Scott Pruett, evergreen champion

by Gordon Kirby on 4th October 2012

Chip Ganassi’s Grand-Am team won its third straight Daytona Prototype championship last weekend at Lime Rock, the series season-closer.

It was the sixth Grand-Am title for Ganassi and the fifth for lead driver Scott Pruett who has shared Ganassi’s lead car the past five years with Memo Rojas who now has four Daytona Prototype championships to his credit.

Pruett, 52, has been racing all his life, starting in karts. He’s raced everything from Indycars to NASCAR stock cars, IMSA GTP, GTO and GTU cars, Trans-Am cars and Aussie V-8s. Scott has been racing cars since 1985 and won two IMSA GTO and three Trans-Am championships during his early years before moving on to race Indy cars, NASCAR Sprint Cup and then Daytona Prototypes. His career record includes 37 Daytona Prototype wins, four outright Daytona 24 hour victories and five more class wins, plus three Trans-Am championships, two IMSA GTO titles, and two IndyCar wins during CART’s heydays.

Pruett is an interesting fellow who has authored four children’s books with his wife Judy and also owns and runs his own winery called Pruett Vineyard in Auburn, California, about an hour north of the Napa Valley. “I do most of the work,” he says. “I do some of the pruning and all the watering. I do all the vinting myself and the bottling, labeling, capping - the whole thing. It’s a passion and we’re always going to be no more than 500 to 700 cases per year. Part of my tagline is, ‘I touch every bottle’.”

He takes pleasure from the wide differences in his profession of racing and hobby of making wine. “Wine-making and racing are almost at opposite ends of the spectrum,” Pruett observed. “In racing, things happen in seconds and you can change the outcome at the end of the race for better or worse depending on the moves you make. But wine tells you when it wants to harvest, when the fermentation is done and when it wants to be bottled. You’re just along for the ride and it takes years to produce.”

Reflecting on his long and varied career Pruett says the massive improvement in safety is the most impressive thing he’s witnessed over three decades of racing. “I’ve been very fortunate,” he remarked. “I’ve won ten major road racing championships and more than eighty races. I’ve enjoyed an unbelievable road racing career from the '80s and the '90s through the turn of the century and beyond.

“It’s incredible to see how much the technology has changed over that time. I worked on the prototype of the HANS device and I was on the board for the driver safety committee in CART so I was privy to a lot of the data from crash testing and all that stuff. I just applaud all the many, many people who’ve been involved in moving the sport forward.

“I remember the pushback from so many guys on the HANS device. A lot of them said they weren’t going to wear it because it was going to make them claustrophobic. Now, you talk to anybody and they wouldn’t even think about getting in the car without a HANS device. So it’s been really good for me personally to see all this stuff come along.”

Twenty years ago Pruett suffered serious leg and back injuries when he crashed an Indy car during winter testing. He was out of action for the best part of a year but came back to take his career to even greater heights. But the residue of the accident remains with him.

“Everything hurts,” he says. “My knees hurt because I broke both of those. I broke my back as well, so my back is full of hardware. So it gets sore and my ankles are junk. At some point I’m going to get my ankle replaced or get it fused. There’s good technology today to do that. But I need six or eight months to recuperate and I don’t have six or eight months to be out of the car.”

Pruett is looking forward to a few months off during the fall and early winter before starting another season with next year’s Rolex 24 hours at Daytona.

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