Scott Pruett reflects on legendary career ahead of final Rolex 24

Meeting Dan Gurney defined Scott Pruett’s career.

Scott Pruett reflects on legendary career ahead of final Rolex 24
#15 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3, GTD: Jack Hawksworth, Scott Pruett, David Heinemeier Hansson, Dominik Farnbacher
#15 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3: Scott Pruett, Jack Hawksworth
Scott Pruett, 3GT Racing
#15 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3, GTD: Jack Hawksworth, Scott Pruett, David Heinemeier Hansson, Dominik Farnbacher
Scott Pruett, 3GT Racing
Scott Pruett, 3GT Racing
#14 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3: Scott Pruett, Ian James
#15 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3, GTD: Jack Hawksworth, Scott Pruett, David Heinemeier Hansson, Dominik Farnbacher
#15 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3: Jack Hawksworth, Scott Pruett, David Heinemeier Hansson, Dominik Farnbacher
#14 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3: Scott Pruett, Sage Karam
#14 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3: Scott Pruett, Ian James, Sage Karam
#14 3GT Racing Lexus RCF GT3: Scott Pruett, Ian James, Gustavo Menezes, Sage Karam
Scott Pruett, 3GT Racing

He doesn’t remember the venue. Maybe it was Riverside, or perhaps Laguna Seca. Pruett was a young fan looking for an autograph from a major star.

Idolizing Gurney

But Pruett has never forgotten how Gurney made him feel.

“Dan Gurney will forever be my hero,” Pruett said. “As a very young kid at a race, I was walking around there looking to get an autograph, as all young kids do. And he was one of the ones that gave me an autograph as well as spent a little bit of time talking to me. He was just a really nice guy. It really hit me that I wanted to emulate that.”

And over the last half-century, Pruett has strived to follow Gurney’s path as an all-American racer. After a 50-year run, Pruett will retire from racing following this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona. He's well aware that his eminently successful career involved more than just winning races and titles.

“Obviously, being great on the race track, but I also realized that our greatness is also in reflection of how we treat those that support us,” Pruett said. “And the fans have been great all along the way. They are the ones who really make the difference. My family, our fans.  

“I would have to say, with any young drivers, just realizing that there are those bigger things that sometimes you don’t realize. Being able to touch a child’s heart by giving an autograph, by spending time with somebody that is Make A Wish—I’ve done a lot of that stuff. Giving back, however you can, always goes a lot further than you could ever imagine.” 

An impressive racing career

The 57-year-old Roseville, California native started in go-karts. After winning 10 karting titles and two IMSA GTO championships, Pruett added CART to his resume and won three SCCA Trans-Am titles. He won two races with Pat Patrick and competed in four Indianapolis 500s before Cal Wells recruited Pruett for his foray into NASCAR in 2000.

At 40, Pruett became one of the oldest rookies to ever to make his debut in the NASCAR Cup Series. Despite facing the challenges inherent to a start-up team, Pruett qualified for 28 of 34 races that year. Over the next eight seasons, he ran 12 additional races—all but one on the road courses at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen. 

But Pruett continued to shine the brightest in sports cars. He amassed 60 wins and tied Hurley Haywood with a record-five Rolex 24 at Daytona victories en route to five Rolex Grand-Am championships.

“I’m just so blessed that I made 50 years in this sport that I so dearly love,” Pruett said. “I’m just so happy that this sport has given me as much as it has. It’s been an incredible ride and an incredible journey and absolutely wonderful.”

Pruett's impact

His influence was felt by fellow Northern California competitor AJ Allmendinger. Although Allmendinger is 20 years Pruett’s junior, he followed a similar path through go-karts, CART and then NASCAR, while moonlighting in sports cars. In 2012, the 50th anniversary of the Rolex 24, Allmendinger finally topped Pruett in the DP Class for his first and only victory in the iconic race. 

“What Scott Pruett has done for the sport of just auto racing, not NASCAR or IMSA or anything like that; it’s what he’s done in general for the world of racing has been pretty special,” said Allmendinger, who returns to Michael Shank Racing for the Rolex 24 this weekend. “He’s done it all. He’s raced everything—IndyCar, he’s run sports cars, he’s run NASCAR, and he’s been fast in everything that he’s done. 

“More importantly, he’s always been such a great promoter of the sport and great to go talk to if you needed to ask questions. A hard competitor. To see him go out on his own terms and to go our with the biggest race in their sport, I think we’d all like to be able to do that.”

Life outside of the cockpit

As for life outside of the car, Pruett says emphatically that team ownership is not in the cards. While he will never travel to far from racing, over the last decade the oenophile turned his passion into Pruett Vineyards. The fifth-generation farmer is earning awards for his Syrah as quickly as he picked up Rolex Daytonas.

“It’s all balance,” Pruett said. “I’m looking at spending more time with my family. I’m looking to continue on with what I’m doing at the winery. The winery has just taken off. It’s so far past what I can of thought it would go. We’ve now been rated twice as the highest Syrah in the world. And that’s pretty cool.

“I’ve extended my relationship with Lexus for three years, so I feel like I’m going to get my adrenaline fix by going out and driving their performance cars. And then, I don’t know, but those things initially. I’ll be in and around the IMSA races—either working with Lexus, working with IMSA or just hanging out. There are some great races that I want to go to like Elkhart Lake and Watkins Glen where I just dig being there, hanging out. I’m certainly not leaving the sport. I’m just going to be in a different capacity and starting a new chapter.”

Pruett will make his 25th and final start at Daytona International Speedway, the track were Gurney won the first sports car race in 1962—the Daytona 3 Hour Continental. Gurney’s passing on January 14 has elicited an outpouring of memories for the beloved racer. 

“It’s interesting because other people I know, friends, that have had that opportunity to be in and around Dan, many, many years ago, they all say the same thing, what a great guy he was,” Pruett said. “We obviously understand what a great talent he was on so many levels—engineering, design—but also just a great human being.” 

After 50 years behind the wheel, Pruett hasn’t had reflect on how retirement from racing might hit him. Since he was eight-years-old, strapping into a race car has fueled his raison d’être.

“I think it might not even sink in until after the end of the race,” Pruett said. “I think I do. And I’ve thought about it a lot. With Lexus, and everything I do for them, and IMSA, and everything I do for them with Rolex—and I’m an ambassador for Rolex as well. So there’s so many great, wonderful things and I think the thing that’s probably been the most humbling has been the outreach of the fans. I’m getting so many really, truly, wonderful responses that, ‘You’re going to be missed,’ and ‘Gosh, we love you,’ and ‘We’ve been following you since ’85. We’ve been following you since ’87. We saw your Michigan 500 win,’ and on and on and on.

“So, as much as I’m trying to take it all in and really enjoy and savor every moment, I think I’m not really going to know what it’s going to be like until Sunday afternoon about 3 o’clock.” 

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