Auburn’s Scott Pruett – the winningest driver in North American sports car racing history – made an extended pit stop at home this week before his only Northern California race.
“This is as close as we get to local,” Pruett said of this weekend’s race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. “We’ll have lots of friends and family out to watch the race.”
Pruett and teammate Memo Rojas enter Sunday’s Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix with the car to beat. They won back-to-back races in their No. 01 Prototype for Chip Ganassi Racing: the 12 Hours of Sebring followed by the Long Beach Grand Prix’s sports car showcase.
A seven-time Grand-Am champion, Pruett now races in the inaugural Tudor United SportsCar Championship series. Sunday’s Grand Prix will be broadcast on FS1.
As its name implies, Tudor United brought together sports car racing’s two competing series: Grand Am’s Rolex Sports Car Series and American LeMans (ALMS). The merger strengthened the overall sports car circuit, Pruett said, noting 56 cars entered Sunday’s race.
“This was the absolute best thing that could happen for sports car racing as we look into the future,” Pruett said. “2014 is our transition year, trying to blend two groups together. It’s a little difficult for the organization, trying to find balance and parity. But it’s working. There’s a lot of momentum, a lot of excitement, including for me personally.”
Competing series caused headaches for team owners, manufacturers and sponsors, Pruett said.
“For drivers, it’s easy – we’re going racing,” Pruett said. “But manufacturers? There was paralysis by analysis; they didn’t do anything. They had been on the fence. But now with one place to be, they want to come racing.”
A merger worked for open-wheel racing, he said.
“Over the last 10 years, the situation (for sports car racing) was very similar to IndyCar,” Pruett said. “We had CART and IRL. Neither (series) was really successful, so they came together into one series.
“It’s the same thing in the sports car world, but a little bit different. NASCAR purchased ALMS and brought it together with Grand Am to form the Tudor United series. Tudor (the new sponsor) is a brand of Rolex, so they kept that part, too.”
Pruett’s team has gone through evolution, too.
“We switched from BMW to Ford,” he said. “I started with Ford many, many years ago. The first time I raced Sebring in 1969 was for Ford.”
Pruett, who recently turned 54, is proud of his Sebring victory in March; he teamed with Rojas and Marino Franchitti in the 12-hour endurance race.
“I hadn’t raced there since 1988,” Pruett said. “I didn’t think I’d ever have the chance to win it overall. That’s one (victory) you’d always like to have.”
When not racing, Pruett concentrates on his wine business. (Read more about Pruett Vineyard in Sunday’s Feast section.)
Said Pruett: “Between racing and wine stuff, it’s been an incredible ride, for sure.”