Pruett's adjustment period longer than he expected

On Motor Sports

June 20, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Turn 1 at Portland International Raceway has created problems at the start of the Budweiser GI Joe's 200 before, but last year CART driver Scott Pruett got through the turn -- at the start and throughout the race -- to come home second behind eventual series champion Alex Zanardi.

Now, the inside of the turn has been moved from five to 10 feet, allowing drivers much more room as they enter.

"I don't know if the fans are going to like it, because there isn't going to be quite as much excitement," Pruett said as he prepared for today's 4 p.m. race. "But the drivers are sure going to like it."

Even though Pruett liked the track before, he's happy for any little thing that might help him, because this has not been the season he expected.

A year ago, he produced his best career finish (sixth) in the season standings. Then he moved to the Arciero-Wells Racing team and expected to do even better. But team engineers came and went like disposable parts. Now, going into this eighth race of the season, Pruett is working with his third engineer, John Dick, and the two are just now feeling comfortable with each other.

"Probably, the most important relationship there is in racing, in all forms of racing, is the one you have with the race engineer," Pruett said. "I think we're just about at the point where we're ready to turn the corner."

While Pruett has been working to right his race team, he has also been working with his wife, Judy, on a children's book, "12 Little Race Cars."

"Judy and I happened to be clowning around one rainy day," Pruett said. "Twelve little race cars, 10 little race cars, nine little race cars, putting a little rhyme theme together. Judy is the one that took the ball and ran with it. She said, `I want to make a book out of it.' I said, `Great. I don't have the time. My first priority is racing, but if you'd like to, let's do it.' "

And so they did. They found an illustrator and self-published. The book will be released this weekend at the Portland race. Pruett is hoping both he and the book do well.

Fearful turns

Portland isn't the only track with a bad turn or two. Winston Cup driver Ken Schrader describes the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway tri-oval this way: "three straightaways of sheer boredom and three turns of sheer fear."

Classy retirement

Damon Hill, who announced that he will retire at the end of this season, won the F-1 title in 1996. But the 38-year-old was almost always underestimated because 17 of 22 victories in his six-year career came with the great Williams team. Hill, whose father was the renowned Graham Hill, said, however, he is proud of his career, and then did a very un-Formula-One like thing. In F-1, drivers' egos are such that they seldom think anyone but themselves is responsible for their success. Hill graciously thanked everyone from the caterers and fans to the team owners for making his success possible.

Recovering fast

On May 30, Steve Fried's heart stopped beating, his lungs collapsed and he stopped breathing.

He had been hit by a race car on pit road at the Indianapolis 500, was thrown in the air and fell, face first, on the concrete.

Fried, the crew chief for driver Robby McGehee, suffered a broken skull, right eye socket, jaw, left shoulder, several ribs and bones in his ears. He also injured his brain.

Last Sunday, he was released from the hospital. Today, he is in physical therapy, preparing to return to the IRL.

"To have seen him lying there on pit lane, and knowing how bad he was hurt, it is unbelievable to me that he has been released," team leader David Conti said.

Fried, who remains on a liquid diet, is focusing on regaining his strength and balance.

Hawaiian Super Prix

Mauricio Gugelmin, the first Champ Car driver to turn hot laps in Hawaii, got his car up to 190 mph in a test lap.

The $10 million race will pay a motor sports-record $5 million to the winner of the invitational, which will feature the top 12 drivers from the CART series standings as well as four others selected by promoters.

But isn't it baffling that former CART champions Jacques Villeneuve and Alex Zanardi, who both now compete in F-1, aren't being invited?

Seniors star

The Senior's Championship Racing Association inaugural event kicks off with a 30-minute race June 29 in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Included in the field will be retired drivers who have won F-1, CART, NASCAR, IMSA or FIA events. They will be driving identically prepared Ford Mustangs.

It sounds like a fun series, and judging by the names of some of the competitors, it should have some good racing, too.

Among the entries: Paul Newman, who has won several Sports Car Club of America titles, Jack Brabham, Al Unser, Rodger Ward, Gordon Johncock, Bobby Allison, Lloyd Ruby, former Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner and actor Perry King.

Pub Date: 6/20/99

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