Scott and Judy Pruett found the location for their dream house doing what Scott does best: driving.
Arguably America's greatest road racer, Scott Pruett enjoys a country detour. This one led them to a spectacular Auburn vista overlooking the American River.
"We were out driving – what else?" Judy Pruett recalls. "There wasn't even a road here, just gravel up this hillside. We got out of the car to look around and noticed this tiny 'For Sale' sign tacked on the fence. Then we knew. This place was meant for us."
The Pruetts bought the property as a place they could come home to after Scott retires from racing. Since that purchase more than 15 years ago, they've lived in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, Oregon and – for a year – out of a motor home while chasing NASCAR's Sprint Cup.
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But they kept thinking about that Auburn hillside. And of growing grapes.
The couple didn't want another pit stop; they yearned for real roots. With many interests outside racing, Scott wanted their home to feel like wine country, not Gasoline Alley.
"My family has been farmers for five generations," says Scott Pruett, who grew up in Roseville. "This dirt is in my blood."
Pruett, who adds to his racing records with every start, isn't slowing down.
"When Judy and I first were dating, I told her that I'd probably retire at 40," he says. "But I'm turning 50 (Wednesday), and I'm still the guy to beat. And I'm just loving it."
An eight-time champion, Pruett again is atop the Grand Am Rolex sports car series standings. But the dream house wouldn't wait for his career to end. Neither would the vineyard. So while juggling his hectic racing schedule, the Pruetts embarked on their future.
The result is a beautiful and surprising showcase for an active winemaking family. Kensington Homes built the four-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath house, designed by Tamano and Chaw of Rancho Cordova and begun in 2005. Surrounded by the vineyard and fruit trees, the Tuscan-inspired villa features stone floors and sweeping views of the American River Canyon and Folsom Lake.
'A real family house'
Almost every room – including a glassed-in home gym – looks out over the swimming pool. About 2,500 square feet of covered patio (featuring a restaurant-quality outdoor kitchen) invites visitors outside to relax.
"This is a real family house," Judy Pruett explains. "I can watch the kids play Marco Polo from anywhere."
The Pruetts' children – Lauren, 21, Taylor, 12, and Cameron, 10 – enjoy the country setting. The kids also inspired the couple to write four children's books – all with racing themes.
On flights to his races, Pruett studied other books – on gardening and viticulture. At home on a tractor as well as in a race car, he handles the landscaping, creating a slice of Mediterranean-style paradise with terraces, arbors and courtyards. Many of the plants are unusual, suggested by a racing friend from Australia.
Judy tends a sprawling vegetable garden lined with her favorite flowers, roses. In full bloom, dwarf peaches border the fences. Leading down the vineyard path are dozens of citrus trees.
"I've been so blessed," says Scott Pruett. "I never thought I'd do this stuff – I'm a middle-class kid from Roseville. But we're living our dream."
Wine dream come true
And now they can toast triumphs with their own estate-grown wine. This spring, Pruett Vineyard will make its first public release, 60 cases of a high-end syrah made with grapes grown on their 50-acre hillside ranch.
The grapes were grown on 3 acres that Pruett terraced and planted himself. Besides the syrah, he has about a half-acre of cabernet. More wines are in the works. Pruett is working with longtime friend Randy Lewis of Napa's Lewis Cellars and winemaker Brian Mox.
"It's all so different from racing," he says. "Racing is all about now; it changes daily. With wine it takes years to see results."
Says Judy Pruett, "He's so used to everything happening right now. But making wine is a lesson in patience."
Their 4,700-square-foot home seems fueled more by grapes than gasoline. Near the dining area, a wine room has more than 3,000 bottles stacked to the ceiling. The oak doors were salvaged from the original Whitney Oaks mansion near Rocklin.
With room to entertain 40, the kitchen features a granite island "big enough for a sleeping bag," she jokes. The granite is another example of Scott's perfectionism: He spent months hunting for that perfect slab.
Art, mementos a retreat
Dotting the living room are artworks and antiquities reflecting Scott Pruett's travels as he has raced around the globe. The pieces hold special memories. They're trophies of a sort.
"Scott makes deals with himself," his wife says. "He'll say to himself, 'If I win this race' or 'If I qualify here,' he'll reward himself."
For example, the baby grand piano? "Indy," Pruett says. "I qualified Top 10."
That was in 1995, his final appearance in the Indianapolis 500.
An occupational therapist specializing in sports medicine, Judy met Scott at a racetrack: Daytona International Speedway in Florida.
"He was one of the drivers assigned to me," she says. "I decided to keep him."
Judy now watches most of her husband's races from the kitchen, which opens into an oversize family room with a flat-screen HDTV above the fireplace.
"I'm too nervous to eat or cook while he's racing," she says. "Usually, I'm cleaning."
As part of Chip Ganassi Racing's stable of talent, Pruett is in demand as a driver, tester and adviser.
Their home creates a retreat to the slow lane.
"We've been married forever," says the racer, "and that's how long we intend to stay here. This is truly a wonderful place to live. We could have lived anywhere in the world, but this is home."