Pruett brings win home from Mexico
Special to The Union
Race car driver Scott Pruett is back at home in Auburn now after winning the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series race in Mexico City last Saturday along with his teammate, Luis Diaz.
Pruett, who started in the pole position, built up a substantial lead before handing the controls over to Diaz on lap 47. That allowed Diaz, a Mexico City native, the chance to win the race in front of his hometown crowd. And Diaz didn’t disappoint his fans, taking the checkered flag in the 01 CompUSA Lexus-Riley.
“It was an out-of-control victory,” Pruett said, with thousands of fans enthusiastically celebrating the win.
Pruett, born and raised in Roseville, began his career at age 8, racing go-karts throughout California. Thirty-seven years later, Pruett and his family are back where it all started for this multi-talented driver, whose achievements include championships in the SCCA Trans American series, IMSA GTO series and most recently, the 2004 Grand American Rolex Series Daytona Prototype title.
Pruett finished second in that series last year and is third in points this year, hoping to win another championship for Chip Ganassi Racing. He also has extensive experience racing stock cars and says each style of racing has its own level of excitement.
“For pure going fast, there’s nothing like the Indy car,” he said. “We’ve had races at tracks where we’ve run just over 250 (miles per hour), such as at Michigan Speedway or at Fontana (California Speedway). My last race, I qualified first at an average speed of 235.5 and my top speed was the mid-240s. But for hard-core racing, wheel-to-wheel racing, there’s nothing like the Cup stuff (NASCAR Nextel Cup Series).”
Making the transition from sports cars or Indy cars to stock cars is difficult for some, but not for Pruett, who drove for PPI Motorsports in NASCAR’s Cup series during 2000 before returning to sports cars.
“The best way to do stock car is growing up with it, from grass roots, but when you’re trying to make that transition, I think, for the biggest part, it’s probably just a little easier for me because of my background in those basic type of cars.”
Pruett’s stock car skills have earned him a reputation among NASCAR purists as a “road course ringer,” a term applied to road course specialists like Pruett, hired to run road courses for less-experienced NASCAR stock car drivers at the two racetracks on the NASCAR schedule – Watkins Glen, N.Y., and Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. Having a specialist behind the wheel almost guaranteed a top-10 finish for a NASCAR race team, but that advantage has all but disappeared now, according to Pruett.
“Nowadays, especially in the last five years, the NASCAR drivers have been very focused on their road course abilities. Look at a guy like Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson, very talented on the ovals and the road courses … those guys are tough to beat,” he said.
Improved skills among the Cup regulars don’t mean it’s the end of the road for road course ringers, according to Pruett. “It’s made it a little tougher because the rules have changed within NASCAR, so there’s only five available spots on any given weekend for part-time drivers, whether they come in to do an oval or a road course,” Pruett said, “so the team has to be ready to come out of the trailer fast to qualify and get one of those top spots.”
Pruett has done well on the NASCAR Cup circuit, having placed third at Infineon Raceway in 2004 and running in the top five last year before a broken sway bar took him out of the race. He took second at Watkins Glen in 2003 and a fourth in 2005, filling in for a grieving Sterling Marlin.
Still looking for that elusive first Cup victory
He plans to race at both NASCAR road courses this year, which could bring Pruett and Chip Ganassi that coveted victory (Chip Ganassi Racing would field a fourth car at each event with Pruett behind the wheel). But racing full-time in the NASCAR Nextel Cup series is probably a thing of the past for 45-year-old Pruett.
“The reality of it is now, within Cup, if you’re somewhere between 19-28, you’re the pick,” he said. “Anybody over 30, it’s just not going to happen, that’s just reality, and I’m over 40, so the flavor right now is to go for the young kids and bring them up and invest a lot of years with them, and for us older guys, it’s just not a reality.”
Reality aside, Pruett says he really enjoys where he’s at in his career now. A second Grand Am Rolex Series championship is in his sights, he’s racing for that first NASCAR Nextel Cup win again and he’s back home in Northern California among family and friends.
Pruett is also writing children’s books with his wife, Judy. The Pruetts, who have three children, were at home one rainy day several years ago in Granite Bay when they started “jotting down some racing-sort of rhymes.”
As they fine-tuned their work, Judy suggested turning it into a book. Pruett’s schedule left little room for book-writing, but Judy “took the bull by the horns,” resulting in their first book, “Twelve Little Race Cars,” a story in rhyme about CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) racing, written at the preschool level.
Their second book, “Twelve More Little Race Cars”, features a NASCAR racing theme. “Rookie Racer”, the Pruett’s third book, was just released.
Regardless of where his career may send him, Scott Pruett says he and his family have decided to make Auburn “our ever-after,” and that’s a big win for area race fans.
Dorothy Talan-Quaid is a Grass Valley freelance journalist. She can be reached at email@example.com
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