The RACER Mailbag, November 24

The RACER Mailbag, November 24

Insights & Analysis

The RACER Mailbag, November 24

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Q: I’m hearing AMSP offered Kyle Kirkwood 10 races for next season. It’s no secret that they are looking to expand to a third car in 2023 and will most likely run a third car in select events next season, so what was Kirkwood’s thinking in going with Foyt instead of AMSP? I would think he’d have a much better shot to showcase his talent at AMSP and make a strong case for him to be the third driver for the team down the road. The 10 races with AMSP vs a full season at Foyt is a no-brainer as far as I can see.

Kirkwood has some money from being the current Indy Lights champion, which helps, and I’m of the opinion that he would light it up in an AMSP car. If he shows the kind of performance many expect of him, AMSP would have another young driver that it could control for many years, and someone that would push Pato and the team forward.

Warbird Willie

MP: Hard to say which version of the story is most accurate, but I heard there were mixed signals on what was being offered. Regardless, Kirkwood doesn’t think of himself as the No. 3 driver – none of the greats do. So while AMSP is a more competitive proposition, I can understand how being the No. 1 at a less competitive team was a better fit for Kirkwood.

And as I noted in last week’s Mailbag, there was no full-time room for Kyle at Chateau Andretti in 2022 since Honda was unable to supply a fifth motor, but I don’t expect that to be a problem in 2023 when everything’s new. Kirkwood+Andretti+2023.

Q: As a longtime open-wheel and Mailbag fan, thank you for taking up the mantle of the Mailbag. I think it’s neat that your spin will be a little different, more technical, and builds nicely on the Mailbag’s legacy. Robin is surely smiling down on you. He had a very unique racing backstory and history in the IndyCar paddock. You do as well, but I don’t think it’s quite as well known (or rather, less publicized).

Have seen tidbits here and there, but can you please write up the “three-minute Pruett backstory” for us, so we can understand your open-wheel history and expertise? It actually might help us better formulate some future questions to you.

Scott B., Seattle, WA (nee Gainesville, FL)

MP: My father was a British and Swedish car mechanic, had his own shops, and was an amateur racer in the SCCA. He’d drag me with him, and my memories of being in the paddock at Sears Point start from when I was three years old. I grew up at the shops, learned to work on cars, and when I was 15 or 16, got my start in racing as a gofer for a driver/shop vendor he knew named Mike McHugh, who raced in the SCCA Pro Super Vee series (think Indy Pro 2000, but in the 1980s).

I worked on his Anson SA4 chassis, then went to work for a Bay Area open-wheel prep shop named TR Raceservice where I was the only employee and looked after maybe a dozen cars. That started halfway through my senior year in high school; I think I was 17. Tons of Formula Fords, FF2000s, and a few Formula Atlantic cars. Such a blast. I’d prep them, do gear changes, engine changes, and whatever else, then load the trailer – often on my own – and drive the monstrosity up and down the west coast to SCCA races where we ran the owners of the various cars. A crash course in almost every facet of the sport.

Pruett doing some Formula Atlantic engineering magic at Montreal in 2000. Image via Marshall Pruett

From there, I went to work for my first major team, Pfeiffer Ridge Racing, where we ran cars in pro FF2000 (met Greg and Ric Moore for the first time in that series), Atlantic, and Sports 2000. We were a dealer for Swift, so I got to build a ton of Swifts on my own, which was amazing. Trekked all over, was mentored by Riccardo Pineiro and Jon Ennik, and acted a fool most of the time. Best time of my young life. I’ll skip over a lot of moving about after that, but it was all in some form of Road To Indy/Road To Rolex 24 type of stuff, then got connected with Genoa Racing late in 1993, was part of their Atlantic and Indy Lights teams helping with driver coaching, some assistant engineering, and whatever else was needed.

We moved into the IRL in 1997, I did five straight Indy 500s with Genoa/TKM, Nienhouse Motorsports, TeamXtreme, and closed with Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2001, my last full-time season in IndyCar. I also worked for the Hogan Racing CART team in that span, and the roles revolved around assistant engineering, team management, and sundry functions depending on funding and staffing. I always preferred smaller teams because I grew bored of doing one thing for extended periods and got to multi-task.

After I “retired” from working as a crew member at the end of 2001, I tried to lead a normal life, found work in biotech where some of my mechanical and engineering skills applied, met my wife, went with her to the University of San Francisco, and then felt the pull to get involved with racing on the weekends. Lots of fly-in race engineering and team management work in Atlantics, Pro Mazda, World Challenge, Grand-Am, the NHRA (that was wild), started running my own little factory endurance racing team with Toyota/Scion, and bowed out in 2010 as this new media career took off after it began slowly in 2006 with SPEED Channel/

I’m getting the bug again. I want to work on race cars, and maybe do some engineering. Can’t say I was great at any stage because I wasn’t, but I was good when I was motivated. Writing about the tech side of the sport, and the drivers – after working with hundreds as a mechanic or engineer or manager – comes from a place of comfort. Like Miller, I came from the paddock and continue to call it my home.

MX-5 Cup | Round 12 – VIR