Driver Counseling 101

No matter what your calling in life, the career choices you make have a lot to do with the success you find. That move you made five years ago to take a higher-paying job with a new company may have sounded great at the start… but the company's implosion months later may have derailed your career for a long time.

That rule holds true whether you're a lawyer, engineer, or a race driver. As the business of motorsports has grown the past 10 years, it's become apparent that a driver's career choices are maybe the most important factor in his long-term success.

Last weekend's Rolex 24 sports-car event at Daytona provided a couple of case studies that should be instructive. You'll want to take notes… because the final in this class can be deadly.

Best case: Scott Pruett
Scott is one of the country's best open-wheel racers… a strong contender in CART Champ Cars for several seasons, after winning two Trans Am titles, and scoring plenty of success in IMSA.

I was at Road America a couple of years ago when Scott gave up his ride with Pat Patrick's CART team, one of the best on the tour, to take over the top seat with Cal Wells' PPI team… which was getting set to jump to Toyota for its motor supply.

At that time, Toyota was in desperate need of a good development team. Scott had just gotten the Patrick team to a level where they were a regular contender.

My question was, why give that up to spend a couple of seasons mucking around in the back of the pack with an uncompetitive engine.

His reply: the new deal, three years, if I recall, would likely be his last… and he thought his strengths were particularly suited to developing the Toyota package.

About a year later, Scott and I were talking again about his career… this time at Lowe's Motor Speedway, where team owner Wells had just announced his Winston Cup plans, with his first team to be captained by Mr. Pruett.

Again, the question: Why jump into a difficult situation at this point in his career?

Scott admitted he liked the challenge, and thought he would be able to help the team develop nicely.

In 2000, the new 32 Tide team struggled mightily. Scott even admitted that at some tracks he was totally lost.

Anyone who's followed his career would have bet, though, that 2001 would have seen marked improvement. Pruett is too good a driver, and too good a person, to have thought otherwise.

Only one problem. Those feet you see sticking out from under the PPI team bus belong now to Scott. He was ditched over the winter in favor of Ricky Craven.

So now the question: What's next for Scott Pruett?

I thought we were closer to finding the answer at the Rolex last weekend, when he and another Wells castoff, Anthony Lazzaro, were nominated to join Paul Gentilozzi's Saleen team in tackling the 24-hour grind in the very-competitive GTS category.

Only one problem. Gentilozzi had hit a wall with the car during practice, and the repairs apparently didn't take. The No. 5 car lasted just a short time in the event, keeping Pruett and Lazzaro behind the pit wall.

There have been some rumblings that Scott might have a ride for the Indy 500, assuming Wells will let him out of his contract, but that remains to be seen. Word is that Wells may want Pruett under contract so that he can use him during the Winston Cup road races at Watkins Glen and Sears Point.

Whether you’re looking at a young driver such as Jason Leffler – who left Joe Gibbs racing recently to take a shot at Winston Cup with an unproven Chip Ganassi team – or a proven veteran such as Pruett, it’s never just talent or experience that determines a driver’s success.

As we’ve seen with Pruett, it’s often just a case of making the right career decisions.

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