Sunday, September 21, 2008

A conversation with Kyle Pruitt

Perseverance - steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. See also Kyle Pruitt.

The above definition of perseverance describes the gentlemen that i interviewed the past few week's. If there has ever been a driver who has tried to do more with as little as he has it would be Kyle. Kyle the driver of the number 29 358 sprint car here in central pa, started he career in 2003 driving 410's. his path has taken him to the 358 class this past season with races at Williams Grove Speedway and Lincoln Speedway.

CPRS - How did you get started racing sprint cars ?

Kyle - I got started in racing in 2003. I was born and raised around sprint car racing and had been going since a couple months old, my dad used to race till the late 80s and my brother raced for a couple years also. We had planned on starting in 1998 but due to financial situations we had to save and got started in 2003. No prior racing experience straight to the 410s.

CPRS - So you start racing 410's right of the bat. Why not start out running a different class instead of jumping right into a full size sprint car?

Kyle - My dad had raced 410s for a lot of years and some of my friends had raced go karts, micros, etc, but when i was growing up dad was racing and we couldn't afford for me to also, and when i got to be out of school dad and i both wanted to race 410s because you could usually go to different tracks and make features and get a lot of valuable seat time learning from the best in the business.

CPRS - So how did the start of your racing career go?

Kyle -Well..... I had done 2 of the Dave Blaneys schools for 50 laps each, and had grown up around this sport and thought just like a lot of others do "That doesn't look that hard" well i learned real quick during hot laps it wasn't easy! I would say the beginning of my career which i would consider the first 2 years because i only raced 35 races in the two combined, went ok. With no experience in anything, and what i call a NO Budget team, meaning (week to week) i think we did ok, we gained experience learned a lot of what to do and definitely what not to do, and i think gained some respect along the way too.

CPRS -How important is it to get the respect from the other driver's, and what did it mean to you when you did start to get that respect ?

Kyle -I think having a mutual respect is always a good thing. The other racers usually race you how you race them, They will race you hard and give you just enough room to race if you do the same. When i started to get some respect from the higher ups in the sport it was awesome because those guys have worked their tails off and raced a lot to get to where they are and to get that from them is a honor.

CPRS -Talking to other drivers you are known as one of the most helpful drivers in the pits. How important is that to you to help the younger drivers like the older guys helped you out?

Kyle -I like helping people out and being able to teach them about the cars and the things i have learned, especially the don't do's or the things that don't work. I like it because i feel when i am not racing it keeps me sharp on what is going on, and keeps me learning about the cars and i just plain love the sport so it keeps me around it. But most of all i just want to help guys go as best they can with what they may or may not have, and be able to enjoy themselves and learn. People helped me out a lot and pointed me in the right direction so i like to give back.

CPRS - You took some time off last year to regroup , how hard is it to be away from the sport?

Kyle - Yeah we were down for a while, i missed driving a ton but i was still around the sport. I helped out Billy Kimmel and raced myself about six races in the 358s. So like i said it keeps me around the sport, but driving is the ultimate rush, i always describe it to people like a drug, it just kinda consumes you and its all you want and think about.

CPRS- You mentioned Billy Kimmel. You where their the night he was killed in a tragic accident at the grove. How much do you think about something like that when you are getting into the car? Even more, how much does you wife think about it know that you are racing again?

Kyle -Yes unfortunately i was there, and had spoke with him about his car and setup about 10 min. prior
I don't think of it at all in the car, at the shop when working on the car or whatever i do, but when you strap in you need to be focused. And He knew just like we all do the dangers of this sport, but then again life is dangerous and everything will kill you in some way, but its just when your time is up its up. Unfortunately we lost a great person and someone i thought would have been an excellent racer too.My Wife she actually pushes me harder, we both do now. She was friends with him too and we both look at life different now and try to live everyday like its our last.

CPRS -You paced the field at the national open at Williams Grove last year.What kind of emotion's where going on in your mind as you took the Billy's number 47 out on the track a month after he died?

Kyle -That was one of the hardest things i have ever had to do. I mean before i got in the car i was sitting there looking at it and we were pitted in the same spot Billy always had and that i had helped him in, and just remembering him at the races and shop i am not gonna lie, i cried.
Strapping into his car was tough also, then when the motor fired and i could hear all the fans, yes over the engine and i don't know it was weird, i wanted to stand on it and gasser up but it was just very emotional. I feel honored the Kimmels let me drive it and pay tribute to billy, he was a great person, and i will always miss him.

CPRS -You said you started racing 410's in your family car. Who else have you driven for?

Kyle -I have also driven a 410 for Steve Miller in the 22z, and a 358 for Chris Weiss.

CPRS -when you drove the 22z for Steve Miller you won the award for most heat wins during speed week. what happened between you and Steve that led to you not driving for him any more?

Kyle- Yes we had a good week and gained some valuable experience, and really it was an ok year too.I appreciated Steve giving me the opportunity to race more and with better equipment than i could afford. It was nothing personal, we actually still talk now and then on the phone and always talk at the track. This is a very tough deal, and to do it right everyone has to be on the same page and have the same goals, and if your goals or expectations are higher than what circumstances will allow you need to realize that and make realistic goals. That is in my opinion, and its just an opinion.

CPRS - You stepped away from the 22z and went back to racing 358's. Why did you decide to go back to running 358's instead of concentrating on 410's?

Kyle - Well i didn't really have any options at the time, Its tough to find rides, especially in the 410s and i had helped Chris Weiss out some also and when i decided to quit the 22z he gave me a car to drive. I would still love to be back in the 410s but financially to do it correctly its just too much to handle, the 358s aren't far behind though.

CPRS -So what is the financial difference between the 358's and a 410?

Kyle - To be honest not as much as people think. The cars, tires, fuel, towing to track expenses, pit fees, everything is virtually the same.The drive train and tires last a little longer sometimes The top wings are like 40 bucks cheaper and the motors can be cheaper depending on what you want, but even then if you want to win and challenge every night your looking at a motor in the 20-28k range. So i would say its a little cheaper how much i don't really know because i just do what i can.

CPRS -What are the major difference's set up wise for a 358 vs. a 410 and how different are they to drive?

Kyle -Every driver is different so setups vary, for me in the 358s i can run the car a lot softer in the rear due to the small wing and slower wing speeds, also you run the front higher. But all in all its actually pretty close, you just have to make the 358 react quicker, due to the weight and horsepower ratio.
Driving wise the 410s are a totally different beast. And i say beast because they are. The 410s are very responsive to the drivers steering, braking, accelerating, etc. And are more sensitive and difficult to get the setup exactly right. All in all they both have 4 tires and 4 shocks and 4 bars but the 410s are just faster and more sensitive. Both are a blast though.

CPRS - With the local tracks talking last year about changing the wing rule on the 358's to make them run a 410 wing, what effect would that have on a 358 ?

Kyle - I can see where it might save some money because then you could buy used ones from the 410 teams, however i think it would severely hurt the racing. It would be hard on the motor and entire drive train due to the amount of down force, and would also hurt the racing in general because it might hook them up so hard it would be full throttle racing follow the leader.

CPRS -How hard is it to attract sponsors to help on you or any other race team?

Kyle -It is very tough to attract sponsors. Sponsors and getting rides is tough because you need their help to improve and get more track time, but a lot of them want someone who already has the experience and is able to win right away. Which is understandable for the amount of money it takes to do this, but the only way to get that is to get some help. So its a tough deal but i think if you keep trying and keep your face in front of people and do the best you can with what you got it will eventually pay off.

CPRS -So what is more important to owners, a driver who has some good runs in a family owned car, or a driver who is a PR persons dream? It seems that their are drivers out there that are in a dream situation with one or two good runs, while their are drivers who out there that with the right help would be great additions to a race team.

Kyle -Well that can go both ways it just depends on what the owners are looking for i guess. Some owners want a winner right away because they are spending so much, but i have talked to a lot and they want a driver to be consistent, win some races, and also be personable to their friends, sponsors,fans, etc.

CPRS -Know for a very sore subject, but it's something that needs to be asked. This past winter you got involved in a scam that was to involve a major sponsorship deal through Tyvek the DuPont materials company. What is your side of the story of exactly what went down and how he coned you ?

Kyle -Well i can tell you i think for someone who was struggling to get to where i want to go in my career, and just plain loving sprint car racing. He knew exactly what to say and what to put in front of you. Except for realistic things. It was supposed to be a 3 year deal for over 100k a year for me to drive at least 90 races and be able to run Outlaws and All stars, and everything in between. So for me it was a no brainer, i had to try it and some people called me stupid but he actually got a shop, started painting it so i thought hey this is happening. Then we started getting list together of parts, trucks ,trailers, motors, everything you would need and some stuff was supposedly on its way. So I was busy painting a HUGE shop, waiting on cars and equipment all day, and was going to get paid 100k? Wouldn't you do it? Anyway none of it ever materialized and i don't know exactly what the plan was, or if he was a middle man but it wasn't good. Maybe one day we will know but basically i feel like someone used my dream, and my passion for that dream against me.

EDITORS NOTE-I talked to the driver of the 56 358 Mark Zellers about this subject and this was the email i recieved form him.
I found out about this the same way you and everyone else did. I saw the post on the message board. I didn't reply being that I felt it seemed odd to look for a driver over the internet. Dad actually replied and I didn't think much about it till Jt sent dad several emails then a few phone calls. I spoke to him on the phone and he seemed to be on the level but didn't know much about any details. He told us he had 8 XXX cars comming from NC. and they were gonna trucked up to Pa. He had a meeting @ Selingsgrove Speed with Mark Smith and Mike Walters along with a bunch of crew guys. That night he met with Kyle, Nick Schlaugh(sp) and me. He told us that Hendrick Motorsports was buying Hamiltons garage and we were keeping the cars there. Two weeks later on Jan 11th we were to all meet at Hamiltons shop and at that time Mr. Hendricks was going to meet with all the drivers. I took off work and then got a call that morning that they had to cancel and would do it at a later time.I was really skepitcal at this point and called a good friend that is basicly Als son. Al knew that some one came and looked at his shop but no offer was made, and the person never responded to the real estate companys calls. At that point I told dad this guy was full of crap but lets just see if there maybe something to it. He promised so much to all of us involved I know I'd forget something. He went as far as Having another meeting and then taking us all to the "shop" a empty warehouse in Lebanon. He had Kyle and Shawn there to paint the floor and get it ready fot the stuff he was buying from Busby (he got involved also) wich he never showed up to pay for, and the 4 J&J rollers now that the xxx cars dissapeared? He also has everyone call Gary Stanton about 8 mopars we were getting. We really wanted to bust this guys balls but didn't cause we still had a lil bit of hope that something would come out of this deal. Looking back on it we should have and I wish that there is some way to keep this guy from smashing someone elses dreams. I feel so bad for the people at Midway I know what they have gone through. Personally, It hasn't changed me but for now on its $ first. I'm not bitter because next to my daughter racing is my life. Thats all I have ever known and all I wanna do. It really killed me last year no racing.
Thanks Mark

CPRS -Does stuff like this happen very often? How hard is it when you have someone come up to you and say they have xxx amount of money and they would like to give it to you, for you not to jump every time when all you are doing is trying to keep your dream alive ?

Kyle -To be honest i have had it happen a few times, but not to that extent. Usually its just people saying they will sponsor you or help out, and when it comes time for the money to exchange hands it doesnt. Its very hard for me, i know to not get excited because you start thinking of all the things you could do with the sponsorship, or the races you could race, or equipment you been needing you could buy. Its tough but in everything in life that happens to people so you just kinda keep going even though its a let down and never judge the next guy or gal on previous experience because they could be serious and propel me to the outlaws.

CPRS -So what would be your dream as far as racing goes? Would you like to run with the WOO, or would you be satisfied to run locally every week ?

Kyle -I would be completely satisfied to race in Central pa. weekly and have a long career and maybe end up with a tenth of the wins Rahmer has, but i would also love to go on the Outlaw tour. I really enjoy the atmosphere of their races and i love time trials, i would just like it cause you see something new all the time and go different places, meet new people I think it would be awesome.

CPRS -You like time trials ? Do you think the local tracks should run TT shows every week, or should they keep it the way it is? With as many cars as we have racing every week in the 358's it would seem like that would help out some teams and make it a little bit easier for them.

Kyle -Yes i like time trials, i know fans think they are boring but i think they give everyone an even chance at qualifying or starting in a invert spot. If your racing 410s i think you would want to see more TT shows, because when you race the outlaws and allstars and other money shows you need to be a good time trialer to be competitive.With the 358s that would be a good idea and maybe have some good paying shows for them also, and maybe a points series where they race at different tracks , and maybe a 358 speedweek?

CPRS -So who all helps on the car?

Kyle -My help at the shop during the week is my dad for all motor maintence, and i do all the car and trailer needs, my wife does all the cleaning and organizing. Then at the races we have a variation of crews depending on the night but mostly Scott Ginter, John Wickard, Andy Rucker, and sometimes Todd Zinn, and Pat Cooper.

CPRS -Who all helps out as far as sponsors?

Kyle -My parents and my wife and i are my biggest sponsor Rucker computer solutions, and Trailer trash chili are also sponsors on the car.

CPRS -How can fans or future sponsors get in tough with you?

Kyle -Fans and sponsors can call me direct at 301-676-8456, and can also visit my website at www. kylepruitt. com

CPRS -Is there anything else you would like to say to the fans in central pa?

Kyle -I would like to say thank you to all the fans and friends i have met along the way in my career so far there are so many that make this sport enjoyable and we appreciate you supporting the sport every week with your hard earned dollar.

Last question for ya?
I was told from a fan that they call you "the social butterfly". Would you like to explain how you got that nickname?

Kyle -Ha,Ha Yeah i know who that was! Chuck and Dixie are great friends that have helped me out and supported me for the last couple of years, dont know if that nickname would stick in racing but maybe we should try it?
They gave it to me because i guess i am always talking and floating around from trailer to trailer either helping out or talking to someone, so Dixie said i was a social butterfly.

CPRS - Ok here are a few word association questions for you. Tell me which one you like better.

Lincoln Speedway - Williams Grove Speedway
Kyle- Williams Grove: SPEED

358 sprint's - 410 sprint's
Kyle -410s: SPEED

Fred Rhamer - The rest of the field :)
Kyle -The Rest of The field: Its always nice to root for the underdogs.

Pa Posse - Woo
Kyle -Pa Posse: Because they are just as good as the Outlaws but dont get the same respect.

Kyle Pruitt - your father
Kyle -My Father: He is my Hero cause he always kept going no matter what and has loved racing in spite of all the ups and downs.

A big thank you to Kyle for taking the time to sit down with me and do this interview. Good luck to Kyle in 2009.