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Inside Motorsports Star Scott Pruett's New Life As a Full-Time Winemaker

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Scott Pruett is used to winning. Over the course of his 50-year career (he started racing go-karts at the age of 8), the motorsports champion has accumulated a record 60 victories in American races, according to the Associated Press. Now retired, Pruett is focusing on his success in a different arena: the wine business.

“They’re really polar opposites careers,” Pruett, who owns Pruett Vineyards, tells PEOPLE. “Here I’ve lived my last 50 years in fractions of a second—you’re measured by thousandths of a second in racing—and now I’m moving into something that is mother nature and so much is out of your control, with years that go into it.”

Ahead of this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona race in Daytona Beach, Florida in January, Pruett shocked fans by announcing it would be his last. Though he ultimately didn’t go out on the highest note—his team came in the top 10 of the annual 24-hour competition, but did not win—Pruett still feels confident in his decision to throw in the towel. “I now have time to reflect, which I never really had before,” he says.

But despite his attempt at a slower pace of life, Pruett is not one of those celebrities who slaps his name on the bottle and sits back. He performs every step of the wine-making process himself at his vineyard in Auburn, California, which is also the home he shares with his wife and business partner Judy.

Courtesy Scott and Keith Sutter
Courtesy Scott and Keith Sutter

Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, the soil is uniquely ideal for growing grapes—something Pruett discovered after conducting a year-long soil study to find the perfect plot of land.

His diligence has paid off: Pruett wines are consistently top-rated on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale, with two of his 2012 vintages coming in at 95 and above (which the publication deems its most prestigious accolade of “a great wine.”)

“I don’t think there’s anything equal to the adrenaline of racecar driving,” he says, “but I have to say when we get those ratings back it’s a whole new rush.”

Courtesy Scott and Keith Sutter

Pruett’s success in racing and wine-making is something he’s passed down to his children—Lauren, 29, Taylor, 20 and Cameron, 18—quite literally. “When each of my kids turns 21, I give them one of my winning Rolex Daytona watches from the Rolex 24,” says Pruett, who is tied for the record with 5 coveted watches from the race. “And now I name my wines after them, too. These are wines they saw me plant, and now they see their name on it years later. It’s something really wonderful to experience as a father.”

Courtesy Scott and Keith Sutter

And though he’s taken the driver’s seat in this business venture, Pruett acknowledges that he’s just along for the ride.

“I’m no more than a caretaker passing on something that’s gone on for thousands of years before me, and will continue way beyond me,” he says. “I’m just going to make wines for this blink-of-an-eye in time. I’m kind of in awe of that.”