Scott Pruett would like to forget what happened to him in the Long Beach Grand Prix, but he will never forget what happened to him later that week.
Pruett, three days after driving the Truesports Indy car on the streets of Long Beach, was at the controls of the USS Birmingham, a 688 class U.S. Navy nuclear attack submarine in deep-water maneuvers off the shores of Hawaii.
"It was an amazing experience, an amazing piece of equipment," Pruett said of his six-hour adventure. "The biggest thing for me was that I couldn't see where I was going. I'm used to driving where I can see. In the sub, you drive by gauges and sonar with a sophisticated tracking system that lets you know what's going on."
Pruett took the sub through a variety of tactical moves, including diving, left-hand banks, right-hand banks, some at half speed, some at flank speed.
"I got a kick out of looking through the periscope, too, because then I could see where I was going. They also let me fire off a water slug in a simulated torpedo launch," he said. "It was like being in 'The Hunt for Red October.'
"The most excitement was when they did an emergency blow and we shot up top like a cork. One minute we were about 400 feet underwater, and before I knew it we're back on the surface. I was just an innocent bystander for that, but it was wild. It had the same feeling as being in a steep climb in an airplane."
Pruett drives at speeds of 230 m.p.h. in his Chevy-powered Indy car compared to the 20-plus knots of the Birmingham, but he found many similarities between the 1,550-pound race car and the 6,900-ton submarine.
"I don't really know how fast we were going because all they'll say is the speed is 'something over 20 knots (23 m.p.h.)' but both the race car and the sub are extremely sophisticated machines built for speed and durability. I had a lot more room on the sub than in a cramped race car, but they made me wear a seat belt just the same.
"One thing that impressed me was the teamwork on the crew. They have 139 crew members and they worked together like a clock. The relationship between the captain (Commander J. B. Cassias) and the crew is a lot like the crew chief (Dennis Swan) and the mechanics on my Truesports team."
The offer to be aboard the submarine came about after Pruett, Danny Sullivan and TV announcer Paul Page entertained troops last year aboard the USS Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier, in the Mediterranean Sea.
"Paul kept in contact with the Navy and told them we'd like to try a submarine and the first thing I knew the deal was put together for me to go. Paul had to miss out because of an assignment."
For his part, Pruett spoke to the crew and signed autographs when the sub was above water.
"It was an unforgettable experience, but right now all I can think about is getting started for the 500 at Indianapolis. I hope we used up our quota of bad luck at Long Beach."
Pruett had the quickest times in morning practice at Long Beach before qualifying and was temporarily on the pole before his engine blew. He still qualified third, behind Michael Andretti and Sullivan, but during pre-race practice Sunday morning he lost his brakes and crashed hard into a barricade of tires.
It was frighteningly similar to the accident he had two years ago at West Palm Beach, Fla., where brake failure led to a crash that crippled him so severely that he missed a year of racing while undergoing rehabilitation.
This time Pruett was not injured, but the car was demolished. The crew hastily prepared the team's backup car--which had not turned a wheel all week--for the race. Pruett finished ninth, three laps behind winner Sullivan.
"It was a terrible weekend, but we were encouraged by the performance of the car in looking forward to Indy. "
Pruett will take his first laps at Indianapolis on Sunday. Practice officially opens Saturday for the May 24 race, but Pruett will be in Talladega, Ala., for an International Race of Champions.
STOCK CARS--Sportsman cars of the NASCAR Winston Racing Series return to Saugus Speedway Saturday night along with street and hobby stocks. . . . Orange Show Speedway will also feature sportsman cars Saturday night. Modified ponies and bombers also are on the card. . . . Cajon Speedway champion Ron Brown will go for his second consecutive victory in Grand American modifieds Saturday night at El Cajon. . . . Late models and dirt cars will race Saturday night at Santa Maria Speedway. . . . Imperial Raceway in El Centro continues its open competition racing Saturday night.
MIDGETS--Final race of the ESPN Saturday Night Thunder series at Ventura Raceway is this week. Main events are scheduled for both United States Auto Club midgets and three-quarter midgets.