Last race of the year for Tracy?

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

A part of Paul Tracy can't help wondering if today in Edmonton is his last ride.

The last race of his season, and perhaps the last race of his illustrious and controversial career.

He can still drive circles around half the drivers out there, but as the 40-year-old drifts farther and farther away from his last full-time ride -- in a global economy where most companies are giving out more pink slips than sponsorship deals -- the next race is never automatic.

And next year ... right now there isn't a next year.

Could this be it?

"Right now it could be," said Tracy, who's only managed to scrape up enough cash to race seven times in the last two years. "I don't take anything as a guarantee anymore. We're hoping we can pull together some sponsorship to run a couple more races before the end of the year but as of right now I don't have anything for the rest of the season or for next year.

"The frustrating part is now I'm finally feeling at one with the car and driving it where I feel I can compete at a high level and my season is over after (today). I've been up at the top of the time sheets all weekend, to have it come to an end now is a shame."

It's almost ridiculous to think a guy who, in two of his four starts this year, finished 9th in the Indy 500 and was second with 20 laps to go in Toronto before getting knocked out of the race in a bump with Helio Castroneves, can't be a driver anymore? But in a sport that's as much about fundraising as racing, he's fresh out of backers, and spends most weekends on the outside looking in.

"It's frustrating for me because I feel I'm still one of the top guys and one of the top draws with the fans, great with the sponsors, great with the media. But at the end of the day you have to have money."

In a sense, he'll be singing for his supper this afternoon at the City Centre Airport. A podium finish, or even a win on a track he's never finished lower than fifth at, might rustle up a few lifelines.

Then again, it might not.

"Would it make the difference in me getting a ride next week? Probably not. It takes sponsors. I started 15th on the grid in Edmonton last year and left with a fourth-place finish and a big smile on my face thinking they can't keep me away. The fan support was huge, I had Tony George's career best finish as a team owner ... and got nothing for it."

He didn't race again all season.

"Anybody who has the ability to spend money is not spending money because they don't know what the economy is going to do from one month to the next. In the U.S., companies are being frowned upon by the stockholders for spending money. It's just hard times. Everybody has two feet on the brakes right now."

All he can do is try to make something happen today, which is entirely possible given how well he does at this track, and how much rust he's been able to knock off. For the first time in nearly three years, he's starting his third race in a row.

"I feel much more up to speed now," said Tracy, who'll start ninth on the grid. "When I came here last year I had never driven the car before. Now I'm just getting a feel for what this car takes for me to get it to work right.

"Overall we're better than we ran at Toronto, we've been quick all weekend. The car has been fast all weekend. We'll have a good race."

Good enough to get him another one?

"I don't know if a win will guarantee that, but we have our fingers crossed."

ROBERT.TYCHKOWSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA


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