And then there was…

Paul.

Ya, I saved all the PT stuff for it’s own post. (if you don’t like the man, trust me, just skip this entry)

It doesn’t take a mind reader to figure out that my race weekend revolves around Paul Tracy. I get all of my other work done before/between/after sessions, but if Paul is on track, I’m in his pit box. Period. I still take notes on the other drivers and on track incidents, but my allegiance is to my hometown boy. For that I make no apologies. Never have. Never will. This weekend it was even more important to me to be there for everything. This, for all we knew, was it, so I wanted to be there for every moment. And so I was. I was there when the car fired up for the first time on Friday morning and peeled out along pit row. And I was there on Sunday when it fell silent for the last time.

Seeing him in his nomex when I arrived in the paddock early on Friday morning, I breathed a sigh of relief. But damn my guy looked tired. You could just tell that he had the weight of the world on his shoulders and this situation he had found himself in post unification had aged him at least 15yrs. (the scruffy salt and pepper beard wasn’t helping either!)

Adding insult to injury, he was in the absolute last pit stall. (it was odd enough to find Forsythe at that end, but dang, this was just silly) Clearly he was odd man out on the Forsythe pecking order, their new golden boy Montagny getting the preferential treatment. (key crew, key pit order, key practice/track time) You could feel it. It was palpable. They were backing the French horse that weekend, and putting the Canadian horse out to pasture. Poor David fell somewhere in the middle. Even Paul’s crew was a mish-mash of people, some of whom he had never worked with. It felt to me like his presence was being treated as an afterthought. Hell, they sat him in his car (with no wheels) for 35mins of the first practice. Fuck off! Let the man out on track!

There was an eerie sense of loss and emptiness for the weekend. His support system seemed… sparse somehow. On Friday it was mainly Allen and myself, and a handful of passersby heading to towards the more populated part of the pitlane. Friday was not a good day. Paul was putting so much pressure on himself to do well that he made a critical mistake on the last lap. I’ve never seen him as gutted as he was that afternoon. Back at the motorhome after the first qualifying session, he looked at Nick and I and just said ‘I blew it’, with an expression that broke my heart. If I could have turned back time to that final lap to give him another shot I would have.

Saturday, however, Patty (wife) arrived, CJ (son) was allowed in, a few other former Forsythe folks gathered and TommyK showed up to support his pal! (still no Viv however, which made me sad) (trust me, hanging in the pits with Vivian Tracy (mom) is often more entertaining than the race itself)

Saturday was much better for our boy. There was an energy in the pits that had been missing. So many people willing him to just do well. He got out of the car feeling really good about the session and about the race. I felt privileged to be standing there, part of his inner sanctum. Funnily enough he and I rarely speak. I don’t like to get in his space on race weekend. But that day we exchanged some conversation. It was nice. (TommyK and I yakked for about an hour afterwards. I don’t think there are enough words to describe how awesome he is. Truly. It was one of those conversations that I will cherish but never share)

Sunday. Race day. I snapped picture after picture. I documented everything. Staying on the grid until the very last moment, then hopping the wall just before the engines fired up and he peeled out. Our boy couldn’t buy a fucking break that weekend. That tire was destroyed! I was actually surprised that his rear suspension was intact when he pulled into the pits. I thought for sure his day was done. It wasn’t done, but it certainly wasn’t going to be easy. The pit to replace the missing CV clip felt agonizingly long. A podium finish became an insurmountable mountain to climb, but he kept at it. Considering the start of his race, finishing 11th was pretty damn good.

As the clock ticked down to zero, and the checkers waved, everything went… numb. Paul pulled into the pits, started to get out of the car, then paused a moment, sitting with his back to us. I bit my lip to stop myself from crying and continued to take pictures. He quickly thanked his own crew then ran over to the Victory circle to congratulate Franck. Then he ran back over to the other Forsythe pit boxes and shook everyone’s hand and congratulated all of them. Pure class. That’s when my tears started to fall. The unfairness of the situation was almost too much to bear. I don’t care how “old” he is, or whether or not he is on the downside of his career, he deserved… deserves better. I wasn’t sad that this was potentially the end of his open wheel career, I was sad that it wasn’t his choice. He, at the very least, had earned that right. Ironically his wife ended up being the one to console me! LOL! (ya, I felt like a goof at that point) Her thoughts? She’s looking forward to having him at home of course! (in her shoes, I’m sure I’d feel the same way) I guess I’ve always felt like a protective older sister where Paul is concerned. Achingly proud, oft disappointed, sometimes embarrassed, defiantly protective.

Paul will be driving again at some point this year, this I know. Just what he’ll be driving remains to be seen at this juncture. There are many pokers in the fire. (heck he was in meetings immediately following the race) I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that whatever it is, it brings him much happiness and possibly another kick at the open-wheel can. You can also put money down that whatever he’s driving and wherever he races, I will be there in his pits, silently willing him to do well.

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11 responses to “And then there was…

  1. I was totally bummed out listening to him on Wind Tunnel. It is surprising that no one snapped him up immediately, if not for the team, for the sport. Based on his tone, it really sounded like nothing near firm was happening. But, someone has GOT to give him a decent ride for (at least) Indy. That is the best marketing value going – I can’t believe that someone won’t come in with a check big enough to make it happen. To think of all the companies that run around in the back of a Cup race hoping to stay in the top 35 in owner’s points…

  2. That fucking contract has been like a noose around his neck. No one would or could touch him with a ten foot pole due to the litigation that would ensue. Had Gerry just said, “look Paul, I want no part of this, but if you do Long Beach for me I’ll let you out of the contract so you can find a ride” Paul would be in Kansas right now.

    Monster is still very much on board with him and there are a couple of options in IndyCar that could potentially come together. (one kinda jaw drop inducing) But it has to happen for Indy. It won’t make sense to bring him in after May. They might as well wait until 09 if that’s the case.

  3. G’Day Meesh,

    As always great reading, and a great insight into Long Beach – as with Vegas my boy took the money once again.

    Hopefully you looked after my two young chargers there during the ‘after hours activities’?? Any dirt on either of them, would of course, be most beneficial…;)

    Keep safe matey and hopefully we will catch up at one of these ‘middle of nowhere’ tracks!!!

  4. I can’t believe Gerry did this to him. He stuck with Gerry through thick and thin (although, to be fair, so did Gerry in the early years – I thought he was going to fire Paul a few times). I didn’t always like Paul in the early years. But, I think any Champ Car partisan had to love him after the split. He didn’t sell out. You’d think that Gerry would feel the same way after all these years. I really cannot wrap my head around Gerry’s position: were the two of them supposed to sit in a corner somewhere complaining about the unified series?

  5. Since the merger and since starting to read your blog, I been surfing youtube for PT highlights.

    I’ve been following open wheel closely since 1989, but, as an IRL supporter (and not being Canadian), I had forgotten just how much of a bad ass PT was/is. From St. Louis, Milwaukee to R. American (minus a few absolutely bone headed moves on the way) he was an animal.

    PT needs to be at Indy 500.

  6. Sciguy: Hell even I didn’t like Paul at times over the years! LOL!
    I don’t know what Jerry is thinking. Half the time I don’t think Jerry knows what he’s thinking. PT was the face/voice of Champ Car. The symbolism of him going to the unified series would be huge in the press and seen as another check mark in TG’s “I win” column. Of course it’s even more huge that he’s not made the jump, and is sort of back firing of GF.
    I guess GF is like those fans that are still choosing to be militant. They are hold up in their bunkers still fighting a war that ended weeks ago, while the rest of us are moving on with our lives.

  7. BBH: I love that! Thanks for taking the time to do a little research.

    He is a bonehead at times! That’s what makes being a PT fan so exhilarating! He was gonna win that race or put it in the wall trying. There was no such thing as “driving for points”

    He has driven cars in such bad disarray that lesser drivers would have pulled into the pits and called it a day. His win in Cleveland last year was messy and ugly and probably one of my most fun days at the track. Anyone can win a race from P1, but come from the back and land on the podium. Those are the PT drives we remember.

  8. A Monster-Penske car at Indy would definately make my jaw drop!

  9. I am still hearing Vision. Cracks me freaking up.

    I hope Forsythe just goes away.

  10. LOL… the one I heard cracked me up even more… believe me.

    Forsythe… ugh. don’t even get me started.

  11. aww meesh! you know i’ll always be there with ya – wherever PT races, we’re there! ;]
    this entry breaks my heart, i love it though

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