Pratt is a third-generation racer.
Most short-track weekly racers travel 100, maybe 200 miles for theircompetition. Now, here comes Rich Pratt, who'll take his race cars, crewand family on a 2,200-mile or more journey to race in the heat of July,which he has labeled a vacation.
Pratt, who lives just five minutes from Ocala, Florida, where he was arecent runner-up to Brian Finney in a state Sunbelt Series Super LateModel event, will take two of his war wagons, a Monte Carlo and aTaurus, north to Michigan, where he will campaign them for a month inthat state and Indiana, where he plans to run the two-day Anderson 400.
Here's a guy who is perfectly happy as driver of the Number 0 Groeb(pronounced "Grabe") Farms Monte Carlo around the Sunshine State. Pratt,along with wife Nicole, dad Richard, and his crew, won the Florida ProSeries championship last year and is definitely in the hunt in theSunbelt this go around.
As a state newspaper headlined his exploits of 2004: "From Zero toHero."
"Our sponsor, Groeb Farms, is headquartered out of Onsted, Michigan, sowe're going to go up there as our base and run three CRA Series races inMichigan and Indiana," Pratt says. "We're going to spend the whole monthof July up there. We're taking all our stuff--I believe the rules arethe same, thanks largely to the ABC body program--and we'll kind of havea racing vacation.
"We'll get out of the hurricanes and heat and everything like that. Youknow we had hurricanes so many times last year that interfered with ourracing. This guys come down for (Daytona) Speedweeks during pretty goodweather, so we're going up there for their pretty good weather."
Groeb Farms has The Mill, Gourmet Jose Salsa, and many other products.Pratt's race itinerary, which hasn't been finalized yet, includesAnderson, Kalamazoo, and several other tracks, like perhaps BerlinSpeedway.
Hold on now. This trip isn't just because his sponsor, Troy Groeb, ofthat farm and food products company, agreed it would be a good deal. No,young Pratt has another very good reason.
We'll hear from Groeb elsewhere in a minute, but first you old-timersfrom the area think back: Dick Pratt. Then Richard Pratt, especially inSprint Cars, and now, Rich. No, Rich is not Pratt III, and Richard isn'tjunior, because all of the Pratt trio have different middle names.
"My grandad (Dick) raced up there at Eldora and places like that, and wehave family up there we haven't seen in a long time," says the32-year-old Pratt. "Union City, Indiana, is our hometown and is actuallywhere I graduated high school. I worked up there a time and have someties there, but haven't been back there since."
Compared to the distance he traveled before he won his very firstshort-track race--5,000 miles to the state of Hawaii while in the AirForce--this little junket will be like a short heat race.
"I loved racing," says Pratt. "My senior year of high school in Indiana,I worked in the shop of (renowned chassis builder) C.J. Rayburn, forwhom my dad was driving. That enabled me to travel around, serving onthe pit crew. But I wanted to hold off on a career choice and figuredenlisting in the U.S. Air Force would help me learn a trade and perhapsI'd be stationed in the Carolinas or Tennessee, where I could look intothe prospects of driving a race car."
That was not to be, however.
His Air Force career carried him to Hawaii, where he spent his entiremilitary career.
"My heart sank when the sergeant told me I was going to Hawaii, but itturned out well," Pratt recalls.
On his first day there he came across another serviceman who had his ownrace car and invited him to accompany him to a local dirt oval.
"He had a mini-stock, and he invited me to help him with it and saidhe'd let me drive."
Pratt did, on both counts.
He recalls that his first night behind the wheel he went out and did OK,but on the second night, he won.
"That was pretty cool," he says. "It was at Hawaii Raceway Park on theisland of Oahu."
Pratt selected the No. 0 because of his admiration for a fellowracer--and because 4 and 20
After his service stint in 1995, Pratt says he went to a Florida Proseries race and was impressed while sitting in the stands. In 1996, hebought a Late Model, and with the help of dad Richard, it was off toselected races. After being a rookie of the year, he topped it with thetitle last season, leaving one less goal in the state of Florida.
Back to this "Back Home in Indiana" saga: "We kind of talked about it,last year or earlier and kinda kicked it around, but we sat down andmade a rock-solid plan to do it this year," says Pratt. "You know, theyhave county fairs and tractor pulls and all kinds of stuff up there inTroy Groeb's area during the month of July."
Pratt says Groeb has a shop where they work on their semi trailers, anda spot will be cleared for the race cars.
"It's a racer's vacation, but we're taking the cars with us. Don't tellmy wife (Nicole, to whom he's been married two years)," Pratt laughs."She won't think that's very much of a vacation."
Indeed, she's employed at the University of Florida and is working onher doctorate degree, so her time is of the essence.
"She and my dad and crewchief (Jon Layerd, pronounced "Laird") won't beable to stay the whole month," Pratt says. "They'll stay two weeks, thencome home. We'll get them plane tickets to come back for the last racewe run."
Pratt is easily able to take the time off from his race car fabricatingbusiness in Anthony, Florida.
"Everybody talks about their part of the country being the toughest, soyou kinda want to go see how you stack up on their turf up north," Prattsays.
So what about the sponsor and Pratt's dad? And the guy who'll be callingthe shots, Jon "Jon Boy" Layerd, crewchief of four years?
"We discussed and everybody wanted to do it, a group thing as a team, sothat's it--we're going to do it," Troy Groeb says.
"We probably talked close to two years about it. They'll base the racecars out of my garage in Michigan, and everyone will live in acircumference of that place and we'll travel to the races."
"Well, we have three or four races we pretty well decided on, but wemight look around and see what else there is," Groeb says. "We mightalso try and get him in a dirt car, too; that would be fun. And it wouldbe great morale for our employees. I'm looking into getting a hauler andusing one of my semis to haul the cars around. I have plenty of driverswho can do that."
What about the this second-generation Pratt racer, Richard, on his son'sjourney?
"I think it's going to be a fantastic experience for my son and for ourteam, and I think he's going to make me very, very proud. I just can'twait to see him go to those tracks up there. I know he's going to bevery competitive," says elder Pratt.
"It's an opportunity a lot of people don't get . . . a lot of peopledon't get that opportunity to go and see how you match up against theguys who run up there. We'll see how good we are, right?
"I raced Dayton, Salem, and Winchester and places like that in SprintCars. It's really neat that Rich is going to have the opportunity.
"Troy made it all possible. They don't come any better than Troy Groeb.We've been really good friends as well as having him as our sponsor nowfor two years," says Richard Pratt.
And finally, crewchief Layerd: "It'll be really neat seeing some newtracks and new competition. I'm looking forward to it."
How come the Zero? How in the world did No. 0 come about?
Richard Pratt recalled his granddad raced a car on which the No. 4appeared up there in Indiana and the mid-Atlantic, but that digit wasalready taken in his former Florida Pro Series. So was the No. 20, whichappeared on the side of his dad Richard's car.
"I'd been a longtime fan of Buzzie Reutimman, so I asked about thedouble zero, but that number was also taken, so I settled on just thezero," he said. And that it remains to this day.