Pruett's wild ride at New Jersey's new circuit

PRUETT'S WILD RIDE Probably like a lot of folks, this reporter's cell phone is powered-up when the airplane's wheels hit the runway. Unlike a lot of folks - okay by me, though - there usually isn't a lot of action just waiting to happen when ...


PRUETT'S WILD RIDE

Probably like a lot of folks, this reporter's cell phone is powered-up when the airplane's wheels hit the runway. Unlike a lot of folks - okay by me, though - there usually isn't a lot of action just waiting to happen when the power trickles through the receiver.

So, when a usually quiet cell phone started rocking and rolling just after Delta Flight 1006 touched down Thursday in Philadelphia, one couldn't help but know something was up.

Seeking the latest on a situation I hadn't even known had unfolded, colleagues from across the country wanted to know what had happened to Scott Pruett.

"He hit something on pit road and, I hear, really tore the car up," Florida Today's Mark DeCotis said by phone from Melbourne, Fla.

About 40-minutes later at NJMP, I was standing in a cloud of confusion, anger and, later, thankfulness that Pruett was his old self again.

But, we're getting a little ahead of the story.

"I have never been so scared for someone in my life," Mike Shank said.

Shank's been around, as a driver and as an owner. He's won honors doing both and, as a result, has seen a lot of things happen in motorsports.

Brad Frisselle saw it unfold from Kevin Doran's No. 77 Kodak Ford-Dallara pit - the first encountered coming through pit-in.

"A GT car put his left-side tires off coming out of Turn 12 (at the beginning of pit straight) and threw up a huge cloud of dust," Frisselle recounted.

"That spooked another GT car to his right. Then that car did a lane toss and Pruett, probably rolling into full throttle as he came out of the turn for whatever reason, just snapped; his rear end coming out from under him and he just slammed that barrier. He had just gotten perpendicular to the track surface - his rear coming around 90-degrees - when he hit (the metal barrier)."

"It was the hardest hit I've ever seen," said Frisselle, who easily has double the number of motorsport years as those of Shank (with no intended disrespect, Brad).

Pruett's No. 01 TELMEX Lexus-Riley (Riley No. 010, for those keeping tabs), was like a piece of wood on the wrong end of a karate kick.

Acting as a fulcrum, the metal barrier made contact just behind the driver's compartment but forward of the engine compartment and split the car in two, perpendicular to a centerline running from the car's front to rear.

Note that the car didn't bend; it broke.

When the driver compartment stopped, it sat partially in Doran's pit box and only a few feet away from Stevenson Motorsports' No. 57 Pontiac GTO.R - under which a mechanic was working.

(Note: this writer hasn't spoken with the mechanic, but understands he was shaken by the incident.)

"I didn't think twice about it," Doran said, "I just started hauling ass for what was left of the driver's compartment. John Maddox (Roush Yates Ford Engines' point man and former Emergency Medical Technician, to boot) was right with me."

"Scott was kind of rolling his head back and forth, like he was trying to hold it up straight but couldn't, so I reached in and held Scott's helmet with my hands on either side of his helmet."

"John, he was an EMT, was reaching inside, helping to stabilize his head and trying to assess Scott."

"Then all of a sudden, the top of Pruett's car just flew off."

It was Shank and one of his crewmen, Ralph Lohr who, between driving one of the team's haulers, fuels the No. 6 MSR Ford-Riley.

Only two pits away, like Doran and Maddox, Shank and Lohr were at full-tilt boogie, heading for Pruett before anyone had figured out what had actually happened.

"We ripped what was left of the top off so we could get at Scott from above," Shank said. "We didn't really even think about it, we just reacted."

With a straight look into Pruett's eyes, "That's when I saw them flutter, roll up into his head, and, I'm telling you, it scared the (crap) out of me."

Noting that an eternity seems to pass in such circumstances, those who observed the scene from beginning to end said it took between five and six minutes for the track's emergency medical personnel to arrive on the scene.

"And they didn't know what they were doing when they arrived," more than one observer opined. "The first thing the guy started doing was unbuckling Pruett's helmet straps. Doran and Maddox flat-out put a stop to that," said another.

By the time other trained personnel - on loan from Daytona International Speedway - arrived, Pruett had regained consciousness and, using his arms as though doing a pull-up on the framework above - even helped lift himself so that a backboard could be placed behind him for an extraction and a trip to the hospital, from which Pruett was later released.

Back in the paddock and dressed in hospital scrubs, Pruett talked about what happened.

"Not much, because it's all pretty fuzzy as to exactly what happened insofar as what really started the accident. After all, I was in a cloud of dust when it started," Pruett said.

"But I can remember seeing the (barrier) coming straight at me, or, shall I say, when I was heading straight for it."

At each race, a Shank team member is responsible for measuring DP speeds at various points on the track. On Thursday, he was "shooting" the cars as they transitioned from Turn-12 to the front straight.

"He was doing 148 (mph) when he hit," Shank said.

The sun hadn't yet faded as the Telmex transporter undertook a run to Ganassi's Indianapolis shop, where a Riley roller - last used by the No. 02 Target/Telmex team in the 2008 Rolex 24 at Daytona - silently waited for its chance to shine in Sunday's race with Pruett and teammate Memo Rojas, who are fighting for a championship that Pruett has wanted since 2004 - the year he won his last DP championship.

"Nope, I'm not gonna let this one slip away," he said.

More questions than answers remain, presently. They'll be thrashed out over the next few days.

Later.
    DC Williams, exclusively for Motorsport.com

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Memo Rojas , Kevin Doran
Teams Williams , Stevenson Motorsports