Ethos

Catching Up With: Scott Pruett, Former IMSA, IndyCar, and NASCAR Driver

Sitting down with the recently retired racing legend

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.

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

Scott Pruett: 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.”

AM: 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.

AM: 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.

AM: 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.

AM: 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.

AM: 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.

AM: 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.

AM: 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.

AM: 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.