Several hours after Toronto’s Paul Tracy attended a press conference yesterday to announce details of his ride in this year’s Honda Indy Toronto (he’ll be sponsored by Honda Canada and the Toronto Blue Jays and will race in support of the Make-A-Wish Canada children’s charity), he discovered he couldn’t get out of Dodge.
His passport had expired and anybody who tries to travel to the United States knows that you need one to be admitted to that country, particularly if you travel by air.
Said Tracy in a "tweet" to his fans: "I can’t leave Canada, my passport is expired. I need to go to the passport office in the morn(ing). Maybe I was not meant to be in Indy this year."
That last sentence was a reference, of course, to his failure to qualify for Sunday’s race. And, yeah, perhaps it was meant to be that way.
Sometimes there are signs . . .
Tracy announced his passport problems to a hard core group of fans who follow him on Twitter. Many people read his stuff, including newspaper reporters (this one included). A number of stories and columns have been written based on Tracy’s "tweets," which he sends out primarily (and usually) from the couch in his Las Vegas living room.
Just before the press conference yesterday, in conversation with several people – including one motor racing heavyweight – Tracy was urged to do two things: find a way to do some colour commentating on TV coverage of Sunday’s 500 and start paying attention to people other than those who read his Twitter entries.
As I overheard this conversation – it was something not necessarily meant to be off the record but not earmarked for general public consumption either – I won’t identify the people involved other than Tracy. But because he’s a public figure – one of Canada’s greatest racing heroes – who’s trying to keep his career going, the advice offered is of interest.
I actually started the conversation by asking if he was flying back to Vegas and Tracy answered in the affirmative.
VOICE: Why don’t you stay in Indy and do some colour on the (500) telecast?
TRACY: That’s for when you’re retired.
SECOND VOICE: No, you’ve got it wrong. You’ve got to keep your face out there. If I was you, I’d go on television with my shoulders square to the world and my head held high. I’d tell the world I was Paul Tracy and this (failure to qualify) was just a temporary setback..
TRACY: I talk to people.
SECOND VOICE: Paul, the people you tweet to are not the people who write the cheques.
With that, the press conference started. But I can tell you, from the look on Tracy’s face and his body language, that the fellow doing the talking had struck a nerve.
Tracy’s correct about "retired drivers" doing colour commentary on TV. Most of the analysts and colour people – like Toronto’s Scott Goodyear, who will appear on ABC’s Indy telecast on Sunday – are out of the cockpit.
But not always.
In 1966, the great Johnny Rutherford went flying out of Eldora Speedway in Ohio in one of the worst sprint car accidents you’ll ever see and managed to escape with his life. Among his many injuries were two broken arms.
Obviously, he couldn’t race. But he appeared as a commentator on the closed-circuit presentation of that year’s Indy 500. I saw it at Maple Leafs Gardens and there was Rutherford, casts from his wrists to above both elbows, telling the world that once he healed up, he’d be back in a race car.
That’s what Tracy’s friend was suggesting he do.
Lewis Hamilton was at the Dancing With the Stars show on Monday night to support his sweetie, Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, who was in the dancing contest's finals. He wasn’t there last night (Tuesday), when she found out whether or not she’d won. Why? The F1 circus is in Turkey next weekend and Lewis obviously didn’t want to make the same mistake he made earlier this season, when he tried to fly from Los Angeles to Australia at the last minute and wound up paying for it.
The last time they held a Grand Prix in Texas was in Dallas in 1984. The race was held in blistering heat (above 100 degrees Fahrenheit) and the track was a mess because it kept breaking up. Nigel Mansell collapsed while trying to push his fuel-starved Lotus across the finish line.
It was, in short, a disaster.
So while yesterday’s announcement of a multi-year deal to hold the American Grand Prix in Austin, Tex., is good news on the surface, a quick look at the dreaded average temperature chart raises immediate concerns.
The average temperature in Austin, Tex., in March is 73F. In April it goes up to 79F and in May it’s 85F. June, July and August are 91F, 95F and 96F, respectively. September is still warm – 90F – but October sees a cooling trend: 81F. November is balmy, with an average of 70F.
If the revived U.S. GP, starting in 2012, is held in any month other than March or November, F1 could have Dallas all over again.
I’m all for publicity stunts to either sell tickets or raise interest. But the Indy 500 has come up with an absolutely hairbrained idea and if anything – anything – goes wrong, it’s going to be a huge black eye.
They are going to add a car to the traditional 33-car Indianapolis 500 starting field. They are going to have the IndyCar Series two-seater, driven by Michael Andretti, carry actor and producer Mark Wahlberg right into the middle of the race.
That’s correct: A passenger is going to be along for the ride at the start of the Indianapolis 500.
Here is the text of yesterday's announcement:
"Andretti and Wahlberg will follow four parade cars and (then) lead the official pace car and the 33-car field of IZOD IndyCars on three parade laps.
"Once the parade cars exit the circuit, the two-seat race car will round the track at nearly 200 mph to catch the field from behind as the field takes the green flag for the most famous race in the world.
"This historic moment, which marks the first time in modern history that a driver and passenger will join the field of the Indy 500, will be captured live on ABC."
So, what happens if there is a God-almighty pileup on the main straight, as there was at the start of the 500 in 1966?
Are we about to have the first passenger injured in the Indy 500?
Has anybody thought of that?
For instance, in October 2000, Canadian racing driver Andrew Bordin, who was in Formula Atlantic at the time, took Yoshimichi Inada, senior managing director of Pioneer Electrics, out for a guest ride in an Acura NSX just prior to the Marlboro 500 at California Speedway.
Bordin lost control of the car and he and Inada were both injured in the ensuing crash.
It seemed like a good idea at the time – as does this Indy 500 idea.
But somebody should throw the red flag over that deal before history repeats itself.