April 11, 2012 | By Bruce Martin
Grand-Am Champion Pruett Eager To Return To Indy In Different Ride
With 20 laps to go in the 1995 Indianapolis 500, Scott Pruett was locked in a thrilling duel with Scott Goodyear for the biggest prize in racing.
Pruett previously was in a battle with Jimmy Vasser in a nose-to-gearbox duel before Vasser hit the Turn 3 wall on Lap 171. Pruett was back in the lead as the laps were winding down. But Pruett’s Ford Cosworth-powered Patrick Racing machine was getting heavy pressure from Goodyear’s Honda-powered car.
As the drivers raced through Turn 2 with 17 laps left in the race, Pruett’s shot at victory came to an end.
“Raul Boesel blew an engine in Turn 2, and I got into his oil,” Pruett said. “I just bumped the wall, but it was enough to break the ring off the right rear tire. Coming off the wall in Turn 2 at over 200 miles per hour, it turned the thing backward when the tire went flat, went straight across the grass into the fence. It was a pretty spectacular crash.
“I was kicking ass that day. We came back and won the Michigan 500 a month or two later. There are those races that you look back on in your career, and that was one of the ones I look back on and say: `Fuuuudge. Really?’”
It would be the last time Pruett competed in the Indianapolis 500, but it would not be the final time he raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 1989 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Pruett returned to the Speedway for the 2000 Brickyard 400 in the Tide Ford.
“That is my best NASCAR race ever there, when I finished 10th in the Brickyard 400 in 2000,” Pruett said. “It was quite memorable because it was Dale Earnhardt and I beating and banging for most of the race, and I finished 10th and he finished 11th.”
Pruett returned in 2004, starting 42nd and finishing 42nd and that would be his final time in competition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Pruett will be one of the few drivers ever to compete in three different forms of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when five-time GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series champion Pruett competes in the inaugural Super Weekend at the Brickyard on Friday, July 25. Pruett is a headline driver for team owner Chip Ganassi’s outstanding GRAND-AM Daytona Prototype team that will battle on the spectacular road course at the Speedway.
What makes the layout so unique is it incorporates the tight and twisting turns in the IMS infield and parts of the famed oval including Turn 13 – the Turn 1 of the oval – and the frontstretch of the Speedway.
Pruett will be going in the opposite direction than when he raced in the Indy 500 and the Brickyard 400.
“Since we’ve already done that in testing, the first time I did it was crazy,” Pruett said. “It was wrong – just totally wrong. After a couple hours driving the car, you got used to it. To me, up until then I always went counter-clockwise around that place. To go there and go clockwise was just a bit different.
“Because I have been in the middle of all that, we did testing a couple years ago and gave the people at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway our thoughts on the racetrack and saw it all the way through, the one thing I’ve been impressed with is we are all going through tough times. What Indianapolis is doing by giving a Thursday show, a Friday show, a Saturday show and a Sunday show – how cool is that?”
What Pruett believes is going to be really cool is the fans’ first taste of GRAND-AM at Indianapolis.
“Action,” he said. “That is the biggest thing. With us, the GT cars and the prototypes running together, there is action every lap. There is multiple passing going on and a lot of action. I know for a fact we will run two cars and a lot of other prototype teams will be running two cars, and there are some teams you haven’t heard from in a while will come back to run that race, so it’s going to be a massive field.”
At 52, Pruett is celebrating his 45th year in racing. He began as an 8-year-old and began to earn notice in sports car racing. That earned him an IndyCar ride in 1989 with the famed Budweiser car. He finished 10th in 1989 for his Indy 500 high and would return in 1991, 1992 and 1995.
Pruett remained a CART regular when that series did not participate in the Indianapolis 500 in the late 1990s but made a career switch to NASCAR for the 2000 season. He was unable to find success in stock cars, and his career path took him back to sports cars.
Since that time, Pruett has enjoyed a historic run of titles.
“It’s interesting looking back because in 1995, ’96 and ’97 I actually led the IndyCar championship through June and then was plagued with engine failures,” Pruett said. “But if you look at 2003 with Jaguar and then with Ganassi to now, we have won five more championships and six team championships. That’s 50 percent of the time we have won championships. It’s been a great run.”
Pruett’s GRAND-AM success fits well with Ganassi’s overall excellence, which includes Indianapolis 500 victories with Juan Pablo Montoya in 2000, Scott Dixon 2008 and Dario Franchitti in 2010, IZOD IndyCar Series titles with Dixon in 2003 and 2008 and Franchitti from 2009-11.
“It’s very cohesive, and that is one of the keys to giving all of us all of the success,” Pruett said. “We share all the data. We root for each other. I’m watching NASCAR races. I’m watching IndyCar races. I’m texting Chip Ganassi. I’m texting Mike Hull (Ganassi Racing Managing Director) and vice versa. We very much root, follow each other and work together.
“There are a lot of things we learn from the NASCAR side reducing friction. Same thing on the IndyCar side with shocks. That is one of the big pieces that Chip has really instilled in all of us, is that is his way. Share. We are one team focused on winning races. I don’t care if it’s my NASCAR team, my IndyCar team or my GRAND-AM team – we are a team and focused on one thing and doing the right thing going racing.”
And in July, Pruett gets a chance to return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a different type of car than he has ever raced there before.
“It’s pretty prestigious that I will have driven in three different series at Indy,” Pruett said. “It’s not just a racetrack – it’s Indy. For those of us who didn’t grow up in the South, where they saw Daytona as their main show, I remember as kids being around the radio, being around the TV, watching the Indy 500, dreaming of being there and then going there in an IndyCar then in NASCAR and now sports cars.
“I still remember being there for my rookie test, and it was certainly different then than it is now. You can’t help but go there and be in awe, especially for the first time being there. But you are still in awe every time you go back there. It’s an incredible place, and I love it.
“Back then, if you weren’t an IndyCar driver, you had not shot at racing there. I was telling the other GRAND-AM guys that everybody who is anybody can get in a car will be there, whether it is the Continental Series along with 20 prototypes and 50 GT cars. Unless you run that race as a sports car driver, you won’t get to race there.”
And 17 years after that spectacular Indy 500 duel with Vasser and Goodyear, Pruett gets one more chance to live his dream of winning at Indianapolis, only this time in a sports car.
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