Journeyman: After Formula One, NASCAR, Scott Speed Finds Home In Global Rallycross

Scott Speed celebrates victory at the Red Bull Global Rallycross event in Memphis in April (Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool)

When Scott Speed arrives at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park for the first time this weekend he’ll find a facility that – with a road course and oval track – has many of the offerings that fit well into his intensely varied racing history.

But the former Formula One and NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series driver will be putting on a display for fans in Thompson unlike anything anyone has ever seen at the historic racing venue.

In a racing discipline that’s part off road rally and part high-flying acrobatics, Speed has landed perfectly in a home he loves with Red Bull Global Rallycross, which makes its Thompson debut Saturday and Sunday.

Speed, who competes for Andretti Autosport, is the two-time defending Red Bull Global Rallycross champion.

“This series 100 percent fits me to a tee and so do my sponsors,” Speed said. “Between Volkswagen and Oberto and Rockstar and Circle K, like, it’s perfect. I don’t have to fake it. I get to do cool outlandish stuff. They love it. We get to make awesome videos. The videos we put out for Volkswagen get hundreds of thousands of views. It’s a really great niche. … The cool thing is, I have never been able to fake it, ever. So when it comes to having sponsors like Oberto and Rockstar Energy, I don’t have to fake it. I love that stuff. I make them deliver me the products.

“Everybody that I’m involved with, from the team to the manufacturers to the sponsors all fit super well with me. And I think that’s some of the reason why we’ve had so much success.”

With a racing discipline that many would call more Gen-X “action sport” than most motorsport types, Speed’s road to Global Rallycross was hardly a path seemingly destined to its eventual destination.

Scott Speed in action at the Red Bull Global Rallycross event in Louisville in May (Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool)

A native of Manteca, Cal., the 34-year old Speed began in karting at age 10 and quickly realized his dream was to compete in Formula One racing, the ultimate level of motorsports in the world. It was a hope that for any American driver seems almost foolish to even dream.

But winning the Red Bull Driver Search program in 2003 gave Speed an opened path to reach that ultimate goal. In 2005 Speed participated as a test driver for the Formula One Red Bull Racing team and in 2006, when the organization created a second team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, Speed was tabbed as one of the two drivers for the new outfit. At the time he was the first American driver in Formula One since Michael Andretti in 1993.

Speed made 28 starts over two seasons for the team, but was released during the 2007 season, replaced by eventual four-time Formula One World Champion Sebastian Vettell.

“It was always my ultimate dream,” Speed said. “For the rest of my racing career, making it to Formula One on merit will always be my greatest achievement, by a landslide. There’s not been an American to do what I’ve done since I did it and before me the last one to do it was Michael. It’s hard to explain to a lot of people what it meant to race there I know because the people I’ve been around for so long are all kind of people in the NASCAR community and it’s not a community that knows or gets Formula One. But, ultimately, when it comes to motor racing in the world, you cannot compare anything to it. It is a true worldwide sport. It is World Cup. It is the Olympics. It is that big. So, that to me will always be where it’s at. Until the day I die that will always be what I’m most proud of in my life.”

Scott Speed (Photo: Garth Milan/Red Bull Content Pool)

Speed returned to the United States and through his continued relationship with Red Bull began a swift climb up the NASCAR stock car racing ladder. For the 2009 season Speed replaced AJ Allmendinger in one of two Red Bull Racing entries in NASCAR’s premier Monster Energy Cup.

But the marriage of Speed and NASCAR was hardly perfect.

“The culture was just something that just didn’t fit me,” Speed said. “I grew up in California and I lived in Europe and I landed in Charlotte (N.C.) doing NASCAR. There was more culture shock for me being in Charlotte with that group of people than there was for me moving from California to Europe.

“It was a rough deal. We had a rough deal as a team. Red Bull and myself were very non-NASCAR, to be fair. It’s not something that I conformed with at all. So I was kind of a little out of place there. At least at the beginning part of my last year at Red Bull Racing [2010], we had really good results. We were eighth or ninth in the points after the first five races and they went back to the spoiler from the wing. From a team standpoint we didn’t grasp it. We ran 25th to 30th for the rest of the year. But, it was cool. I had my moments when I ran at the front and it was fun.”

Despite feeling out of place, Speed looks back fondly on his time in NASCAR.

“I met a lot of really great people. I can’t say enough about how friendly the NASCAR community was and how blown away I was by that, especially when you come from Formula One,” Speed said. “When you’re in Formula One the team next to you isn’t even from your country, they don’t even speak your language. That’s a huge difference to NASCAR where, one of the cars has a problem right before a race, all the other teams jump in and help them out. There’s this huge sense of community and camaraderie in NASCAR and that was so refreshing and so great to be a part of.

“I was an outsider, so was Red Bull. We were not the good old boys by any means. It was just different. I didn’t like to go hunting and fishing on my weekends off, it was a different kind of deal. But I can never say enough about how friendly those people are. There is not a nicer group of people in the world than those guys in the NASCAR paddock and they treat each other so well.”

Despite losing his ride with Red Bull Racing after the 2010 season, Speed continued to find rides within the Monster Energy Cup Series, though mostly with underfunded teams looking mostly for “Start and Park” drivers.

It was during a NASCAR weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway that Speed’s path to Global Rallycross began.

“I was racing at Bristol and a guy who ran the [Global Rallycross] series  came up and asked if I would be interested in doing a guest VIP drive at the X-Games in Brazil in the Rallycross event there that year,” Speed said. “I immediately said ‘Of course, that sounds great.’ And then I went home and went on YouTube and I realized that these guys did these huge jumps and I was like ‘Holy [crap].’ Basically I really considered not doing it. But then I was like, ‘What the hell, you only live once, I’ll try it.’

In his first event Speed won a gold medal at the X-Games and in the process fell in love with Rallycross racing.

“It was like: A. This is the [most fun] thing I’ve ever done in my life; B. I’m really good at it; C. I just won an X-Games gold medal,” Speed said. “And so then that kind of transitioned into running that season. From there we’ve had lots of success. And then Volkswagen came in with Andretti to make a proper effort and the stars aligned and I basically took over that role there to drive for Michael [Andretti] and Volkswagen and that has just blossomed over the years. Now I consider the Andretti team family. It’s been a great experience.”

Scott Speed in action at the Red Bull Global Rallycross event in Memphis in April (Photo: Chris Tedesco/Red Bull Content Pool)

Red Bull Global Rallycross hosts 12 events in eight different markets this year. Outside of Thompson the series has already visited Memphis and Louisville this year and has events scheduled later this year in Los Angeles, Seattle, Indianapolis, Atlantic City and Ottawa, Canada.

“[If I was selling it], I would tell people that

our last race is on social media right now with almost two million views on it for a reason,” Speed said. “It’s just the most exciting form of motor racing out there right now, bottom line. It’s the future of motor racing. It’s at a point right now similar to where NASCAR was when it started taking off.

“The car I race is a Volkswagen Beetle. The actual car is the same car you can go in the showroom and buy, just like it was way back in the NASCAR day. The difference is you take all the guts out of the car and you put the latest technology of transmission in, the latest technology of shocks and the latest engine technology. Our engine is 2-liters and it does 0-60 in 1.9 seconds. It’s disgusting.

“You basically get to see a car that you can buy from a dealership do something incredible. Back in the NASCAR day that was just go really fast in a circle. Now here, this generation they want to see fast acceleration, they want to see jumps, they want to see the car go through the dirt. I feel like for the general fan, the recipe is the same. They get to see a car they can identify with do something mind blowing. And [Global Rallycross] delivers that in spades.”

Click here for more on this weekend’s Red Bull Global Rallycross event in Thompson


  1. Facts
    Waterford is up for sale

    I put a bid in too
    The track is going great to be sold soon
    I seen a lot of hedge fund guys hanging out at Waterford moves
    I asked hey what are nycity guys doing down here
    They replied they are buying a race track

  2. Almost was going to check this out, until I checked the ticket prices.

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