Tracy, a controversial figure who won the Champ Car World Series in 2003 and finished second in the 2002 Indy 500 – a race he still contends he won – has spent his entire career in open-wheel racing and made no secret of his disdain for NASCAR in an interview with Yahoo! Sports on Thursday
“I can’t watch a NASCAR race on TV without taking a three-hour nap in the middle of it,” Tracy said. “I have been to races. It is too long and too loud. I don’t really like it. NASCAR is having some trouble with its ratings because it just goes on for such a long time. The exciting part is just the last 25 or 30 laps. In [IndyCar], it is a race from the start to the finish.
“It is a different scene and a different culture. I like IndyCar a lot more and I think it is a better sport. I like that you can get a 500-mile race but that it is over in 2 hours, 45 minutes.”
IndyCar has suffered from a decline in interest over the past decade, but things seem to be picking up this year, with the 100th anniversary of the first race at the famous old track coinciding with brisk ticket sales to visitors from across the nation.
While stars like Danica Patrick play a role in giving Indy some presence in the mainstream consciousness, Tracy feels it is the accessibility of the drivers which set them apart from their NASCAR counterparts.
“For me the special thing about what we have is how accessible it is, more so than any motorsport,” said Tracy, who qualified 25th for Sunday’s race in the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold car. “In Formula One, unless you know [president] Bernie Ecclestone or you are a star, you are never going to see a driver or a car close up. In NASCAR, to some extent it is the same thing.
“They like to portray it as fan-friendly but it is virtually impossible to get a garage pass and the access for the everyday, regular fan is not there.
“For us it is different, fans can see a car and a driver and shake a driver’s hand; the paddock is open. The fans can be three feet from the car and mingle with their favorite driver and that is what makes Indy cool. You can’t do that in NASCAR.”
Much of NASCAR’s popularity has stemmed from the tribal following of its fans who affiliate themselves with a driver like they would a professional sports team franchise.
Yet Tracy believes there is a contrived element to NASCAR’s publicity machine, building up disputes between drivers and perpetuating an ongoing sense of rivalry amongst the field. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were recently involved in a post-race fight that gained international attention.
“NASCAR knows how to pump things up for its fanbase,” Tracy said. “Drivers over here get in arguments and it gets handled more quietly and internally. In NASCAR, they play it up and make a huge deal out of it and have these rivalries that come up which are perhaps not as big and what they would like you to think.”