Indy 500 Driver Prappas Passes Away

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 30 2022

Ted Prappas drove in the memorable 1992 Indy 500. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Southern California native Ted Prappas, whose road to the 1992 Indianapolis 500 began with a Hollywood connection, died on Friday, April 22, 2022 after battling colon cancer. He was 66.

Prappas made his sole Indy 500 start in the 76th edition of the Memorial Day weekend classic on May 24, 1992. Prappas started 32nd and finished 16th in the No. 31 P.I.G./Say No To Drugs Lola/Chevrolet A fielded by Personal Investment Group (P.I.G.) Enterprises and owner Norm Turley. Prappas’ day was ended by gearbox problems after completing 135 of the scheduled 200 laps in a race run in unseasonably cold conditions.

Recall that Al Unser Jr. drove his No. 3 Valvoline Galmer/Chevrolet Indy A to his first Indy 500 win over Canadian Scott Goodyear’s No. 15 Mackenzie Financial Lola/Chevrolet Indy A by a miniscule 0.043-seconds.

That historic finish rightly upstaged a bizarre incident during the second parade lap. Pole-sitter Roberto Guerrero of Colombia was pacing the field down the backstretch when his No. 36 Quaker State Lola/Buick suddenly lost rear-end traction, spun and crashed into the inside retaining wall. Guerrero’s car, owned by NHRA Top Fuel superstar Kenny Bernstein, was severely damaged and could not continue. Guerrero finished 33rd and last without completing an official lap from P1.

Prappas earned his only starting spot in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in similarly dramatic fashion, completing a successful four-lap/10-mile qualifying run at 5:54 p.m. on Bump Day, Sunday, May 17 _ six minutes before time trials were ended by the traditional firing of a pistol. Under the format then in effect, Prappas became the final driver to qualify via his run on what was his third and final attempt in his primary car.

In an historical footnote, Prappas’ successful qualifying run initially bumped Goodyear from the 33-car field. Over the next few days, however, Walker Racing decided that Goodyear would replace Mike Groff in the team’s qualified car. Goodyear started last en route to placing second to Little Al in the closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history.

Prappas was one of seven rookies competing on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1992, a class headlined by popular sports car ace Lyn St. James. LSJ _ who followed Janet Guthrie (1977-79) as only the second woman to qualify for an Indy 500 _ schooled her first-year peers by finishing 11th in the No. 90 Agency Rent-A-Car/JC Penney Lola/Chevrolet A, albeit six laps down to Unser Jr.

The rookie class also featured Paul Tracy, who finished 20th in the No. 7 Mobil 1 Penske/Chevrolet Indy A entry. A native of Canada, Tracy went on to win the 2003 CART championship with Andretti Green Racing for 1991 CART champion-turned team-owner Michael Andretti. Jimmy Vasser, who placed 21st in the No. 47 Kodalux Lola/Chevrolet Indy A at IMS in ‘92, went on to win the 1996 CART championship with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Prappas competed in many forms of open-wheel racing between 1979 and 1987, including Formula Ford, Super Vee and Formula Atlantic/Pacific. Prappas won the 1986 West Coast Atlantic Racing Series championship before advancing to the American Racing Series (Indy Lights) in 1988. He posted six top-five finishes as an ARS rookie and followed by scoring his first series victory in 1989. Prappas won the 1990 ARS season-finale at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif., to finish second in the title chase.

Prappas graduated to the Championship Auto Racing Teams series with P.I.G. Racing, his former Indy Lights team, in 1991 en route to finishing second to Jeff Andretti _ youngest son of open-wheel icon Mario Andretti _ for Rookie of the Year honors. Prappas ran the schedule’s 12 road-course races, opting to skip the oval events. His best finish was sixth in his hometown Long Beach Grand Prix. The team fielded a car for Prappas in the 1991 Indianapolis 500 but failed to qualify.

Prappas won two career Indy Lights races _ in 1990 at Laguna Seca for P.I.G. and in 1989 at Detroit for TEAMKAR International.

Theodore Panos Prappas was born on Nov. 14, 1955 in Santa Monica, Calif., to a Greek father and British mother. Ted’s racing helmet featured images of the Greek, British and American flags in tribute to his family’s diverse heritage.

Prappas’ brother, Will, and mother served as business manager for Academy Award winning-actor Jimmy Stewart and singer Mel Torme. Prappas launched his open-wheel career in Super Vee in 1983 in a car purchased for him by Stewart, best remembered for his role as George Bailey in the 1946 holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

Prappas made 26 open-wheel starts over two seasons, with his driving career ending after the 1992 CART campaign at age 37.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 30 2022
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