Scott Pruett, Sports Cars, Class of 2017
By Bill Lovell
“Smooth is fast.”
That's something every new racing driver hears on their first day of driving school. Very few get it the first day. Some never get it their entire career.
Scott Pruett is one who got it at a very young age. And he has been both smooth and fast for a long time.
Actually, in “racer years,” a very long time.
The native Californian began his career the way a lot of the great ones did, in go-karts, which he began driving at the age of 8 and rapidly mastered, winning 10 professional karting titles including the Professional Karting Association World Championship in 1981.
To make the jump from karts to professional automobile racing requires that a driver possess at least two of the big three criteria: talent, money and/or connections. The talent was obvious. The money wasn't, but the connection was there: Michael Kranefuss, who directed Ford Motor Company's worldwide racing efforts from 1980 to 1993. Pruett credits Kranefuss with getting him his first major contract, with Jack Roush.
“As a European, Michael was very aware of what was happening in karting,” he said.
It was a great move for Pruett, for Ford and for Roush Racing. All Pruett did his first full season in IMSA GTO (1986) was win the championship. He did it again in 1988, while also winning SCCA Trans-Am titles in 1987, 1994 and 2003.
The natural progression was into CART, where he ran 145 races between 1988 and 1999, with two victories and a serious testing crash in 1990 that injured both his legs and cost him that season.
But it was what came after his time in the CART series, and a brief foray into NASCAR, that solidified his Hall of Fame credentials: a return to sports car racing, with victory after victory and championship after championship, beginning with that third Trans-Am title in 2003.
Just a list of those race wins and championships would take more space than I have available. But perhaps the most impressive is the record five 24 Hours of Daytona overall wins. A class win at Le Mans is on the list, as is an overall victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring.
The total numbers are staggering — and unprecedented. Sixty professional sports car wins, 11 championships.
But the truly amazing thing is that he hasn't begun to slow down. In his mid-50s, an age at which most top drivers are long retired, he's still as fast as ever.
So, the question had to be asked: How? How have you managed to stay so fast, so competitive, for so long?
“The good Lord blessed me,” Pruett said. “I train hard, I work hard. But there's no track record for me and what I'm doing.”
What's Scott Pruett proudest of? “I never lost my integrity, and done my family proud. It's been one hell of a career.”
Scott Pruett is living proof that nice guys finish first... and first... and first.
Bill Lovell was a racing driver who turned to motorsports journalism in a futile effort to afford the frills and extras, such as engines. He won the Mid-Atlantic Road Racing Championship in 1976 and was awarded the Dick Lord Memorial Trophy by Washington, DC Region, SCCA the same season. He spent 8 years at Autoweek and 5 at RACER before ending his journalism career as Editorial Director at Petersen Publishing. He lives in Newport Beach.