On Friday, I had the opportunity to speak with road-racing legend Scott Pruett.
He is the driver of the No. 01 Telmex Lexus-Riley Daytona Prototype for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates in the Rolex Grand-Am Series. He also drives stock cars for Ganassi in both the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.
Pruett is the current points leader in the DP class, he won the 24 Hours of Daytona in January, and four of the first six races of the 2008 season. He also won the Brumos Porsche 250 at Daytona last week by the closest margin in Grand-Am history.
Scott has driven in practically every series in North America.
From Rookie of the Year at Indianapolis in 1995 to NASCAR—from winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans to 24 Hours of Daytona—from Champ Car to Trans-Am, Pruett has warmed the seat of many a race car. You can learn more about Scott’s storied career here.
Because of the length of the interview, and thus the length of this transcript, I’ve broken it down into two parts. I will post Part Two in the next couple of days.
Adam Amick: Scott, welcome.
Scott Pruett: It’s good to be here. We’re actually here in Columbus, Ohio at the Good Guys Car Show. So even on my weekends off I’m just a fool for racing and cool cars and stuff. So I’m having a great time.
AA: What kind of cars have you seen up there this weekend?
SP: Well, I’m here with Air Ride. You know, coming to these shows it’s amazing how many hours and expense goes into doing some of these cars. I mean all this stuff is hot rod stuff—a lot of ‘50s and ‘60s, even back in the ‘30s and ‘40s.
You know, the good old muscle that America was built on. You get a lot of these builders like the Ring Brothers to come along and take what was already a beautiful car and make it even that much nicer.
So it’s just amazing. I’m like a kid in a candy shop right now checking out all this cool equipment.
AA: That’s fantastic. I understand that you took a little vacation time with the family this past week. I know every time I see you interviewed it’s always, “Hi to my family back home”. Your family is really important to you. Tell us a little bit about that aspect of thanking your family, saying “hi” to them, and how important that relationship and their support is in your racing career.
SP: You know, it’s amazing. I’ve been very fortunate to do what I’ve done for a long time. You have a lot of really good people around you—mechanics, engineers, and so on. The thing that you typically don’t see is the fact that, you know, the majority of us—girlfriends, wives, kids, they’re the ones who put up with all this crazy stuff that we do.
I mean we [spend] forever hours on the road—endless day after day, weekend after weekend, and they’re the ones that are running the shop, the business at home. I like to joke with my wife that she’s the CEO of...certainly of our household.
It’s just amazing what they do in putting up with what we do, and the fact that all of us love what we do, and don’t get me wrong, but at the same time we also love our families. And a lot of them don’t get the time or just can’t fit into their schedules to travel on the road as much as we do.
It all started out with my little boy, who’s eight now, he was five or four at the time, when I’d say, “Hi to my family at home”, he thought I was talking directly to him. So he’s waving at the TV, and so it just got to be this tradition that we started and just keep on doing it.
AA: So, hi to your family back home, even though you’re up in Columbus. You’re a traveling man.
Let’s talk a little bit about the 2008 Grand-Am series to date. You started off with a bang—another win at the 24 Hours of Daytona. This time with...You’ve got quite the crew in that car: yourself, Memo Rojas, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Dario Franchitti. And you guys went out there once again and just put on a clinic in that Lexus Riley on how to run that car successfully for 24 hours flawlessly.
SP: You know, that is the true test of man and machine. A lot of the listeners don’t realize that the Daytona 24 Hours is the most difficult race in the world. It’s 24 hours, a lot of darkness because it’s held at the end of January, so you’re talking about 13-14 hours of darkness. You’re talking about a fairly short track—three-and-a-half miles, starting sixty to seventy cars.
So it’s tough. I mean, it’s tough on drivers, it’s tough on crews, it’s tough on teams, and it’s tough on everything. The fact that Ganassi has won that race three consecutive years, two consecutive with the 01 car, is nothing short of fantastic. One, it was a record. Two is the fact that when you get a great group of guys together, you’re working almost like one.
You know, with myself, and Juan Pablo, and Dario Franchitti, and Memo Rojas, you just keep it up. I mean, just hour after hour after hour, and what’s crazy is when you get to the 12-hour mark and go, “Dang, we’re only half way there.” It’s just amazing.
And then we have to put up with—like last year was a very difficult race because we saw a lot of rain, we saw dry, we saw fog, and we saw just these ever-changing conditions that you had to adapt for; and everybody just did a fantastic job.
AA: Now you talk about the 24 Hours of Daytona being the most difficult, I’d like to liken that real quick then with the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Why do you feel Daytona is more difficult—is it because of the fact that there is more darkness? What is it that’s more difficult about Daytona than the 24 Hours of Le Mans; more cars, tougher conditions, what?
SP: Yeah, I mean I’ve won that race [Le Mans] as well when I went back with Corvette in 2001. We won that race. And so I’ve done both and had a lot of success at both places.
There’s two things: One, Le Mans is eight miles long, so instead of three-and-a-half miles, the track’s almost three times as long—two-and-a-half without a stretch. And the fact that, you know, you talk about doing that race in June where the amount of darkness is a lot less. So you’re talking about maybe six hours of darkness in comparison to 13 or 14 hours of darkness. And they don’t start as many cars.
So, on a longer track, not as many cars, and less darkness is how I liken the two. Daytona is significantly more difficult, without question.
AA: Alright so let’s talk about the difference, just last week, you made a brilliant pass coming off of NASCAR [turn] four at Daytona in the Brumos Porsche 250 to get Alex Gurney, pass him, and win by eight one-hundreds of a second—the closest finish in Grand-Am history.
Tell us about the difference between the 24 Hours and the 250, not necessarily from the length of race, but from the driving conditions themselves and it as a race.
SP: It’s 100 percent balls-out racing. I mean from the drop of the green flag you are...
We have stuff specifically for the 24 Hours. The brakes have changes—a lot bigger brakes, the defroster. A lot of the things that you need for a 24-hour race or there’s a lot of pieces and parts that are different...that add a lot more weight to the car.
So, one of the things is we lighten the car up a little bit—I mean we’re still within the rules, but we’re running a little bit heavy for the 24. You put sprint brakes on it, you put more aggressive [brake] pads on it so it stops better. The engine is tuned up a bit more because you’re not looking at going 24 hours, you’re looking at going two hours and 45 minutes.
And from the drop of the green flag, you are at it and on it. I mean, knowing this race is going to be over in two hours and 45 minutes, cutting your way through traffic, laying out your two pit stops and how to work it out from a strategy standpoint—when you want to stop, when you want to change drivers…
The whole makeup of that race is 180-degrees from how you approach the 24 Hours.
AA: So you’d maybe liken it to the difference between running a 5k and running a marathon?
SP: Yeah, or an ultra-marathon, and then maybe even more like doing the 100. You know, where it’s all over in a very short period of time and it’s just this big sprint to the checkers.
In the way you approach it and the way the team approaches it, you know Ganassi and everybody at Ganassi do a great job and the way you look at that race it’s just different.
You know the 24 Hours, it’s the 24 Hours—don’t take any chances, don’t look at trying to make a move where you might tear up the car or bang the car or anything. In comparison to the short race, which is get it done…Get it done now! Because that window of opportunity is closing really fast.
AA: Now tell us about that move you made on Alex [Gurney] at the end of the 250 there (Pruett laughs). You were asked this and I don’t recall...it seems like you—not sidestepped the question but went a different way with the answer.
How much did your drafting experience and racing in stock cars lead you to know, maybe that Alex didn’t, that you could pull up alongside him and use a side-draft to help get by him coming off of NASCAR four.
SP: Well there is...Because I’ve done so much racing over the years with Indy cars and NASCARs and sports cars, and you learn. I mean, you learn things. There were a couple of things I learned from.
One: Defensive—I knew that we run the majority of the oval and in the middle of the back straight we make a left-right-right-left and we call it the, “Bus Stop”. And I knew getting through there that I had to be within just a couple lengths behind him if I was even going to get that opportunity.
He and their team had set the car up where they ran more downforce—which means they were quicker through the infield and slower on the straight. We had just the opposite where we had less downforce and less drag, where we were faster on the straight and slower on the infield. So it’s just 180 degrees.
So I knew going through the Bus Stop that I needed to be on top of him. So I just pulled a “Hail Mary” through the Bus Stop and I thought, “You know it’s never over ‘till it’s over so let’s see if we can make something happen.” And then we came out of there and we were going through NASCAR three into NASCAR four, and I was coming up behind him at a pretty high rate.
Keep an eye out for Part Two of my conversation with Grand-Am and NASCAR driver Scott Pruett here on Bleacher Report.