After five decades of racing, driver Scott Pruett is getting his adrenaline fix in a different way: working for Lexus. But he also has another pursuit, one he’s pursued since 2006. TheDetroitBureau.com recently caught up with this racing legend on a rainy Saturday at the 2021 Hilton Head Concours d’Elegance.
TDB: How did you get involved with Lexus?
SP: Well, I’ve driven for almost every manufacturer over the years. The majority of my career was with Ford. Most recently, did a lot of testing and development and racing with the current generation Ford GT, factory BMW, factory Jaguar, factory Nissan, Corvette, Cadillac.
You know, it’s hard to retire, because I kept winning and being one of the fastest guys on track. And so I figured, if I could make it to 50 years, then that would be my last year. And if I could walk out on my terms, even better and both of those things happened.
So I quit driving after 50 years, and been inducted to the Hall of Fame and won more Rolexes anybody else.
So I’m an ambassador for Lexus and an ambassador for Rolex watch. But I was incredibly worried about how I was going to keep my adrenaline fix. I’ve lived my life on adrenaline, on living on the edge. And so at the time, I purposely left Ford and went to back to Lexus, where I had been involved from 2003 through 2010. I love the brand. I love the guy at the top, Akio Toyoda. He’s very passionate. He’s a racecar driver himself. He’s passionate about the brand and where it’s going.
And then, being intimately involved in helping develop the new LC, the LC convertible and the IS has been that perfect segue way for me to stay and get my adrenaline fix. I host all the Lexus performance driving schools, and I’m still giving rides at Daytona and in production Lexuses at 170 miles an hour. So, it’s been a great transition for me.
TDB: As a production car. What surprises you most about the LC?
SP: Well, when people look at the LC, they have to remember I helped develop the current generation. I started testing with the engineers five years ago, working on ride control. And what people don’t realize is that the steering all needs to be programmed because it’s electric steering; the throttle is all fly-by-wire and so all that feel has to be programmed in. Then you look at things like rigidity. You take the top off, rigidity is a big issue. You look at ride control and all the years of racing.
We were able to continually develop better technology for shock development, where it’s not about the springs, it’s about the shock being able to keep that tire on the ground. Sebring is one of the absolute worst, roughest tracks in the world, and if we could get around there by developing that shock package, that philosophy is something we carried forward. So, you have a good feel, good firmness with the road, but also a great ride quality as well. So, bringing all that together from my years of racing to help development of new production cars has been great for me and great for Lexus.
TDB: Looking back at your career. Is there one race one moment that stands out to you good or bad?
SP: There’s so many, you know, realizing that I raced 50 years. I started racing when I was eight years old, retired 2018. You know, I won Rolex 24 10 times in class, five times overall. Won Le Mans. Won multiple times in IndyCar, sports cars, one of the winningest drivers ever in sports cars. And you know, winning at Le Mans is fantastic. Winning at the Rolex 24, fantastic; winning at Watkins Glen, Elkhart Lake, Surfers Paradise down in Australia. So there’s not one moment. I’m shocked where 50 years went so fast. I look back going, where did 50 years of racing go? Ten years in IndyCar, a couple years NASCAR, the rest in sports cars.
And I think more than anything else, it’s having that long of a career racing against all the all those great drivers, that old gen when I was just a young kid: Bob Wallach, Hurley Haywood; Danny Sullivan, Mario Andretti, Al Unser Sr. Even on the IROC side, which was Invitational, you raced against Dale Sr., Waltrip, and those great iconic NASCAR guys. And then to my IndyCar career towards the end, you’ve got the Scott Dixons, Castroneves and Tony Kanaan and then back to sports cars with Tom Christiansen and all those — even Alonzo coming over. Everybody wants to be part of the Rolex 24. So, they come and you’re racing against Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR. So, for me, the most memorable is all of these great drivers I got to race against.
TDB: Was retiring after 50 years predetermined in your mind?
SP: It was. One, I never thought I’d go that far. I mean, quite honestly, I drove for the factory Cadillac team in 2016 at Sebring, and I posted the fastest lap of the race at 56 years old. I was contracted to Chip Ganassi on a 1-year contract — for 14 years. We won five championships and 40 races. So, when you’re still winning, and you’re faster than your teammate that’s 20 years younger than you are, it’s hard to retire at that point. But I also knew that the sport has given me so much. Yeah, it’s taken a lot. I’ve broken a lot; shattered my ankles, broke my knees, broke my back, shoulders, ribs, and more concussions than I can remember. I mean, it’s been a tough ride. But I loved every minute of it.
TDB: One of the things retired professional drivers say is that the difference between a young driver and an older driver is that as you get older, you think too much. Did you find that to be a challenge?
SP: I didn’t because I always considered myself a student of the sport. Even in my last race; a student of the sport. I’m that guy who showed up first thing in the morning and was last one out the door at the end of the day. Actually, Ganassi gave me a key to the trailer because I’d beat the crew there in the morning. But I loved it. I savored it. And I think the thing that you can draw from is all those years of experience — but you still gotta be fast. When you look at Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR, and sports cars, globally, there’s maybe 60 good paying jobs. And globally, everybody wants your job. And so, it’s dog-eat-dog, it’s cutthroat, it’s a really ugly business. And I got paid 50 years for doing it. Well, maybe not early on. I went pro when I was about 15-to-16 years old. But I got paid my whole career.
TDB: Were you involved with any Gazoo Racing efforts for Le Mans or anything like that?
SP: Not on the prototype side; I was heavily involved with Lexus at that point. So just on a Toyota side on Indy cars and had a lot of success.
TDB: So a change of subject; what’s your daily driver?
SP: Well, I own a vineyard and winery, so I spend a lot of time in my Tacoma pickup. My car’s a Lexus GS-F. It’s a 10th anniversary GS-F, so it’s a matte finish; a beautiful car. I love what Lexus does. We’ve got a lot of great cars coming and it’s fun to be part of the family.
TDB: Now, a lot of people would say, “look, he’s working for Lexus. Of course, he likes Lexus.” When you say, “I like it,” what do you particularly like about it?
SP: Well, I had multiple contract options in front of me when I retired because of all my successes over the years. I was in a very fortunate position where it wasn’t the only option in town, I had multiple options. And so I chose Lexus, and it all stems from Akio Toyoda because of his passion for driving. And he’s not going anywhere. His name is on the front of the building.
And so with that passion, he’s put the right people in place to do an incredible job. And one of those people is now the head of Lexus global, Koji Sato, a very dynamic guy, and a very dear friend. His philosophy is very much the same way. They call it Driver Signature. So, Akio has a directive for all his people. Our cars have got to be fun to drive, period. That’s his directive across the board for all his people. And it’s not about being the ultimate, it’s not about money. It’s about making cars that are fun to drive and they do a great job, not just fun to drive.
You know, one of the things in Lexus racing that we got frustrated with is that we’d say is they are always over engineered. So we wanted something yesterday, and it wouldn’t come until a month from now because they wanted to work and work and work and work, so it was absolutely reliable, whatever piece or part they gave us. And that’s the same thing with their cars. I don’t know that anybody would say that they have a more reliable car — if they’ve owned a Lexus — than a Lexus. And if they don’t, then a dealer is the first one to help get taken care of. And that’s truth. That’s not me just trying to sell on it. That’s the reality of the brand.
TDB: You mentioned earlier that you’re now making wine. How did this start?
SP: So, I grew up on a farm; my great grandfather was a farmer. My grandfather was a farmer. My dad was a farmer. I love that whole element of working in dirt, being outside. We’re in northern California, in the heart of wine country, about an hour outside of Napa. Our area is a little bit warmer, so we grow Syrah, and I didn’t want to just put my name on it. I wanted to make the wine. So, we did all the soil research, all the climate research, and at the same time I had a mentor, a very good Napa Valley wine maker who then turned into my consultant. And lo and behold, our very first release, a 2010 Vintage that came out in 2012, Wine Spectator rated all three varieties at 93 points. 2012 Vintage was the highest rated in the world at 96 points, 95 points, 94 points and we’ve been off and running ever since.
TDB: What kind of volume do you do?
SP: Very small. We do 600 cases a year, which is a micro boutique. We’re only direct to consumer, so we can keep the price down. We don’t make that much. I touch every bottle. It’s my passion for creating great wine and driving great cars and wearing great watches.
TDB: There are other racecar drivers, as you mentioned, who have licensed their name. Why not just take the easy way out and do it do that?
SP: I love the passion of creating; the artisan side of creating small, intimate, very high-end wine. And I’m not just saying it’s high end, but having Wine Spectator endorse us with their ratings has been absolutely fantastic. And you know, people said, “Well, you’re a renaissance guy, going from racing into wine and all this other stuff.” For me, it’s just the passion of doing what I love to do. I love driving race cars. I love driving and developing cars. And I love creating and making wines.