|Canadian Paul Tracy speaks to the media at the City Centre Airport on July 22, 2011 in Edmonton, Alta. (CANDICE WARD/QMI Agency)
LAS VEGAS - Paul Tracy refuses to deal in what ifs, as in what if he doesn’t get enough sponsorship to run what he calls his “farewell tour” of IndyCar racing next season.
But the reality is that we could be seeing Canada’s most successful CART/IndyCar driver — he has 31 victories in his 20 years of big time Indy racing — for the final time competing in North America’s top open wheel circuit on Sunday.
Tracy has worked hard this season to secure a deal that would see the 2003 Champ Car World Series champion say good-bye on his own terms on a team that would run all 18 races in 2012.
The task, however, is made all the more difficult while he is racing in a part-time role — he has run only six of 17 IZOD IndyCar races to date this season.
And in an economy that is still stuck in a ravaging recession in the United States — where a vast majority of IndyCar races are run — it has been hard slogging for the Scarborough native to garner interest among sponsors willing to bet that a 42-year-old former champion still has enough gas in his tank to compete in the top echelon with drivers like Dario Franchitti and Will Power.
Tracy certainly still looks the part of a champion. He rides up to our Las Vegas Motor Speedway interview at his Dragon Racing hauler on a souped up scooter and before he even has it shut off, fans are running up seeking an autograph and wishing him good luck in the IndyCar series finale.
He is still as physically fit as he was when he won seven races in his championship season eight years ago and he says he still has the fire in his belly to win.
“I haven’t been in an IndyCar since Edmonton (three months ago),” Tracy said as he prepared to take the No. 8 Dragon Racing Dallara out on to the 1.5 mile oval at LVMS for a second practice of the weekend. “When I went out for the first practice I was about middle of the pack.”
That in itself is quite an accomplishment considering the Jay Penske-owned Dragon Racing outfit is also a part-timer in the IndyCar loop.
“I would be foolish to think we have a car fast enough to stay with the leaders,” Tracy said. “But in a pack race like I think it’s going to be on Sunday we might have a chance.”
He is counting on at least a decent enough finish to turn some heads among the teams out there that are maybe looking for a veteran presence in their race car for next season.
“I have been talking to two or three teams,” Tracy said. “What I am looking for is a team that already has some sponsorship money so that what I can bring will be enough to put them on the track for a full season.”
Tracy does have a long-standing partnership with Honda through its Honda Dealers network in Canada that provides enough sponsorship for him to race at the Honda Indy Toronto and the Edmonton Indy.
While that certainly sweetens the pot as he goes team-to-team looking for a deal, it also handicaps him as next season the IndyCar Series adds Chevrolet and Lotus as engine suppliers and it is believed that at least two of the three teams Tracy has talked to will use those power plants.
He would obviously lose that sponsorship if he gets a deal with a team not associated with Honda.
“Honda has been a great supporter of mine and I would like that association to continue,” he said. “Ideally I would like a deal with a team that runs Honda engines, that would be perfect.”
Meantime Tracy is putting all his future marbles in a single basket; he’s not looking beyond 2012 in his racing life.
Asked about a life after racing Tracy quickly replied: “I haven’t even thought about it.”