Interview: Racecar driver Scott Speed

Former Formula One racer would like to bring rallycross to Prague

American race car driver Scott Speed was in Prague recently as part of the Legendy Moto Show to introduce the Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport.

He was happy to have a relatively relaxed schedule, as normally when he is racing competitively, he does not have a chance to do any sightseeing.

“It is interesting to see so many really old buildings. A lot happened in the city and I am a big history buff, so it is great to be able to walk around the city,” Speed said.

Speed made his name in Formula One racing, but now is involved in rallycross, a form of sprint style racing held on a closed circuit.

“In Europe it has been around for a long time. It has a pretty decent following in Europe, but in America it is relatively new but in the past five years it has really taken off because it is so dynamic and there is so much action. And the cars are incredible. The cars accelerate 0 to 60 in 1.9 seconds. To me they feel like they come off of the line faster than an F1 car did,” Speed said.

“They are really incredible cars, and we have these big jumps, 60 to 80 feet through the air, and the cars are engineered and designed to take all that, which is really impressive,” he added.

He would like to bring the sport to Prague. “It would be great to have a rallycross race here in the city. The cool thing about rally cross, especially in America, is that we bring the races into these big populated areas. We race in LA on the pier because the tracks don't have to be so big. The cars accelerate so quickly. It is kind of a supercross style of motor racing,” he said.

“The options of doing it in these really cool locations is some of the draw. It would be very cool to have a race somewhere in Europe in a town like this where you could close off a little bit of the space and put a temporary track down,” Speed added.

Speed has tried several types of racing. He was active in Formula One in Europe for six years and NASCAR in America for five years. “I love rallycross. I have been introduced to it in the beginning of its life and I think rallycross has the potential to become a huge motor racing sport. Especially in America. So I am going to be one of the hopefully founding athletes of the sport when it get to its max potential,” he said.

He plans to stick with rallycross from now on. “Rallycross is something I think has a better future. It really connects with the young people in our country and it is the first thing I have ever done in motor racing that would be considered cool,” he said.

“If I was in high school right now and I was a rallycross driver and three-times X Games gold medalist I would be the coolest kid in high school. But in fact when I was in high school I was doing motor racing and nobody thought it was cool. … but rally cross is quote unquote cool,” he said.

But his big break was in Formula One. “Being able to come up through the ranks and be a Formula One racer was very unique for an American. Not so many people have done this. In America, Formula One is not so mainstream. It happens in a different timezone and it is almost impossible to drum up an American sponsor,” he said. He was the first American driver to participate in Formula One since Michael Andretti in 1993.

He got into Formula One due to driver search competition held by Red Bull. He won in the competition against 15 other drivers. This gave him the chance to go to Europe and race through the system.

He no longer keeps tabs on what is happening in Formula One, though. “I don't miss Formula One. I miss all my friends. But I had been in Europe for six years. I was ready to go home. I very much like my country. It is so easy for me to live there,” he said.

While he has not raced in Prague, he did in Brno in 2004 in Formula Renault “It was a double header weekend. I won both races. It was a good experience in Brno,” he said.

He considers himself lucky to have experienced different kinds of racing that require different skill sets. “I think naturally my ultimate talent is driving an open wheel car. There is no question. I feel this is what I can do at the highest level. But it has been cool to be able to go and do rallycross, which is such a different driving style and technique. … And I really have enjoyed the process of learning these new techniques and forms of racing,” he said..

“There is a lot more gray area in what I am doing now. There is so much going on … and the car is constantly in motion. It is very beautiful,” he said.

He sees differences between rallycross and rally driving. “Rally I think is a much different skill set. You are going through a forest with trees going by at 160 km per hour so you have to be a little bit crazy as well. I think for me I will stick to circuit racing where there is a safety crew and an entire barrier,” he said.

Speed began racing when he was 11 years old. “I am really competitive. Growing up I did all the sports, football and baseball and I was pretty good at everything I did but as soon as I got into go-kart it was very clear immediately that it was something I could do very well. After one year I had already won my first national championship. And I went up and up to the top level of karting and I ended up winning a lot there. And after that I ended up getting a lot of sponsorships in the lower formula cars and at that time I was selected by Red Bull to be part of their driver search program,” he said, referring to the competition that led him to Formula One.

“I took that from there and went to Europe and really went racing through the open wheel series in Europe,” he said.

While Speed liked being in Prague, he wasn't interested in Czech beer, which is considered the best in the world. “I don't drink .. I'm a real crazy guy. I don't need to drink to have a good time,” he said.

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