Pruett Earns Well-Deserved Toast to Fantastic Career after Final Race in Rolex 24
Monday, January 29, 2018
As the last two laps ran in the weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, one of the race’s greatest victors, Scott Pruett, 57, leaned on his team’s pit wall taking in the emotions of his last competitive checkered flag.
 
As his team’s No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F Lexus crossed the line, the five-time Rolex 24 overall winner offered the waiting photographers a thumbs up photo for the record books, turned back to embrace his team owner Paul Gentilozzi, shake hands with a long line of crew and sponsors crowding the pit, then he jumped over the wall, took his wife Judy’s hand and helped her over too.
 
The couple posed together for a photograph with the famous Daytona International Speedway finish line in the background then they shared a long kiss and embrace.
 
More than 30 of the couple’s family and closest friends stood in the pits – offering their support and love for one of racing’s best as he stepped away from the sport after an illustrious and accomplished 50-year career.
In the weeks, days and even hours leading up to Pruett’s final start he maintained that he was in a good place with his decision to retire. And as the laps went by he seemed very much at peace. He sure didn’t leave anything on the table.
 
And his mastery of this great and grueling race will be something that defines his career. His talent, grace, insight and sense of humor will also define his decades-long time contributing to the sport.
 
“I'm not leaving, but I certainly am going to open up a new chapter,’’ Pruett said Sundayafternoon. “And I think last night I did all my driving, the majority of my driving was from about 8 o’clock last night to about 7 o’clock this morning, with maybe one or two out‑of‑the‑cars in between.
 
“So I'll remember the darkness of Daytona and certainly all the craziness that happens at nighttime, along with a little rain. And those are all great, fond, wonderful memories.”
 
And so many others will have the wonderful memories of Pruett.
 
“It’s motivating for me to see the impact he’s had on all the people, in Daytona especially,’’ his Lexus co-driver Jack Hawksworth said.
 
It’s been great working with him and knowing all the success he’s had at this circuit and to be a part of the end of his show, if you will, in racing.’’
 
His former Ganassi team manager Mike Hull likened Pruett to the great Dan Gurney, who passed away two weeks ago. Hull praised Pruett’s willingness and ability to solve problems in different and more innovative ways than what people may be accustomed to – to succeed beyond the normal way of doing things.
 
The mindset and physical talent resulted in 41 sports car victories driving for the Ganassi team alone – almost a quarter of Ganassi’s 200-win total in major league auto racing.
 
 “Scott Pruett is a driver and consummate professional,’’ Hull said. “He elevates the entire team in the process of what he does. He makes every person on the team better.
 
“He turned on the lights and turned off the lights when he showed up to work at Chip Ganassi Racing for the entire time he was with us. But he did more than that. He realized that in sports car racing, with a parallel teammate, your teammate had to carry 50 percent of the load so what he did was mentor every teammate that he had to make them much better than they were when they arrived at CGR. 
 
“He worked with the guys, the engineers, team manager, the person who worked on the front of his race car. He worked with each person, not criticizing each person and that’s a large difference. That’s his brand.”
 
And Pruett was a great mentor to not only his teammates but also to other young talents making their way. His achievements and the significance of his retirement is not lost on those hoping to follow in Pruett’s winning footsteps.
 
“Scott Pruett is, especially in his GRAND-AM version, he was the man,’’ said Penske Racing sports car driver Dane Cameron. “He was the benchmark for prototype for a number of years, just seemed like you couldn’t stop him and the Ganassi crew combination. He really set the bar there for a lot of us and you really had to have it together to beat him.
 
“And it was really fun. We shared his last prototype start at Sebring in 2016, really cool to share a car and so impressed with his intensity and attention to detail. I really feel like I learned a lot from him that weekend.
 
“Competing against him it was easy to say, ‘They’re so strong because it’s Ganassi.’ You just assume everything’s the best. But then when you see him up close and see the focus he has on the details and how hard he works on everything. It’s not that simple.
 
“I’m convinced he was the driving force behind that program for so many years and made it successful. Think of the success he’s had in this race and so many different categories from IMSA cars to Trans Am to IndyCars to NASCAR to sports cars and how the cars have evolved over the 50 years he’s been racing and he’s still so competitive and run up front his entire career.
 
“It’s amazing. He should be proud. It’ll be a long time I think before anyone comes close to what he’s achieved.’’
 
Pruett’s versatility is absolutely something that defines him. He raced in sports cars, NASCAR, Indy cars and even won races against the very best in IROC (International Race of Champions) including an amazing victory against the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Bill Elliott, Al Unser and Al Unser Jr. on the Daytona high banks.
 
And his five sports car championships and Rolex 24 trophy hoists – 10 in all when counting class victories -- will remain one of the most impressive feats in modern day racing.
 
Pruett won four of his five Rolex 24 races with Ganassi, who appropriately collected a memorable 200th win in Pruett’s final go. The two men have great respect for one another and Ganassi has always spoken about the impact Pruett made on his team.
 
“I think he was just totally committed to the sport,’’ Ganassi said. “He was all in from an early age about racing and he wasn’t worth billions of dollars, he just persevered as a driver for many years.
 
“We’re all better people to have experienced his career in our lifetime.’’
 
That would seem to be the popular sentiment – especially in Daytona Beach this weekend.
 
The smile never left Pruett’s face over the course of the Rolex 24 race week and the huge crowd gathered at his car to give him a send-off before the green flag on Saturday was equally as large and enthusiastic as the one that awaited him when he watched his final checkered flag wave Sunday.
 
As Pruett spoke to reporters in the final hours of the Rolex race, he offered his trademark “Hi to my family at home,’’ greeting and insisted that with all the activity surrounding his last start and the preparation for the longest race of the year, he really didn’t feel the magnitude of his decision.
 
“I think it's going to be in a week or two it's going to hit, especially as we look towards going to the test at Sebring and the race at Sebring -- and I won't be packing my bags and going,’’ Pruett said.
 
“But the first thing is, more than anything else, just toast this incredible career with my wife and family and just look back and take a moment to reflect on just how wonderful. And like I said, the good Lord's blessed me with an incredible career doing all this great stuff -- and just taking a moment to savor that. Because typically I'm that guy with my head down just going forward, never looking back. Afraid it might catch up to me. 
 
“Now it's kind of caught up to me, and I might like to sit on the porch, have a glass of wine and look back a little bit.”
 
Cheers to you, Scott.

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