friends to sponsors and to race in front of such a large crowd. Hats off to the whole team, we rolled the car off the trailer and it was fast. I’d say that’s a job well-done and homework well-researched. The No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda was on rails. I think we definitely had a top three in us and we were fighting for a chance to win the race at one point. Obviously with the conditions and everything, I’m still happy to bring home a top-five. It makes a huge difference in the rookie championship and moves us up to 12th overall. With three races to go and one more oval, we’ll see how much further we can move up.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished fifth: “It was kind of an interesting day, but it could have been worse. It was sort of like qualifying yesterday where qualifying got rained out but we started on the pole. We didn’t finish this race but we finished fifth. We’ll take it. I wish we could have been a little bit higher, but I think Will (Power) was going to be tough to beat today. He looked very strong. Certainly towards the middle of the race I thought he was looking very good. We fought with what we had today and I thought the Hitachi Chevy was pretty good. Coming out of here with a decent finish allows us to now focus on the last three events. We just need to set our sights on Gateway next weekend and execute. I think we will have a good car. I always feel confident with Team Penske, and Team Chevy has been pushing hard, so I’m looking forward to it.”

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 SONAX Chevrolet) – finished sixth: “We needed a decent run. We DNF’ed at Iowa, which wasn’t good. I feel like we have been performing better this year, we just haven’t really been able to put it together. It was nice to be in the mix, racing with the guys you need to race with to be up there fighting for wins. I wish we could have seen out all 500 miles, but Pocono always has its own craziness when it comes to the weather. Hopefully, all of the fans got to their cars before they got too wet. I thought it was a really good turnout today, it was a fun race while we were out there. It was unfortunate to see guys kind of lose their minds a bit there at the start, but all in all it was a fun day and nice to be moving forward.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 SealMaster Honda) – finished seventh: “It was a strong run for the No. 18 SealMaster Honda. We were quick and I got up to fourth at one point. I think we deserved that position. It was kind of a broken up race and unfortunately, on the last restart, the guys in front of me checked up and I got swallowed up and lost four positions. I got one position back, then the race was stopped because of the weather. I think if the race continued we would have finished better than seventh, but that’s racing.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished eighth: “Good day for us, another top 10. We have a few things to improve still but we’ll take it from where we started. We had a competitive car all weekend. The goal was to finish in the top 10 and we finished eighth, which is my best result of the year. It’s a good energy boost for the boys.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 TOTAL Honda) – finished ninth: “We need a little more pace. We were a little slow on the straights for some reason, but we’ll keep digging into it. I had a bad restart (went from fifth to ninth), but it wasn’t that bad actually. I was pulling up on the guys in front of me, but I just got driven around and was in a position where I was a little bit of a sitting duck and lost a bunch of spots and that killed our race from then-on, frankly. We were scrambling just to get ourselves back in position. I had another good restart later and went from 13th to ninth and made some of those spots back up.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Carlin Chevrolet) – finished 10th: “First and foremost, I’m glad that everyone is OK from the incidents on track today. Secondly, I’m just really proud of this Carlin crew. We made great progress with the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet in superspeedway trim and we learned a lot after coming here last year. The racing at Pocono Raceway is really tough, but these guys just kept their head down and made it happen. I made a mistake in the first pit stop, but we were able to run our strategy and get a really good run going. To come away with a top-10 finish from a very challenging weekend where we didn’t get to qualify is really a credit to the entire Carlin team. It was really great to get that top-10 finish in front of all of our Novo Nordisk guests who made the trip out to the track to support us and also to round out the top 10 with a bowtie for Team Chevy.”

CONOR DALY (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): – finished 11th “After where we started at the back of the field, to finish 11th is awesome. It’s unfortunate though, because we were really just starting to get to the point where I was happier with the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet. The last few laps before the final red flag, we were the fastest car on the track, so we were definitely moving in the right direction. We were catching all of the people in front of us and starting to get to where we needed to be, but these 500-mile races are long and the goal is to be strong at the end, which I really felt like we were working toward that for sure. To be 11th is really good and it’s another strong finish for this group of people here at Carlin. Hopefully we can keep this momentum going into Gateway and that’ll be even more fun.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) – finished 12th: “It was a tough race. I thought I had some really good starts and restarts; we made up positions there. Unfortunately, throughout the race we were struggling a bit with the balance of the car throughout the stints, so I was struggling to keep up with the pace with the guys ahead or behind us. I thought at one point there after the second restart and we were up to P5, the day was looking to potentially be really good. Just a tough race trying to hang on and make the best of it. We learned a lot and the Arrow SPM guys did a great job with stops, but disappointed we didn’t have a better result than that.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) – finished 13th: “Thirteenth obviously isn’t where we wanted to finish – but all things aside, it was an OK day for us. Just lacking overall grip, I think as a team, but we moved forward from our starting spot – which with qualifying being canceled hurt us. I’m thankful for all the work the guys did. Honestly, walking away 13th isn’t what we want, but we did all we could and I’m proud of that. We’ll go to Gateway and have a better result.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 14th: “The car was good. The stops were perfect and I think we had a good strategy. We went a lap down cause we had too much vibration in one of our tires, so we had to stop early and that was it from there.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 US Concrete / Curb Honda) – finished 15th: “Mainly, I’m just glad everyone walked out OK after the wreck on the start. I had an issue with one of my head pads coming out and we lost some time fixing that. Beyond that, the car had a big imbalance and by the time we got that resolved, we were a lap down. There wasn’t much we could do, and it made for a long day. Looking ahead to Gateway and working to finish the season strong.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda) – finished 16th: “The No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda guys gave me a great car for the ABC Supply 500, I think we had one of the better cars on track today and definitely a better car than where we finished. It’s unfortunate that we got into the wall there. It’s very disappointing. I know we’ll be able to rebound next week at Gateway. I really like racing there and I’m excited to compete under the lights.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Autogeek Chevrolet) – finished 17th: “That was a frustrating end to the day, we hit a bump in Turn 1 and it caused something to break on the front of the car. From then on, I was just a passenger and went straight up into the wall. I had no steering at that point, unfortunately. We were running pretty comfortably there in seventh and the car was feeling pretty good. We had lost touch with the group in front but I felt like we had a solid car. I feel bad for everyone at Ed Carpenter Racing, we have a race again next weekend and now there is a lot of extra work to do.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda) – finished 18th: “Obviously, I didn’t get a good start – so that’s on me. But we were three-wide; Ryan was on the inside, I was in the middle and Takuma was on the outside. I can’t even begin to understand how after last year Takuma thinks that any sort of driving like that is acceptable. To turn across two cars, at that speed, in that corner at a 500-mile race is disgraceful, upsetting and may have cost us a championship. It’s upsetting. This team works too hard to have something like that happen. The whole team worked tirelessly to get the 27 car back on track. Once we got out there, the car just didn’t have the handling we needed so we held on to make up as many points as we could. Unfortunately, the weather came, and the race was called one lap before we could gain another spot. We have a couple days to rebound and go for race wins now – that’s all that matters.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) – finished 19th: “The opening lap wreck was ridiculous and thank God everybody was alright. It’s so unfortunate at the beginning of a 500-mile race. The car was good yesterday and we just needed to put together 500 clean miles. The DHL car deserved to be fighting for a win today. We did all we could do after coming back out. The guys did a great job; unbelievable effort in getting the car turned back around. But we were really loose in (Turn) 3, and it turned out we had holes in the underwing from the crash. The last thing we want to do is be a risk out there and damage more equipment, so we got the points we could and came in just before the weather hit.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) – finished 20th: “It unfolded in front of us. We had a pretty good start with the No. 5 Arrow car. We were heading into Turn 2 kind of three-wide, and I knew that wasn’t a good idea, so I backed out. I thought I was actually gonna save us because it happened in front of me. I couldn’t see exactly what started it, but then the wreck sorta moved down to the inside… I was able to slow down, but it just slid out to where I was. There was nowhere I could go. It sucks. I mean it wasn’t too hard a hit, so glad everybody is ok. It’s a 500-mile race, I don’t know how many times we have to do this before people figure out that you can attack all you want, but it doesn’t give you a chance to win if you are in the fence.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) – finished 21st: “First of all, I am worried about Felix. Hopefully he is OK. I am sorry for all the guys fighting for the championship. Ryan and I were obviously racing at the exit of Turn 1 and it looks like Alexander had a slow start. We both went right and left (of Rossi) and I thought it was all clear. All the (track) seams also are putting the car really easy to get the lane change and everybody gets close. Unfortunately, it looks like we made contact for that.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT Data Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished 22nd: “First of all, it’s good to see that I’m cleared from the medical checks. Just with minor back pain and some headache. Hopefully I should be back to normal in a couple of days. A big thanks to the INDYCAR track staff and medical staff, did an awesome job looking after everything. Luckily the other drivers are OK as well, I think that’s the main thing. A shame that we were caught out already on lap one. I think we had a good car today. Good to see Scott being up there all day. Good points for him, probably throwing him up there in the championship hunt. Looking forward to get back in the car in Gateway.”

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