5 Minutes with Scott Pruett
Scott Pruett has always had a need for speed. The former racecar driver recently retired, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting behind the wheel of cool cars and going fast. Now an ambassador for the Lexus and Rolex brands, Pruett can also be seen zooming around in car commercials.
“I’m that guy you see on commercials that say, ‘Do not attempt, professional driver on a closed course!” Pruett said. “I have lived my last 50 years getting that wonderful adrenaline fix from driving race cars, so this is how I still get that rush.”
Pruett started racing when he was eight years old and never stopped, going on to compete in NASCAR, CART, IMSA, Grand-Am and Trans-Am racing until he retired in 2018. “What’s funny is I’m busier now than before I retired!” Pruett said.
We got Pruett to slow down long enough to talk about his incredible racing career, his craziest crash and why he (sometimes) enjoys the slow pace of winemaking.
Goodguys Gazette: You’re most well-known for your sportscar racing, but you’ve kind of done it all. Which type of racing is your favorite?
Scott Pruett: That’s a difficult question because they’re all so different! The best way I can describe it is, when you’re doing Indy car, there’s nothing faster. It’s just wicked fast. Even though I did 10 years in Indy, the majority of my career was in sports cars, so I think that’s what people will remember me for. That’s where I have the most wins, the most Hall of Fames and records. But it’s hard to decide!
GG: If racing hadn’t been in the cards for you, what kind of career do you think you would have pursued?
Pruett: I would have loved to be a fighter pilot. People say that all fighter pilots want to be racecar drivers, and all racecar drivers want to be fighter pilots. We love going fast and being on the edge. I love living there. I think being an adrenaline junkie, [being a fighter pilot] would have been a perfect alternative to racing. I also considered the military. I love this country and respect the people who give us our freedoms and lay down their lives for us.
GG: What’s the scariest thing about being a professional racecar driver?
Pruett: I never focused on anything that scared me, but the unfortunate reality is that you can be killed in racing. I have a number of friends who have been killed in races. The good news is that it isn’t as dangerous as it was 30 years ago, or even 20 or 10 years ago. I have broken so many bones over the years that it’s crazy. But you can’t really think about that. If you think of the danger and you’re scared, you won’t throw it all out there on the line.
GG: What’s the scariest crash you’ve ever witnessed?
Pruett: It was one I was actually involved in. I was in Florida and had a brake failure. I hit the cement barrier head-on and was going a little over 100mph on impact. I broke my knees and back and they had to cut me out of my Indy car. I remember everything, too, because I didn’t hit my head. That was in March 1990. I was in the hospital three weeks and my only focus was getting right back in the racecar. I was in a wheelchair for three months, and then on crutches for a few more. By October, I was back in the car, against my doctor’s orders. My doctor was not happy.
GG: You are known for saying your catchphrase, ‘Hi to my family at home’ during interviews. How did that come about?
Pruett: I moved my wife – who was eight months pregnant at the time – to Charlotte, North Carolina, so I could do NASCAR. I had an eight-year-old and a two-year-old too, and my two-year-old used to think that Daddy was inside the TV set, so she’d go up and touch the screen. So, my wife started telling me, ‘Say hi to your kids.’ That’s how it all started. Pro athletes are on the road a lot and away from our families all the time. I’m blessed to have an incredible wife and family who supported me all along the way. So, I just made that my tradition. And, believe me, if I didn’t say it, I would hear about it when I got home!
GG: A lot of people don’t know that you love hot rods, too. What draws you to the hot rodding world?
Pruett: I’m an old-school hot rod guy. I love going to car shows. I have a ’60 Caddy convertible, and a ’67 VW van that is completely redone. I have a ’44 Army Jeep Willys and a 1972 Toyota Hilux pickup that I just bought. I’m an old-school guy and have never really been into exotic cars. I recently sold my ’50 full custom Buick Woodie (seen below) that I built from the ground up with my friends. I sold it at Pebble Beach last year because I was too scared to drive it! There’s something really cool about the car culture. I just love cars in general.
GG: Now that you’re ‘retired’ what do you do to fill your time?
Pruett: I have transitioned to being an ambassador for Lexus. I host all the Lexus Performance Driving Schools and I do testing for some of the new prototype Lexus cars. I give rides in their performance vehicles. I’m also an ambassador for Rolex Watch, since I’ve won the Rolex 24 at Daytona. I also have a successful winery called Pruett Vineyards, which we started from scratch. We planted the plants and I do all the wine-making. It’s gone on to produce continuously world-class wines.
GG: Wine making is far removed from the excitement of the racetrack. How did you get started in that?
Pruett: Racing and wine making are polar opposites. Everything in racing comes down to a fraction of a second, where as the wine business takes you years. It took a while for me to learn the patience. But I grew up on a ranch and farm, and I love working outside. I first planted in 2007, and the first officially released vintage was 2010, which didn’t start selling until 2012.
GG: Tell us more about your career as a driver for commercials. Is that job as fun as it looks?
Pruett: Oh, yeah! It’s a natural fit. I know the cars, I know the culture. They used to want to use me in commercials a lot in the past, but I was racing all the time and couldn’t do it. Last week I was shooting a commercial for Lexus, and I’m doing a commercial for Supra next week. It’s so fun. You get to drive down closed-down city streets, and some you do on the track. You get to go really fast, slide through turns, do figure 8s. It’s a blast!
GG: What’s next for you?
Pruett: I’m like a bad penny; I turn up everywhere! I’m going to be hosting the Lexus Performance Driving School in Laguna Seca, and I’ll be back for the Rolex Monterey Historic Weekend, doing events for Lexus and Rolex. You’ll also be seeing me in more Toyota and Lexus commercials soon. I have no problem keeping busy!