On Thursday, IndyCar and the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg unveiled a monument in memory of fallen racer Dan Wheldon, who died in the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011.
Although he was born in England, Wheldon lived in St. Petersburg with his family and considered the Florida city his adopted home.
Wheldon won the 2005 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first race held at Albert Whitted Airport under the banner of the Indy Racing League, U.S. open-wheel racing’s current sanctioning body. The newly unveiled monument to Wheldon lauds him as the winner of the inaugural event and has plaques mounted honoring all of its past winners.
Well, almost all of them.
Paul Tracy’s name is conspicuously absent.
Tracy won the St. Petersburg race back in 2003, which was the first and only time it was sanctioned by the Champ Car World Series, at the time the bitter rival of the IRL.
Same city, same track layout, different promoter, different series – or not, depending on who you ask.
“IndyCar, Champ Car, CART, IRL – it’s all the top level,” Tracy told Toronto Star Wheels in an interview Friday night. “It’s supposed to be all merged, and the record books are supposed to be blended together.
“That’s one of my 31 wins. It’s in the record book that I won.”
A large-scale unveiling of the monument to Wheldon was held for the media on Thursday, and the drivers listed on it posed for photographs with Wheldon’s widow and children.
Tracy landed in St. Petersburg on Friday as part of his reporting role for this weekend’s Canadian coverage of the race on Rogers Sportsnet. In fact, Sportsnet put him right to work; he participated in a report from trackside with anchor Rob Faulds and discussed the prospects this year of Canadian drivers James Hinchcliffe of Oakville and Alex Tagliani of Montreal.
When Tracy arrived, he didn’t know a thing about the monument or the unveiling ceremony.
“When I got to the track for the first time, I went to the media room,” Tracy recalls. “I had a couple of guys pull me to the side and say, ‘Did you hear the news?’ I didn’t know about it.
“A lot of people I guess were asking questions, and Twitter got lit up about it. People were asking why I was left off as a previous winner of the race.”
The monument states in several places that Wheldon was the winner of the inaugural event at St. Petersburg. Tracy points out that if the record books of all of open-wheel’s top-level series were indeed combined when Champ Car and IndyCar merged in 2008, then calling Wheldon the inaugural winner is factually incorrect.
“I was the inaugural winner,” he says. “The first time they ran at St. Pete, I won the race.”
Among Tracy’s concerns is the missed opportunity to be part of a monument paying tribute to Dan Wheldon’s life.
“I think if you’re acknowledging Dan,” Tracy says, “and you’re acknowledging the winners of the race, to leave somebody off that won the race, I don’t feel it’s the right thing to do.
“I don’t know whether it was done by the city or whether it was done by IndyCar or whether it was done by the promotion company or who’s directly responsible for it.
“But I would like to know if it was an oversight or it was just something that was a mistake or whether I was left off of it for whatever reason. I don’t know why I would be.”
Attempts to reach IndyCar and the current event promoter for comment were unsuccessful.
Tracy knows what he would consider a fair resolution, but he isn’t confident in his chances of getting it.
“I would like to see my name on that [monument] listed as a winner here,” he said. “I guess they’ll do whatever. I’m not really in control of what they’re going to do, so I guess whatever they decide to do is going to be their decision and I’ll just have to live with it.
“I’m not overjoyed about it. I’m disappointed.”