Pruett poised for win in new Speedway race 

click to enlarge Scott Pruett
  • Scott Pruett

Read this in your best monster truck commercial voice, if you would: This weekend, on the hallowed ground of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, history will be made with earthshaking, gutbusting, ball-twisting racing action on two - yes, two! - courses. Feel your lungs fill with hot, extreme exhaust as no-holds-barred racers follow the wicked twists and tricks of the Speedway's 13-turn road course. Then get your fill of high-octane action on the Speedway's 2.5-mile oval, the scene of glory and carnage since your granny was just a bun in the oven.

OK, take a breath. Your inner monster truck announcer had it right: Two series - GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge and Rolex Sports Car Series - will race July 27 for the first time on the speedway's road course, as part of the inaugural "IMS Super Weekend" that also features NASCAR's Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series. And what makes things so "Super" is that it'll be the first time that races will be run on the road course and the oval during the same weekend.

And Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Pruett, a 51-year-old elder on the circuit, is excited to be part of it. "It's going to be fantastic," he says. "Not a lot of fans are ready for what they'll see: 60 cars - 20 prototypes and 40 GT cars - drafting and passing every lap. It's going to be crazy."

He should know. Pruett holds records for the number of wins (31), pole positions (32), podium finishes (59) and laps led (2,152) on series racing Daytona Prototypes (cars based on those raced in the Le Mans circuit that were first competitively raced in 2003). He expects the biggest challenge for the cars on the IMS road course will be turns 12-13 (the first corner of the oval): "There will be so much traffic, getting around the GT cars there will be difficult."

Pruett is in the sweet spot where maturity, experience, talent and motivation intersect: "I have the speed as well as the physical and mental attitude." Every bit the dedicated athlete, he's altered his approach over the years, saying "I know where I need to be with my body at all times and not to overlook what I need to focus on."

Having paid his dues through years of testing and climbing the ladder from racing go-karts at age 8 (where he won 10 championships and was inducted into the World Karting Hall of Fame), Pruett competed in CART for five years and in NASCAR Cup racing and the IROC series before returning to his sports car roots in GRAND-AM. The 1989 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and 2001 24 Hours of Le Mans class winner has also done pit reporting for Speed Channel and race commentary for ABC/ESPN.

"I'm a chameleon and can adapt to all forms of racing, but I love where I'm at," he says. "The Rolex series is a great home for me and I love driving for Chip [Ganassi]." During his nine-year tenure there, he has earned five team and four driver championships. "I enjoy driving for Chip because his focus is simple: go win."

click to enlarge The Pruett-mobile.
  • The Pruett-mobile.

It's Pruett's approach too: "I'm there to race. I want to win races and championships." He's so dedicated to his craft that he has his own key to the truck because he often arrives at the track even before the mechanics.

One of the reasons Pruett likes the Rolex sports car series is that it "keeps the driving in the driver's hands," as he puts it. "There's no traction control, no paddle shifting, no ABS brakes. All of those take away from the driving. There's no finesse. To succeed [in GRAND-AM], you have to be smart, brave and calculating."

In preparation for this weekend's historic first race on the road track, Pruett participated in a tire test at the Speedway in June and a GRAND-AM test in July, the latter conducted in scorching triple-digit temperatures. A testing veteran, he's logged 10,000 miles as the test and development driver for the Firestone tire program in 1994.

Pruett says that his background in testing is particularly beneficial now that most series have put moratoriums on or at least severely restricted testing. Widely regarded as one of the most technically astute drivers of his day, Pruett welcomes testing: "I enjoy it. The more I know about aspects of the car, the better driver I'll be."

Well-known, respected and liked in the paddock, Pruett was once offered the role of chief steward for the Champ Car series. His name again surfaced recently for the same role with IndyCar. He turned them both down because he said he "wasn't finished racing."

"I'm trying to enjoy every moment I can," he explains. "I'm savoring it. It's easy when you love what you're doing. When I got pole at the Glen, I realized I could still get it done. It feels good."

Pruett and co-driver Rojas finished fourth in that six-hour race at Watkins Glen after losing a lap during a pit stop to replace a radiator that was punctured by a rock that went through the grill.

A family man, Pruett foresees a long future in racing, "somehow, some way," despite other interests that include a hands-on approach to his vineyard, which has produced award-winning wines. "I want to stay in racing. I enjoy it. My outlook is: when one door closes, another opens. When I'm done driving, something will come along - maybe in the broadcast booth..?"

But this month, his goal is to win the inaugural GRAND-AM race at IMS. "We're kind of the hometown team, so this race means a lot to us - and to me personally. You want to do well in your own backyard." If Pruett takes the checkered flag, the victory will add to his career total of 80 wins and 10 championships - not a bad resume for his future job hunt.

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