Boris Said starts last and finishes second to 1987 winner Scott Pruett.
By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2003
ST. PETERSBURG -- At the start, 16 cars -- which is to say the rest of the field -- separated Scott Pruett and Boris Said. At the end, Said had passed all 16.
But he ran out of time and ran out of car, too much of an obstacle to keep Pruett from becoming the first repeat winner (after a long interval) of Sunday's Trans-Am race that concluded the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend.
"I'm a back-to-back winner here but it took 16 years in between," said Pruett, a two-time series champion who won here in 1987. He won for the first time since 1994 by holding off Said to average 87.113 mph and win by 1.30 seconds.
Said, the defending Trans-Am champion, would have started fourth behind the Jaguars of Pruett, team owner Paul Gentilozzi and Johnny Miller. But an inspection after qualifying turned up a broken part that lowered the nose of Said's Mustang below the 21/2-inch clearance margin. That put him at the rear of the 18-car field.
The lanky, outspoken Californian with the wild hair and goatee was diplomatic when asked if he'd have won without the penalty that buried him in the back.
"Scott pretty much had the car this weekend, and he's a good driver," Said said. "You can't look back and say. Sure, I'd like to think that. ... If I started fourth, it would have been a close race."
How much closer than the 1.30-second margin, he didn't speculate. "Scott was playing with us at the end. It's a long season, the first race. So second place from where we started is a great place to finish. ... I would have given him a lot harder time. But it was a lot more exciting for me, more fun for me coming from the back."
By the 11th lap, Said was eighth. By the 16th, he was fourth. By the 24th, he was jockeying with Gentilozzi. Said passed him for good with 18 of the 55 laps remaining but never seriously challenged Pruett, even with the benefit of an intentional yellow caution flag from laps 41-43, implemented this season to tighten the field for the final push.
"The first time I passed him I think I ran through a bunch of stuff from -- what was that support race before us? Oh, yeah, the CART race," Said said with a straight face about his battle with Gentilozzi. "I thought I had a flat and he went right back by me. I got him back again. He was just a number to me. I had fun passing everybody. It wasn't just him. I wasn't looking at the (drivers). They were just victims."
Passing Gentilozzi might have been Said's most satisfying moment, considering they haven't been on the best of terms lately. Again, he was the diplomat.
"We're apparently in litigation because I got fined five grand last week for speaking my mind," Said said with a bit of a grin. "I've got to be careful, so right now my lawyer said no comment on (Gentilozzi's) No. 3 car. But I had fun racing with him. He was very clean and I was clean and I have no complaints."
Gentilozzi, who bought the rights to Trans-Am and runs the series, was fourth, behind Miller. "To come from the back of the pack is a hell of a deal," Gentilozzi said of Said. "He had a real hot rod."
"We burned it down a little," Said said, "trying to come to the front while (Pruett) could probably save his car for the end. I was pretty much out of tires, out of car, out of brakes, out of everything."
Pruett said he knew where Said was at all times and that, besides his teammates, Said was his biggest concern. But Pruett's team was constantly telling him Said's position, how fast Said's laps were as well as his own, how fast he was closing and so on.
That's one of the benefits of running first, Pruett said. "You can pace yourself and take care of equipment. Boris had a tremendous race working his way up the field. Having been in that position myself once or twice, you know you've got to use up your car to do it. You can't run the line you want to; you've got to demand more out of the car. I was fortunate to have a little more car left at the end."