Tracy back in IndyCar limelight with one-race deal for Vision Racing

INDIANAPOLIS -- From 1996 to 2007, the prospect of Paul Tracy driving in the IndyCar Series was about as likely as that of Brett Favre playing for an NFL team other than the Green Bay Packers.

In 2008, the fact that Tracy has not been part of the unified IndyCar field is just as ludicrous.

Call it an injustice or whatever, American open-wheel racing's most successful active driver is finally going to get his IndyCar Series chance -- for one race, at least. Tracy will drive a third entry for Tony George's Vision Racing July 26 in the Rexall Grand Prix of Edmonton. The No. 22 Dallara-Honda will be sponsored by Subway restaurants and crewed by Walker Racing as fellow Champ Car World Series refugee Derrick Walker and his team also look to grab a foothold in the Indy Racing League.

American open-wheel racing came together under the IndyCar umbrella in 2008, but it did so without Tracy -- whose 31 race wins and history of notoriety made him arguably one of the most valuable assets Champ Car had to offer.

Instead, Tracy was contractually relegated to the penalty box -- if getting handsomely paid to do nothing can be called a penalty -- and he could only watch from home in Las Vegas as IndyCar racing started the rebuilding process.

Tracy wanted to come back this year and be a part of the unified open-wheel series, but by electing not to field an Indy car, his team (Forsythe Championship Racing) wouldn't let him. In a remote way, that's the same kind of treatment Favre has gotten from the Packers, who have told the perennial All-Pro he may have to sit on the sidelines in a backup role.

There are other obvious comparisons between Tracy and Favre. They both have a gunslinger mentality, and they both collected only one championship over the course of unusually long careers.

Favre and Tracy created excitement every time they competed, even though they often made as many mistakes as miracles. But most of all, they connected with the public.

Favre's status in America is well known and Tracy is a star of similar magnitude in Canada, where open-wheel racing generally remains a major sport.

That's why it was so critical to get Tracy on board for next weekend's race at Edmonton's City Centre Airport. As an 11th-hour addition to the IndyCar schedule after the demise of Champ Car, Edmonton was facing long odds for success without a single Canadian driver in the field.

Tracy's addition should ensure the kind of full grandstands the Edmonton race attracted over the past three years as a Champ Car event. It should also provide a boost to Toronto's effort to get a second Canadian event on the 2009 IndyCar Series schedule.

The last time Tracy set foot in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the day he and Team Green were informed their protest of the result of the 2002 Indianapolis 500 had been denied. By George.

That's why it was so surreal to see the pair of them sitting elbow-to-elbow in the Economaki Press Room at IMS on Tuesday morning, George in a designer suit and Tracy in a Vision Racing polo shirt.

"A lot of water has passed under that bridge for me," Tracy said. "I was over it the next week, winning at Milwaukee, and a lot of time has passed since then. I've been able to win a championship and do a lot of other great things in my career. And now the series is one.

"With that merger, there's been some people that have been left to the side. I don't want to speak for Tony, but I think it's his intention that he wants to have the best of both sides competing. I just had to wait for the opportunity for that to happen."

This is not a perfect scenario by any means. But it is a great opportunity to get Walker Racing and Paul Tracy a part of the 2008 season. ...

-- Tony George

George echoed that sentiment, adding that he hopes the one-race arrangement could result in additional outings this year as a precursor to Walker's full-time entry into the IndyCar Series in 2009.

"This is not a perfect scenario by any means," George remarked. "But it is a great opportunity to get Walker Racing and Paul Tracy a part of the 2008 season, in an initial way, and hopefully it creates an opportunity for Derrick and Paul to re-establish themselves in IndyCar racing, in open-wheel racing for the future."

It's far-fetched to think that Tracy will be a front-runner at Edmonton; he and the team have had no testing, and road racing is not the Vision team's strong suit. But Tracy knows the track well and the transition teams from Champ Car have been more successful than expected so far this year at road and street courses.

"I think this is a great opportunity to work with this new sponsor and bring a sponsor into the sport," Tracy said. "We've been working on this for quite a long time, but it all seemed to go into fast forward in the last, about 60 hours or so. It's been a bit of a rush.

"Derrick and I want to be competitive. One of the most important things to me was I just don't want to be another car in a 27-car field. I want to have an opportunity to compete well, to be where I'm accustomed to running, and Derrick has fielded championship contending cars the last two or three years with Will Power."

Series insiders are already licking their chops at the prospect of a coming together between Tracy and Danica Patrick. The "Thrill From West Hill" and "America's Princess of Speed" both have a penchant for theatrics, and an on-track altercation between the two could produce must-see TV.

"We're pretty excited," said Mark Bamford, representing Edmonton promoter Northlands. "Ticket sales have been very good to date. We're doing very well on all fronts and this can do nothing but help us.

"I'm sure a lot of fans, they're excited about seeing Danica, Scott Dixon, et cetera, coming to town. So the addition of Paul just makes it that much better."

John Oreovicz covers open-wheel racing for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.