Alex Tagliani makes no apologies for being labelled “intense” — as in sometimes he can be a pain in the ass to his team and teammates in the IZOD IndyCar series.
It had to be that way for the youngster who grew up in a working-class family in the tough Montreal suburb of Lachenaie.
Because he knew that if he wanted to get to the top of the auto racing ladder, he would not only have to work his rear end off but out-work everyone else who was chasing the same dream.
So on Wednesday, when he unwrapped his FAZZT Racing team’s newest race car — painted in the iconic colours of the Hot Wheels brand toy cars — at Yonge-Dundas Square, Tagliani wore the smile of an athlete who was living a little boy’s dream.
He spoke of how hard it was to make it in a sport that eats up and spits out young talent by the mouthful, and of the work he had to do to get to the top.
“It has always been a very tough sport,” Tagliani said. “Nobody is going to come and get you out of your living room and give you a seat in a race car. You have to work for it.”
And it was that kind of determination that drove Tagliani to succeed. He said it is a lesson that young Canadian drivers hoping to make it in the big leagues must take to heart.
“Young drivers have to ask themselves: ‘Are you willing to put in the work; are you willing to go after and to represent sponsors,’ ” he said. “This is not about a guy who just drives a car on a weekend at the local race track and calls himself a race car driver. You need to be well-rounded. And if you are not prepared to do that you better start choosing another sport.”
Tagliani said that he saw lots of kids his age play hockey in the Montreal who had the same desire he had for racing. But he said there were some significant differences.
“(Racing) is not a type of sport where you are going to make it on talent alone,” he said. “A 12- year-old kid goes into triple-A minor hockey and it cost his parents maybe $5,000 a season. Well, put that same kid in an elite entry level racing series and the cost is about $100,000 a season.
“It’s harder than just being good at hockey. If you are good at hockey, good at baseball, good at tennis there no reason why you are not going to make it. You put the puck in the net, you go through the ranks, all of a sudden you’ll be drafted into the NHL.”
There was no such path for a race car driver such as Tagliani.
“In racing you could be a very good driver, but if you don’t have the financial support throughout your career you are not going to make it to the top,” he said.
“And when you get to the top you still have to work for the sponsors. You have to convince yourself that there is as much work to do on that side as behind the wheel.
“Lots of young drivers get disappointed and disillusioned when they find out how little time they spend in cockpit of a race car.”
Tagliani knows of what he speaks. In the past five seasons, he has fought his way through some terrible teams, with some terrible owners that were more interested in filling their own pockets than giving the young Quebecer the chance he needed to win races.
“I have been through hell in my career, ups and downs,” he said. “I’ve spent hours, days, months on the phone, knocking on doors selling myself to companies. I do it because I have a passion for racing.”
Now with his FAZZT Racing team that is headed by Montreal financial wizard Andre Azzi, and his shiny new Hot Wheels car, Tagliani may finally find that top step at the Honda Indy Toronto on Sunday.