LONG BEACH, Calif. – Paul Tracy, one of the most outspoken and polarizing drivers in recent history, has been given a microphone to opine about the current state of IndyCar.
Tracy begins a six-race stint as an analyst for NBC Sports Network on Sunday at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. It's a dream-come-true for race fans, who have longed for someone with Tracy's candor and knowledge to tell it like it is in the booth.
Although Tracy never held back on or off the track during his driving days, he's not sure how far he can push the envelope in the booth.
"I'd like to keep this gig," he joked in an interview with The Associated Press. "Everybody keeps saying, 'Be you, don't hold back, don't be PC.' We'll see how it goes. I'm sure this first race, I'm going to be a little nervous."
Tracy, who with 31 career victories is tied with Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti for eighth on the win list, hasn't competed in the series since he ran six races in 2011. He has dabbled in sports car racing, ran once in Robby Gordon's super trucks series last year in hometown Toronto, but has mostly been settling into life after racing.
It included a short stint on Canadian TV last year during IndyCar coverage, but it was far different than the analyst role he'll be playing with NBC Sports.
"It was five races, but a lot was fairly scripted," Tracy said. "We had story lines, for use in pre-race and during commercial time. So I've never done a full length race. There's a lot to talk about on the fly, a lot to comment on."
He believes he and Townsend Bell, another analyst who still occasionally competes, are suited well to entertain and educate the fans.
"There's a lot of things I catch, and Townsend catches a lot of things, that a lot of guys who have been out of a car a long time don't see anymore," Tracy said. "When I sit down and watch an IndyCar race or a NASCAR race or a sports car race, I catch things on the camera views that a lot of people miss. Those are the things that I would like to talk about."
But Tracy has a lot of opinions about the series and its participants, and he's not shy about airing his observations. Whether he does so in the booth remains to be seen, but if he gets comfortable, fans could be treated to many of his musings:
Here are five things Tracy could talk about in the booth:
ON GRAHAM RAHAL and MARCO ANDRETTI: "I was disappointed in Rahal's performance at St. Pete. He needs to get going. He's young, but he's been in the best equipment his whole career. Right now he's got all the money, all the sponsors, hand-picked engineering teams, and the first race didn't go well. I'd like to see him get it going.
And everybody said last year, the first half of the season, Marco was really on it and it looked like his driving really came to another level. They were mediocre in the race in St. Pete, which really wasn't of his doing. But those are two guys that I want to see — it's time to step it up."
ON JUAN PABLO MONTOYA'S RETURN TO INDYCAR: "I was surprised he didn't run better at St. Pete. They said it was because he qualified in the rain. I don't know. When he showed up on the CART scene, it rained the first time, and he won the pole. They say he doesn't have any experience. Well, he didn't have any experience when he showed up in CART and he smoked everyone. Whether it's a factor of age, cautiousness, who knows? But he's got to put up the numbers. It's hard to argue, he was struggling last year (in NASCAR) and now (Kyle) Larson has stepped into the car and turned it up."
ON THE RETURN OF JACQUES VILLENEUVE TO INDY 500 INSTEAD OF YOUNG DRIVERS: "I think that's going to be interesting because that's a fast car, but he's 20 years removed from it and there's really not that much practice time at Indy. It's definitely created a lot of interest, Villeneuve and Juan coming back, they didn't get along great, but this is a novelty. Jacques certainly isn't going to be racing another 10 years. And neither is Juan. It would be nice to see some young guys come up and make careers. It's certainly frustrating for Conor Daly, to be a product of the series and just not be able to move to the final step, having to go to Europe. It doesn't look particularly great on the series when you have the kids like Sage Karam who come out of the ladder system but can't get to the final level."
LACK OF INDYCAR RIVALRIES: "Everybody wants to get along with each other. It just seems like all the fights happen immediately right now on Twitter. Instead of going up to the person, you blast someone on Twitter and then the other person will respond and it will go back and forth for a few minutes and then all of a sudden PR people are involved and say, 'Stop' or 'Remove it.' And then they finally talk to each other on the phone or text and agree not to talk about each other anymore. It's just a different era now. The arguing goes on now on Twitter and Facebook instead of person to person, and everything is done via text."
HIS INDY 500 FUTURE at 45-years-old: "If I had a competitive ride, I'd be interested. But nobody has presented a competitive ride. I would do it if there was a competitive ride, and I've had calls from a couple teams, but they don't have any money. You don't go out and do that race unless you've got a car that isn't wasting your time."