...I hate to name-drop."
But I did have dinner last night with Paul Tracy and Jimmy Vasser, along with a small sub-set of Canadian and American motorsport journalists, including our own Norris McDonald.
It wasn't a complete coincidence that I sat beside a chair which had a "reserved" placard in front of it - I have been to a few of these things.
Sure enough, Paul sat right there.
PT as he is known in the series ("The Thrill from West Hill" is a media creation) was frank, forthright and - a bit surprising, given his somewhat steely reputation - quite friendly and outgoing.
He told us dozens of stories about his early days in CART / Champ Car. Among the more fascinating was being summoned to Roger Penske's office mid-way through his inaugural season when he was racing for Dale Coyne's perennially underfunded team.
Paul and his father Tony had a contract thrust at them.
" 'You have five minutes to sign this' Penske told us," said PT.
"My Dad asked, 'Can we have a lawyer look at it?' Roger said, 'No. There are 20 guys out there waiting to sign this. Do it now or we'll find someone else.' "
He said he was being paid a mere fraction of what team leaders Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi were being paid, but they were stars, and he was a rookie.
I had heard before that PT in fact did a lot of the testing and set-up work for all three cars during his first years with Penske. Although he had a reputation as an undisciplined hard-charger during the race, he was also a very good development and set-up driver.
So when he got to the track for the race Friday he had already put in hundreds of testing laps earlier in the week; little wonder he was tired and didn't always fare too well, while his teammates scored wins and championships in cars he had largely set up.
In 1994, the trio finished one-two-three (Little Al, Emmo, PT) and the Tracys felt Paul deserved a raise.
Penske pointed to the contract and said, "That's what you signed...".
Later, when Penske's main sponsor Marlboro wanted to back off a little in response to pressure on tobacco companies to reduce their involvement in all forms of promotion, Penske wanted essentially to farm Tracy out to Tony Bettenhausen's team to keep Marlboro happy, then bring him back when Emmo retired, which was presumed to be not far off.
The Tracys pointed to that same contract, which said it could not be assigned to any other team. "That's what you signed..." they said to Penske.
Paul accepted a standing offer to join the Newman-Haas team for approximately a seventeen-hundred percent increase in salary...
All us dinner table guests expressed surprise that Penske came across as such a hard-nosed guy.
"It's business," said PT. "We get along fine now."
There's a book in Tracy's life, for sure. I have experience working with Indy Car drivers, having once ghost-written a column for Mario Andretti. Paul has my business card.
Vasser added that when it became clear Honda Canada and Michael Andretti's people were going to bring the Indy race back to Toronto, it was inconceivable that Paul would not be a part of it. He had been essentially out of a ride all season.
"We put Paul in a car at Watkin's Glen last weekend, to sort of knock the rust off him, get him back in race shape. OK, he crashed out, but was going well at a track he had never been to before."
Hard to imagine that in all his years of racing, he had never run at The Glen, which is only a few hours from his Guildwood Village Scarborough birthplace.
"We expect him to be in the hunt on Sunday."
I mentioned that Paul was not known for just stroking around building up championship points.
"No," confirmed Vasser. "If he was, he'd have won more than just one! He only knows about winning."
Penske put it another way when the young Tracy was having what seemed to be more than his share of crashes.
"You can calm down a fast guy," said Penske. "You can't make a slow guy fast."
Tracy was always - IS always - fast.
He had some difficulties in today's practice session. They will be making some changes to the car, and with another practice Saturday morning, expect to be in position to fight for a top-five qualification spot Saturday afternoon.
Whatever happens, you know PT is going to make it entertaining.