When the checkered flag flies on the Rolex 24 at Daytona on Sunday afternoon, it will also mark the end of a career for one of the most versatile racers in the last 30 years.
Scott Pruett has won some of racing’s biggest events, including a class win at the 2001 24 Hours of Le Mans. He was co-rookie of the year at the Indianapolis 500, and won the prestigious Michigan 500 back in 1995 driving for Patrick Racing’s CART team.
Pruett, who will look for his record sixth win in the Daytona endurance race, has driven in several racing disciplines. Today, we take a look back at his career in American open-wheel racing.
In 1988, the Sacramento, California native made his IndyCar debut for Dick Simon Racing on the streets of Long Beach, finishing 18th. After switching to Machinists Union Racing, he made two more starts and recorded a best finish of 16th at the Meadowlands Grand Prix that year. The next season, Pruett entered the series as a full-time, this time with TrueSports.
Despite missing the race at Long Beach, Pruett finished a stellar eighth in the standings, posting a runner-up result at Detroit and sharing Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year with Bernard Jourdain as the highlights of his season.
Efforts to build upon the solid rookie season were halted after a violent testing crash in West Palm Beach, Florida. Pruett did make an appearance as an analyst on ESPN’s telecast of the Vancouver Grand Prix, though he would mention how difficult it was to sit on the sidelines that 1990 season.
He bounced back in 1991 with conviction, winning the season-opening International Race of Champions event at Daytona. That year also marked his return to IndyCar competition, finishing tenth in points. He amassed career-best finishes of fourth at Toronto and Mid-Ohio.
After finishing 11th in points with two top-five finishes in 1992, the driver would leave full-time IndyCar racing and TrueSports became part of Rahal-Hogan Racing.
After a part-time season highlighted by seventh-place finishes at Phoenix and Long Beach with ProFormance Motorsports, Pruett refrained from driving in the series during 1994 to become a test driver for Firestone, as the tire manufacturer looked to end a 20-year absence from IndyCar Racing.
Partnered with Patrick Racing, Pruett and Firestone made their return to IndyCar. The driver started his return with five straight top ten finishes, and was in contention to win the Indianapolis 500 until a crash with 16 laps to go ended his day.
He was in second place at the time, nipping on the heels of leader Scott Goodyear.
In July, Pruett finally got his time in the spotlight. After starting 12th in his Lola-Ford/Cosworth machine, the California native led 58 laps (including the last 20) and edged Al Unser Jr. at the finish line by .056 seconds to win his first IndyCar race at Michigan International Speedway.
The 1995 season would also see Pruett finish a career-best seventh in the CART standings. Despite not winning a race in 1996, Pruett did earn his first career IndyCar pole, leading the field to green at the Detroit Grand Prix in June. He also had podium finishes at Rio, Surfer’s Paradise and Laguna Seca.
In 1997, the Patrick Racing driver would find his way back to victory lane in the second race of the season at Surfers Paradise in Australia, leading the last 16 laps. The victory would prove to be the last of Pruett’s open-wheel career.
After winning poles at Portland and Michigan that year, as well as at the 1998 season finale in Fontana, the two parted ways and Pruett signed on with Arciero-Wells Racing. The highlight of his 1999 season was a pole in what proved to be the last race of his open-wheel career.
The pole was also Toyota’s first as an engine manufacturer in the series.
Pruett left for NASCAR in 2000 and would return full-time to sports cars the following year. In 2002, Pruett was added to the CART broadcast team for Speed Channel as a color analyst and continued in that role in 2003.
Since then his time has been spent in sports cars, and in January 2017, Pruett was named to America’s Motorsports Hall of Fame.
It is important to celebrate the open-wheel career of Scott Pruett. From developing the framework for which Firestone is still using today in modern IndyCar to his triumphs and near-misses in the CART days, Pruett’s accomplishments in open-wheel racing are undoubtedly a major part of his legacy as one of the most decorated racers in recent memory.