SCOTT PRUETT

RE­CENTLY RE­TIRED RAC­ING LEG­END

Automobile - - The Back Page - By MAC MOR­RI­SON

THE ROLEX 24 AT DAY­TONA

in late Jan­uary was the sea­son opener for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Cham­pi­onship, but it marked the fi­nal pro­fes­sional start for Amer­i­can rac­ing leg­end Scott Pruett. The 57-year-old and his team­mates fin­ished ninth in class in their Lexus RC F GT3, cap­ping Pruett’s re­mark­able ré­sumé that saw him find suc­cess in sports cars, Indy cars, stock cars, and more. Also a suc­cess­ful wine­maker and au­thor, the Cal­i­for­nian re­flects on a Hall of Fame ca­reer and looks for­ward to what is to come.

How did you de­cide the Rolex 24 would be your fi­nale?

SP: The con­ver­sa­tions were, what else can I do? Go win Day­tona over­all for the sixth time? Ex­tend my record there with an 11th class win? Go win my 89th pro­fes­sional race? Those things just be­come more of the same things I al­ready had done. I wanted to win the Indy 500. That wasn’t meant to be. I wanted to win a NASCAR Cup race; [dur­ing my ca­reer] we fin­ished sec­ond, third, and fourth. [Win­ning one now] wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen. You go, “Maybe it’s time. Maybe it’s re­ally now.”

You started in karts at 8 years old. How many driv­ers can talk about hav­ing a 50-year ca­reer?

SP: Isn’t that hard to be­lieve? 50 years. There could be some other driv­ers, but how many have had this suc­cess? I’ve had my head down [over the years] and haven’t looked back. Now that I look back a bit, there’s stuff we for­got about. I don’t mean this in any way ex­cept very humbly: It’s pretty cool when you’re for­get­ting a lot of re­ally cool stuff be­cause you’ve achieved a lot of re­ally cool stuff.

Do you re­mem­ber your first race?

SP: It was 1968, Lodi, Cal­i­for­nia. Scared to death. Scared to death. Prob­a­bly came away from it think­ing I never wanted to do it again. And also hav­ing the thrill of it. And then do­ing it again, and my ap­petite re­ally just took off for do­ing it.

What’s one of the things you cher­ish from your ca­reer?

SP: The guys I’ve raced with and against. Bob Wollek, David Hobbs, Mario An­dretti, Al Unser Jr., Al Unser Sr., Michael An­dretti. Hans Stuck, Hur­ley Hay­wood, Al Hol­bert. Danny Sul­li­van, Emer­son Fit­ti­paldi. Then it was Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, and Dario Fran­chitti. Mov­ing into the 2000s in NASCAR, Dale Earn­hardt Jr.—he and Matt Kenseth and I were all rook­ies. Rac­ing against Dale Sr., Wal­trip, Wal­lace, Petty, and all those guys.

Does one of them stand out?

SP: There were a lot of great guys. To pick out one, no. I al­ways had the ut­most re­spect for Mario An­dretti. But how can you pick one? You can’t.

What specif­i­cally did you learn from him?

SP: It was my rookie sea­son in Indy cars. Now put this into per­spec­tive: 1989, I never drove on an oval in my whole life. I’m mov­ing from sports cars to Indy cars. Mario, es­pe­cially on the ovals, taught me how you don’t be­come friends with your fel­low com­peti­tors and how you can race. There’s a fine line be­tween rac­ing guys in a way—I won’t re­ally call it dirty but most cer­tainly ag­gres­sively—to make them not be able to get by you. I’m not talk­ing block­ing. He wasn’t that guy, but he would take all the air off your nose, and here you are try­ing to fig­ure things out. You go into Turn 1, and he drops down right in front of you. All those sub­tle things you needed to know as a suc­cess­ful race car driver—not that I learned more than a speck of what he had to share. But I learned so much by rac­ing wheel to wheel with him.

What was your best day in the sport?

SP: The 1995 Michigan 500 was most cer­tainly re­ally cool. That vic­tory, the way it came, and what it meant: my first CART Se­ries vic­tory, the re­turn [to the se­ries] for Fire­stone, and the re­turn for [team owner] Pat Pa­trick. I re­mem­ber [me and Al Unser Jr.] go­ing into Turn 1, Turn 2. I’m think­ing I’m go­ing to pick up his draft, I’m go­ing to fade to the in­side and go right to the high side, and then it’s go­ing to be check­ers or wreck­ers: I’m ei­ther go­ing to win or crash or take both of us out. And that’s what I did. I faded to the in­side, went straight for the out­side, stuck it right in the bub­ble and was on top. We’re right at the fence, al­most touch­ing each other right down to the check­ered flag. Beat him by inches. That was a big day.

So what’s next?

SP: We’ve ex­tended my re­la­tion­ship with Lexus, three more years there.

I’ll con­tinue to drive its per­for­mance cars and get my adren­a­line fix. They’ve just also added me to the Toy­ota brand. You might see me in and around the Supra when it launches, work­ing the per­for­mance side for Toy­ota. I spread across so many dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties. Sell­ing a car, pro­mot­ing a car, dealer re­la­tions. I know the ma­jor­ity of the deal­ers, so work­ing with them. And of course, more time with fam­ily. My fam­ily is grow­ing up. Spend­ing more time with my wife.

And your Cal­i­for­nia win­ery, Pruett Vine­yard, is still go­ing strong …

SP: It’s in­sane, but I don’t want it to get big­ger. You know, in 2014 and in 2012 Wine Spec­ta­tor rated our syrah as some of the best in the world. That has been in­cred­i­ble. I want to make wine so it’s bet­ter; I don’t want to make more wine. I’m not look­ing to ex­pand. I’m just look­ing to fo­cus.

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