Remembering Ted Prappas

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Chances are, if you saw a story over the past weekend pertaining to the death of Ted Prappas – a lot of you may have said “Who?” Unless you are over fifty and an IndyCar die-hard, there is a good chance you would not have heard of Prappas. He was not in the public eye for very long, but if you knew about him – you know he is the type of driver that Donald Davidson loves to talk about.

The IndyCar career of Ted Prappas was short and not very noteworthy. He drove for two seasons, in 1991 and 1992 for the under-funded and little-known Personal Investment Group (PIG Enterprises) owned by Norm Turley and several other investors. He made his debut at the Inaugural IndyCar event at Surfers Paradise in a 1989 Lola/Judd, where he finished twenty-second in a twenty-five car field. His underwhelming Judd engine played out after only eight laps.

Prappas came back strong in the next race, finishing and impressive sixth at Long Beach. That would have been impressive in top equipment for the day. To do it in a two-year old chassis with an engine no one wanted was even more impressive. Suddenly people started taking note of the thirty-five year-old rookie with the shoestring budget team.

Unfortunately, that would be the only highlight for Prappas or PIG in 1991. They chose to not run any of the ovals in the ’91 season except for the Indianapolis 500. After struggling to find speed all month, Prappas crashed during practice, late in the third day of qualifying. He would miss the race.

A twelfth at Mid-Ohio and a fourteenth at Vancouver were the best finishes for Prappas that season, after his sixth at Long Beach. Sprinkled into the mix of his limited schedule were five races where he finished twenty-first or worse.

Things were a little better in 1992. PIG updated equipment to a 1991 Lola with a Chevy-A engine. The Chevy-A was not the latest – the Chevy-B was reserved for Team Penske; but it was still good enough to win the Indianapolis 500 that year along with the 1992 PPG Cup. PIG still chose to skip Phoenix and Michigan, but entered Indianapolis, Milwaukee, New Hampshire and Nazareth.

Prappas started the 1992 season with a tenth at Surfers Paradise, before skipping Phoenix. In an exciting end to Bump Day, Prappas bumped his way into the field of the 1992 Indianapolis 500, bumping out Scott Goodyear at the last minute in the process. Goodyear and Walker Racing would pull teammate Mike Groff out of his one-off ride that was actually the primary car for Goodyear. Scott Goodyear would start from the back of the field – right next to Prappas. (photo: IndyCar.com)

Ted Prappas

Goodyear would finish second to Al Unser, Jr. in what is still the closest finish in the history of the Indianapolis 500. Prappas would fall out on Lap 135 with gearbox issues, but with all of the heavy attrition that day, it was still good for sixteenth place.

Besides Surfers Paradise, Prappas managed only one other Top-Ten for the 1992 season – a ninth at Vancouver. But instead of finishing twentieth or worse, Prappas was knocking down finishes of fifteenth or better. Given his resiliency in a dramatic qualifying effort at Indianapolis and his improvement over the previous season, things looked bright going forward.

But as is the case far too often, Norm Turley and PIG ran out of money. After funding Prappas in Atlantics, Indy Lights and IndyCar; there was nothing left for a third consecutive season in IndyCar. By the age of thirty-seven, Ted Prappas was a free-agent with only twenty-six IndyCar starts on his resume. Then, as now, thirty-seven is an old age, when you have nothing of note to make you attractive to other teams. The IndyCar career of Ted Prappas was over just nineteen months after it had started.

Last weekend, Marshall Pruett wrote an article after we had learned Prappas had passed away on Friday April 22, at the age of sixty-six, following a brief battle with colon cancer. Pruett quoted several drivers who came up the ranks with Prappas, but went on to much bigger careers. Paul Tracy was one in particular that had nothing but glowing remarks about Ted Prappas the driver, as well as the man. Apparently, Ted Prappas was one of the most unassuming individuals you could ever meet. Money, expensive cars or large homes meant nothing to Prappas. All he wanted to do was race.

The death of Ted Prappas marks eight drivers in the 1992 Indianapolis 500 that are no longer with us. That’s about a quarter of the field. It seems too soon for that to happen, but we are talking thirty years next month. Time is flying too quickly.

You could hear Donald Davidson’s voice get excited, when someone would ask him about one of the lesser known drivers, who loved to race but always faced financial obstacles. In 2018, the late Robin Miller described PIG Enterprises as one of the last true shoestring budget teams, before The Split. Ted Prappas and PIG would definitely make Donald Davidson smile, if he were ever asked about them.

May God bless the family of Ted Prappas.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Remembering Ted Prappas”

  1. Time is indeed flying too fast. It goes even faster after
    You cross the 50 years old mark.

  2. I’m old enough that I should remember Ted Prappas but I honestly just don’t. So reading this tribute was very cool. Great piece George!

  3. Mark Wick Says:

    I covered my first 500 in 1972, having just turned 21, at the time the minimum age to be granted credentials. The list of people who had official connections to that race but are no longer among us, is now a very long one. I never met Prappas, but I instantly knew who he was when I saw the news.

  4. “…a brief battle with colon cancer.”

    my advice: colonoscopy.

  5. Will Prappas Says:

    Dear Mr. Phillips, I just happened across your reflections regarding the passing of my brother Ted. I really appreciate your words. Ted was a talented driver who, as you note, was with a struggling team. He had success as he rose to Indycar (winning a Formula Atlantic championship in the process). PIG was a great group of guys and did the best they could but we all know how difficult it is. More importantly my brother was a kind and much beloved man. He is deeply missed. Thank you again. Best, Will Prappas

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