P. T. BRUISER
wins with some boneheaded moves, but
finally harnessed his aggression in 2003
to capture the lone championship of his
Sure, had he throttled back and gone
for points on more occasions, Tracy’s
stats would be better and more indicative
of his monstrous talent. But that wouldn’t
have been the driver we came to expect.
Loathe him or love him, P. T. was always
worth the price of admission and left an
indelible mark on walls, fellow drivers and
“He was the hardest guy I ever raced
against; you could never relax,” muses
Franchitti, who shared laughs, wins and a
few memorable on-track tangles during
their five seasons together at Team KOOL
Green. “You knew going into the corner
with him it was a 50/50 deal and that you
Vasser, who came into CART a year
after Tracy and became part of the Target
Ganassi ensemble that included Alex
Zanardi, Juan Montoya and four straight
titles, said racing P. T. was even tougher
than trying to manage him.
“I rate Paul second to Zanardi as the
hardest racer I ever went against,” says
the 1996 CART champ. “He was simply
relentless. A hard racing mother#$^%@.”
Adds Bourdais: “Most everyone you pass
and move on. With Paul, you’d pass him,
look in your mirrors and he was still there!
Even though he was dead in the ashes.”
Kendall thinks he knows why. “P. T. was
fueled by rage in the car,” he says. “He
hated being passed and that was obvious.”
After turning heads in Formula Fords,
he migrated to Indy Lights and captured
the 1990 title. That earned him a shot
with Dale Coyne, whose Payton-Coyne
team back in 1991 was a field-filler. So
when P. T. qualified Dale’s car 14th in his
CART debut at Long Beach, it opened
people’s eyes. First and foremost of these
was The Captain, who swooped down and
scooped up P. T. like a seagull snaring a fish.
“My first memory is talking to his dad
[Tony] about that young, bold kid from
Canada and it was obvious Paul had a lot
of talent and we wanted him,” says
Penske, who had Tracy in his car at
Michigan three months after Long Beach.
Part-time with Penske was better than
full-time with most everyone else and, by
1993, Tracy was a regular following the
sudden retirement of Mears. In that first
full season with Team Penske, P. T. showed
everyone a preview of what was to come:
tremendous talent offset by non-stop
aggression and maddening inconsistency.
Nothing illustrated this better than
Phoenix in the spring of ’ 93, when Tracy was
trampling the opposition. He’d led 151 of
the 200 laps and owned a two-lap cushion
over second-placed Emerson Fittipaldi
when he crashed trying to lap Vasser.
At year’s end, he owned as many wins
(five) as champion Mansell and had led
more laps than anyone, yet finished third
in the points standings because he either
won it or wore it.
“Part of what made it difficult for him
was running so hard all of the time but he
felt that’s what he had to do to win,” says
Qualifying 14th on
his Indy car debut
in a one-off ride
with Dale Coyne at
Long Beach in ’ 91
When P. T. made his
second start, it was
with Team Penske.
In 1997, Penske loyally stuck by suppliers that were truly struggling
to compete with Ganassi’s Reynard/Honda/Firestone combo, yet
Tracy somehow managed to win three races. (BELOW) Team Green’s
pairing of Franchitti/Tracy played nice and polite…outside the car.
“You knew going into a
corner 50/50 with P.t.
you would have to back off
because he wasn’t going to”