Trackside with Tracy

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

SATURDAY, JULY 4 ...

7:50 a.m.

The sun has been up for about an hour at Watkins Glen International, the 5.43-kilometre road course that will play host to the weekend's Campers World Grand Prix at the Glen, and Paul Tracy has just arrived at the track.

He checks on the engineers and mechanics who have been busy for hours already preparing the No. 15 Geico KV Racing Technology Honda-powered Dallara for its first run on the classic New York State facility.

As hard as it is to believe, Tracy -- in almost two decades of racing -- never has driven a race car at Watkins Glen -- the one-time home of the U.S. Formula One Grand Prix.

"I rode a bicycle around it yesterday, then took a golf cart for another lap," he says. "But it will be interesting to see what it's like in a race car."

8:30 a.m.

Tracy heads to the KVRT hospitality tent where he grabs a bowl of cereal and fruit, and some orange juice that serves as his own version of a breakfast of champions.

He is greeted by team media relations director Kevin Diamond, who goes over the day's off-track commitments for sponsors, fan groups and race promoters. It is an important part of any race car driver's day to make sure the folks who pay the bills are looked after.

Right away, he is handed 100 posters that Watkins Glen folks want signed to give away to VIPs attending the race.

Throughout the day, Tracy will find himself with a Sharpie in his hand more often than not to meet the demands of fans who want a piece of this Canadian legend.

9:30 a.m.

Tracy heads back to the garage area where work on the KVRT Dallara is almost complete. He ducks into the team's transporter where he will change out of his street clothes and into the red, white and blue fire suit with the Geico brand name on both sides along with his other various sponsors.

Among those sponsors is Monster energy drink, which has a special personal-services contract with Tracy that reportedly pays him in the mid-six figures. As a result, you will never see Tracy for the rest of the weekend without either a Monster energy hat, drink-holder or shirt emblazoned with the company logo.

10:00 a.m.

Because it is his first time at the Glen, Tracy is granted rookie status that allows him a 30-minute head start on practice this day, and he obviously is happy to get the extra track time.

After just a few laps around the track, he concludes that it is a whole different animal than it was in a golf cart, or watching to television.

"I was really surprised by the elevation changes and at how fast it was," he said. "Some of the corners you can take without lifting (at full throttle)."

Tracy realizes that the setup on the KVRT car isn't what it should be and asks the engineers to change some things.

His times get progressively better as the practice wears on, but he is still 2.2 seconds slower than lap leader Ryan Briscoe.

When the practice ends at 11:30 a.m., Tracy spends most of the next half-hour huddled with team engineers going over every lap and where he needed to be faster for that afternoon's qualifying session.

The decision is made to give the front wing three more turns for more grip. That should help him get a better handle on the car.

12 noon

Back in his street clothes, Tracy makes his way to lunch at the team tent but is stopped more than half a dozen times by autograph seeking fans. He is told that a casual briefing with some racing writers has been scheduled during lunch.

Tracy asks if it is all right for him to eat while conducting the interviews.

A lunch of pasta and tomato sauce has been prepared and Tracy heads to the grill to fill his plate. Midway through the media session, Tracy excuses himself and goes back for seconds. It will be a long afternoon and he needs the carbs to help him manage.

With the interviews over, Tracy retreats to the back of the tent to a table where his mom, Vivienne, is waiting. She drove down that morning from their Pickering home to be at the race for Paul.

She tells her son it took her just five hours, having left the house at 5 a.m., and got to the track just after 10 a.m. She is indeed a race driver's mother.

1:30 p.m.

The next two hours Tracy spends between meet-and-greets with sponsors, pre-arranged television appearances and consulting with team engineers about the qualifying session ahead.

One of his chores at this time is to draw a qualifying starting position. There are 11 red and 11 blue bingo-type balls in a bin for the 22 drivers set to race.

Tracy picks a red one and he is is tempted to put it back in because it means he will be part of the fastest group of drivers in the first stint of qualifying.

That is bad news.

Not only is Tracy handicapped by never having raced at the Glen before, but it has been almost a whole year since he raced on a road course. A double whammy for the Thrill from West Hill.

It almost automatically places him in a position that he won't be in the fast six that will move to the second stage of qualifying.

Tracy says that, if he can get in the top 15, he'll be happy.

3:30 p.m.

Tracy's arrival on the front stretch of the track is greeted by cheers from the crowd when he gets into the bright red No. 15 Dallara. He screams out of pit lane anxious to get in as many qualifying laps as possible.

After about six turns around the track Tracy brings the car in for fresh tires and some minor adjustments.

Back out on the track, Tracy improves on his morning practice time by more than a second but it is not enough to move him to the fast six.

At the end of the session, he is 12th-fastest.

By the time everyone has finished final qualifying, he is bumped to 15th but moves up to 14th when Newman/Haas/Lanigan driver Graham Rahal fails post-qualifying inspection.

4:15 p.m.

The day is done.

Paul Tracy heads back to his hotel for dinner with his mom and a good night's sleep to be ready for the next day's race.


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