Regular #SpeedRead readers will recall Marshall Pruett’s eight-part series on “Weird and Wonderful Cars of the ‘500’” that appeared in the weeks leading up to the 100th Running of the Indy 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Now, the feature continues with one car featured biweekly.
With the Fourth of July having just passed, let’s celebrate the last all-American car to compete at the Indianapolis 500 before the Indy Racing League was formed. The 1992 Truesports chassis, designed and built in Ohio, powered by Chevy engines and driven by California’s Scott Pruett, was loaded with potential.
Its slick aerodynamics were developed the previous season with the first Truesports 91C model, and with an underpowered (Truesports-built) Judd V8 turbo tucked inside the narrow engine bay, everyone within the program was confident a switch to Chevy would transform the next model into a winner.
Penned by (current A.J. Foyt Racing technical director) Don Halliday, the 91C impressed almost everywhere it went as Pruett earned five top-5 finishes, claimed 12th at the Indy 500, and secured 10th in the championship.
The 91C underwent logical developments for 1992 and the new 92C chassis, with its Chevy V8 turbo in place, was expected to challenge the dominant Lolas and Penskes. Painted in red and white, and featuring primary sponsorship from Budweiser, the rolling American tribute proved to be a misstep as Pruett lost an engine early in the Indy 500, and found the top 5 on just two occasions throughout the rest of the season.
Finishing 30th at Indy and 11th in the final championship standings, the Truesports 92C might not have conquered the biggest names in the CART IndyCar Series, but with the help of time and context, it has become easier to appreciate the effort involved. Like the 91C, the 92C was a single-car program with a steep development hill to climb; there’s no denying the 92C chassis underwhelmed, but it’s also possible to see Truesports’ effort as more of a valiant fight to take on the establishment than an outright failure.
“Effort, ingenuity, and enthusiasm,” Pruett said of the three defining traits that went into the Truesports program. “We were all very hopeful, and I wouldn’t say unrealistic, but when that project took shape to come to fruition, it was a mission of Truesports to not only build a car, but they did the engine … to do either separately was a full-time job.
“Unfortunately, we were handicapped by the engine and by lack of power and lack of reliability [in 1991]. And unfortunately, in 1992, it was reversed. We thought we could get the engine issue out of the way by going to Chevrolet, which we did, and unfortunately, the car was an incredible disappointment. It didn’t handle, it was plagued with problems. It never really did anything. It just came up incredibly short.”
Pruett was able to qualify 17th at the 1992 Indy 500—a race won by Al Unser Jr. in an English Galmer, another boutique constructor—and completed the season before the Truesports program was absorbed by Bobby Rahal and Carl Hogan. Today’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team with Graham Rahal’s No. 15 Honda can be traced back to the 1992-93 era where Rahal/Hogan Racing won the 1992 CART title and bolstered its effort by taking on the finer aspects and personnel found within the Truesports operation.
Rebadged as the Rahal/Hogan 001, the 92C’s limitations could not be fixed with a different team in charge of development.
“As we all know, Rahal took over the program in 1993, and he found out how tragic the chassis was and didn’t qualify for Indy 500 in 1993 and scrapped the whole project,” Pruett added.
With the advent of the IRL, Riley & Scott would continue the tradition of creating all-American products for the Indy 500, and while its chassis proved to have too much downforce to succeed at the Speedway, Buddy Lazier was able to win at Phoenix using a R&S MkVIII before eventually migrating to a Dallara.
Who knows where the next Verizon IndyCar Series chassis will hail from—something built in North America would certainly have the support from many within its loyal audience of fans and participants.
Looking back on Truesports’ independent all-American program, Pruett was proud to have been associated with the project.
“It was very ambitious, it was very exciting to be a part of,” he said. “It was fun to be part of ‘Made in America,’ and ingenuity. That car was a game-changer. It was an all-carbon fiber chassis, the gearbox was innovative … It was an interesting time. We did the entire project for $4 million, which wouldn’t even be a blip on the radar today. For what we had, it turned out great.”