One of open wheel racing’s nicest drivers has left the building. Ted Prappas, who was a mainstay in the smaller formulae, making a single start at the Indianapolis 500 in 1992, died after a quick bout with colon cancer.
Prappas, 66, a West Coast racer, joined many of his contemporaries in racing in SCCA’s Super Vee and Formula Atlantic series, joining the American Racing Series that became Indy Lights in its infancy. He raced in CART for two seasons, 1991 and 1992, before leaving the CART series and pretty well disappearing from other grids.
Prappas began his open-wheel career in 1986, racing a Super Vee bought for him by James Stewart, the Academy Award-winning actor. Prappas’ mother helped manage the actor’s career and, with this equipment, the driver won his sole championship, the 1986 West Coast Atlantic Racing series, at a time when there were two separate Atlantic championships, East and West.
Prappas and the P.I.G./Say No To Drugs team owned by Long Beach former policeman Norm Turley, worked together in the lower formulae and would graduate, together, to the CART series. Prappas won two Indy Lights races, one in 1989 on Detroit’s street course, working with TEAMKAR International, and the second on the Laguna Seca Raceway road course a year later with P.I.G., who fielded a car for Prappas at the 1991 Indy 500 but failed to qualify, using the less desired Judd V8t engine in a Lola T91/00 chassis.
Prappas’ two seasons in CART, 1991-2 came after finishing second, to Tracy, in the 1990 Indy Lights standings; he and the team took sixth, in their rookie campaign at Long Beach, giving Prappas the runner-up spot in CART’s Rookie of the Year standings to Jeff Andretti. He was 36 in that rookie year.
The P.I.G. team and Prappas returned to The Brickyard a year later with a better package: the current year Lola T92/00 chassis and Chevrolet’s 265A V8t. They qualified dramatically on the final day in the final few minutes on Bump Day. In making the field, Prappas and his small team bumped Scott Goodyear out of the race, but in the next few days, Walker Racing replaced Mike Groff in the team’s qualified car in order to run Goodyear, who started from the rear and eventually finished second, just 0.043 seconds behind Al Unser Jr. It was the closest finish in Indy 500 history. Prappas, starting 32nd, would finish 16th in his single Indianapolis 500 start.
When Prappas departed the sport, he left behind an aura of personal kindness and capability behind the wheel. He was also known for his generosity to others in motorsport and for not letting his ego – if he actually had one – get the better of him. According to Paul Tracy, Prappas had been living in Arizona prior to his death.