Paul Tracy Will be Missed in the NBC Booth

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NBC has made a move that will please some and infuriate others. Put me in the camp with the latter. We learned on Wednesday that after eight years in the IndyCar booth, Paul Tracy will not be back for a ninth season.

Based on the reaction I’ve seen, there is not a whole lot of middle ground when it comes to Paul Tracy. Rumor has it that he will be replaced by fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe. Some rejoiced at this news. They are the ones that grew tired of Tracy’s social media posts, where he either shared his political views, responded to followers who disagreed with him in drunken rants or subjected followers to not-so-flattering photos of Tracy and his girlfriend. If you’ve seen these, you know what I’m referring to. If you haven’t – you’re better off.

I’ve always taken the approach that if you don’t like what someone is posting on social media – simply stop following them, instead of shutting them down. No one is making you see these posts against your will. Instead, these folks felt compelled to petition NBC to get rid of Tracy, rather than just removing his posts from their line of view.

If Tracy was bringing this behavior to the IndyCar telecasts, that would be one thing. The thing is – he doesn’t. What he does bring to the booth is a very informative and insightful view of what is going on in each practice session, qualifying session or race broadcast.

I did not care for Paul Tracy, the driver. In fact, that’s putting it mildly – I couldn’t stand him. I didn’t care for his chrome horn intimidation tactics, his public persona or any of his off-track antics. When he and Sébastien Bourdais had their dust-up, I was hoping for Bourdais to clean his clock. I wasn’t a fan of the way he handled things when he left Team Penske (twice) and how he ran his mouth for years after the 2002 Indianapolis 500. While the ruling is still controversial to this day, and Tracy and Team Green may have had a valid complaint – it is the face of Helio Castroneves that adorns the Borg-Warner Trophy in the square marked 2002. I was very opposed to the way he continually referred to himself as the winner of that race.

When NBC first put Tracy in the broadcast booth in 2014, I was not happy. I assumed he would bring his self-promoting persona to the telecast and make each race broadcast all about him. I was wrong. We saw a totally different side of Tracy on the IndyCar telecast. He was somewhat humble, measured and under control. He did not resemble the driver I had grown to dislike over the years. It didn’t take me long to appreciate everything he brought to the broadcast booth.

His take was fresh and he gave us a new perspective of what these cars were like and how they performed differently going from track to track. He told what us fans were curious about, regarding the life as a driver – in the cockpit, in the paddock and away from the track. When his cohorts would bring up his colorful past, he didn’t shy away from it – but he didn’t turn the conversation to where it was all about him, either.

One of my good racing friends says that he was surprised that it took this long for NBC to dump Tracy, and he was glad he was gone. Fair enough. Tracy came close to getting fired three years ago, when he physically threatened someone who disagreed with one of his political posts, and actually threatened to have his wife raped (and other things that don’t need to be printed here). He made things worse by claiming that his social media account had been hacked. If NBC had fired him on the spot for that incident, they would’ve been justified. It was an inexcusable situation on his part. But he survived the ordeal, but also received a last-chance zero-tolerance warning.

From an outsider’s perspective, it appeared all was well. But NBC announced before the 2021 season that Tracy had been scaled way back for the season. But after the season-opener at Barber, it was announced that Tracy would be back for almost all of the IndyCar season, except when he had on-track racing conflicts.

Maybe something happened recently behind the scenes that I am not aware of. That’s entirely possible. Quite honestly, I’m hoping that’s the case. I’m hoping that NBC is not firing an excellent race analyst simply because some fans don’t care for Tracy’s social media presence or that they changed their minds after he was saved three years ago.

Tracy is saying that this happened he can pursue his racing schedule. I think there is probably more truth to that than some might think. Tracy was very busy last summer in various racing series, and he seemed to enjoy it. I am hoping this is a mutual parting of the ways with no animosity between them, so that Tracy will be free to pursue more racing gigs.

But if NBC is making a change just for change sake, then I don’t get it. If they simply wanted to shake things up and get some new blood in there, I might have chosen to part ways with Townsend Bell instead. Paul Tracy has 281 IndyCar starts. Townsend Bell has 39. Paul Tracy has 31 IndyCar wins. Bell has 0. Paul Tracy has won an IndyCar championship, while Bell has not. Yet, it is Townsend Bell who comes across on the telecast as the smartest man in the room.

Not many will agree with me, but I really don’t care what TV personalities do in their private lives. I thought Tracy was an excellent race analyst – probably the best since Bobby Unser. Then again, the bar has not been very high for the past twenty-five years. Danny Sullivan, Parker Johnstone, Scott Goodyear and Robbie Buhl didn’t have to clear out shelf space for many Emmy’s in their broadcasting careers.

I liked Tracy’s insight and demeanor on the IndyCar telecasts. Did I like his social media posts? No. But to me, they didn’t distract me from what he told us on race weekends.

The late Bobby Unser is one of the most colorful and beloved characters in the IndyCar world. The stories he told in various podcasts are legendary. But Uncle Bobby was not known for leading the most squeaky-clean or exemplary personal life. In fact, if just some of the rumors about his past are true, he would have been crucified by today’s standards. I had already heard some of those rumors back when he was paired with Paul Page and Sam Posey. Did that make me think less of him as a former racer, analyst or broadcaster? Not one bit.

As I mentioned earlier; I was not a fan of Paul Tracy the driver. I thought he was arrogant and reckless. Paul Tracy, the analyst, is a different story. I thought he brought a lot to the table. His experience, race wins and his championship gave credibility to what he was saying. I appreciated his candor and frankness.

If it is James Hinchcliffe that is in line to replace Tracy, he will be good. He has a few IndyCar wins (six) and roughly ten years of IndyCar experience to add to his credibility. He has a smooth wit and charm that is perfect for broadcasting. But he won’t be as raw and unscripted as Paul Tracy. The brashness I despised while Tracy was a driver, made me appreciate him in the booth. Speaking one’s mind with such brutal honesty is becoming a rare thing these days. Whatever the circumstances of his departure, Paul Tracy’s wit and knowledge will be missed.

George Phillips

11 Responses to “Paul Tracy Will be Missed in the NBC Booth”

  1. Matthew Lawrenson Says:

    Word is that PT was well protected by someone high-up at NBC. Which makes sense, because if coming out with some of the stuff Tracy has on the socials doesn’t get you the boot from a big TV job, what does? I haven’t heard about PT doing anything especially stupid in the last few weeks, so I can only assume his departure is by “mutual consent”.

    Talking of Uncle Bobby’s podcast, you should listen to Tracy’s Dinner With Racers episode. Quite an eye-opener on a lot of things.

  2. Rest in Peace, Al Unser!

    • Bruce Waine Says:

      A truly sad day, indeed ! !

    • billytheskink Says:

      Did not think we would lose both Unser brothers in the same year. We were lucky and grateful to have had these guys for a good long time, but it is going to be a hard next several years for the long-time Indycar fan.

  3. I don’t know anything about Paul Tracy’s politics. I’ve never read an instagram in my life. But I won’t miss him. I never cared for him. Fair or not, he’s always reminded me of “that guy” we all know who never grew up and still thinks he’s as cool as the kids. I think Hinch will be fantastic.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Given that none of Tracy’s online dust-ups have been really recent, I’m guessing he was let go to save a few bucks and/or to clear space to bring in Hinch (as speculated). Tracy took to the booth better than I thought he would and I’ll miss him there. Hinch will do fine, whether he joins the booth this year or in the near future (it seems almost certain to happen at some point).

  5. Mike Bentle Says:

    I thought the best series of exchanges were between PT & Danica when they had them together at points for 500 coverage. Both bringing up racing experiences in their own unfiltered way. Never was a Danica fan but I thought she also did a great job in the broadcast booth. Even with her run with the SRX series with Bestwick who is great as well. PT is enjoying life. No worries.

  6. PT used to post at Track Forum and I thought he was a wonderful poster and got along with everybody and posting some interesting insight. I remember one time there was a thread going on and it got late and he told us that his wife ‘just walked by in a pair of panties and she said it was time for bed.’ Of course everyone cheered for Tracy and the panties. I’d love to drink a beer with him.

  7. I really liked PT’s input and comment. I’ll miss him.

  8. I’ve enjoyed PT on the broadcasts and am sorry he won’t be in the booth next year. I met him once in the paddock at LB and he couldn’t have been kinder to us. Even took a photo.

    I have my fingers crossed that who joins the booth team is a IndyCar specialist. (Aren’t you proud of me George that I didn’t malign that other series)

  9. The Lapper Says:

    I guess hoping for someone like Bobby Unser is a tall order.

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