I had the opportunity to speak with Red Bull Racing driver Scott Speed, who runs the #2 car for Eddie Sharp Racing in the ARCA series, and the #22 for Bill Davis Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Scott scored his first win in a stock car in the Kansas Lottery $150 Grand ARCA race at Kansas Speedway in April. He followed that up with a win last weekend at Dover in the Truck Series.
Speed, 25, was picked as the winner of the Red Bull Driver Search program, an attempt to get an American into Formula 1. Speed eventually drove for Scuderia Toro Rosso in F1, only to part ways with the team in the summer of 2007. Since then he has switched his focus to oval tracks and stock car racing. He is honing his skills in ARCA, while running the Truck Series part-time, with the eventual goal of running the Sprint Cup Series.
This weekend, Scott will be doing double-duty - running the NCTS race at Texas Motor Speedway Friday night, and racing the ARCA race at Pocono, Pennsylvania on Saturday. You can see both races on the (no pun intended) Speed Channel.
Adam Amick: Scott, how does it feel to have the confidence and support of Red Bull and the owner there, Dietrich Mateschitz, to make such a dramatic change from Formula One to stock cars?
Scott Speed: For me, at my age, it’s an incredible opportunity. It would be very easy to go from Formula One into any other form of open-wheel racing or even road-racing for that matter. To have the ability and the relationship with Red Bull where they would support me in a venture like this is awesome. I mean I’m basically getting to start over with an amazing backing from Red Bull. So I get to start over with a full learning curve, starting from nothing, and that’s real exciting because it’s neat to learn this new form of racing.
AA: That’s interesting that you talk about starting over. We look at the recent influx of open-wheel drivers coming into the stock-car world, and you look at names like Dario Franchitti and Juan Pablo Montoya. These guys are coming into stock cars and they’re ten years older than you are. So you’re getting quite a jump on them whereas you’ve also got some young guys – just last week Joey Logano, just turned 18 and he’s getting into the Nationwide Series now. So you’re kinda in between the two and in a position where you can really have a full career in stock car racing.
SS: Yeah, I try to experience everything and given the opportunity to try this it’s a huge personal challenge for me to see if I can change my driving style from that of a Formula One car to a (NASCAR) car. So it’s completely different. Just the fact that I can learn in such a great environment and have Red Bull support me in ARCA and the Truck Series and put me in these great positions to learn it’s a great adventure.
AA: Now, what do you feel was a bigger win? Your ARCA win at Kansas or your truck win at Dover last weekend and why?
SS: Well I’d say certainly the truck win, because in ARCA I expect to win races there, and I feel like I’m probably one of the best drivers in the ARCA Championship. But in the truck series certainly I have a lot to learn. There’s guys out there like Ron Hornaday, Mike Skinner and Johnny Benson who are definitely a better racing driver than me right at the moment in the series. And to put myself in a position with the team to where we can get, where we got a bit lucky – the team made an aggressive strategy, and we made really good calls. To come up with a win already when, I wouldn’t say we didn’t deserve it, but, you know it’s premature for where we are in my learning state. I mean, that’s a huge deal.
AA: Do you attribute this, and maybe put a little more weight on the truck side because the truck handles a little more like the new Car Of Tomorrow (COT) in the Cup Series, at least the front-end design is a little more similar with the splitter and the way the aero works with it, whereas the ARCA cars are essentially old cup cars. You’re going from the old-style car to something that handles a little more or aerodynamically is a little more like the new car you’ll encounter when you work your way up to the Cup series.
SS: Absolutely, that’s exactly right. This is why we went to the Truck Series instead of the Nationwide Series. And this is kinda our thinking behind it as well. It’s going to be a huge help to race with cars that are similar to the COT, as well with guys that are really, you know, really great. You know the competition level in the Truck Series is amazing. So, everything is good there.
AA: Yeah the Truck Series is very impressive. You’ve got up and coming drivers like yourself. You’ve got young guys like Kyle Busch who race there who also race in the Cup Series, but are young and are building seat time continually. And then you’ve got some of the older dogs in guys who are even former Cup drivers such as Ron Hornaday, Mike Skinner, and Johnny Benson. So you’re getting kinda both ends of the deal and getting a really good balance there of competition to help build your skill set toward your Sprint Cup debut.
SS: Yes, absolutely. And I’m with guys who are really helping me. I mean I’m in a great situation with Bill Davis Racing right now where I’ve got two amazing truck drivers Johnny (Benson) and Mike (Skinner) who are just completely open with me. Who kinda even look after me like I’m, you know, like they’re a real part of my learning experience. And both those guys and everyone on the team have been amazing in helping my career. I think that’s, you know, the hidden value behind the situation we’re in the fact that I’ve got those two guys who really have my back and are looking out for me.
AA: Now how do you feel about coming to Texas Motor Speedway? This is going to be you first time here at the track?
AA: Have you run on one of these quad-ovals yet?
SS: I’m not quite sure, I probably have. I mean it’s all kind of a…
AA: Have you run at Atlanta or Charlotte?
SS: Yes, I’ve run both in the truck actually. So I assume that it’ll be like everything else. I mean honestly, all of the tracks from one to the other they’ve all been pretty easy for me to learn. At the end of the day it’s just two corners. If you can’t figure it out in a hundred laps then you probably never will - in my opinion. But the challenging part of it is not taking the truck or the car and driving it around the track fast. That’s relatively easy.
What’s really hard is setting the truck up or the car and having a communication with the team about what the truck or car is doing. You know, I have so little experience in these it’s difficult for me to tell whether I need to make a sway-bar adjustment or a spring adjustment or a caster adjustment. I mean, it’s a totally new world and that’s the most challenging. And then of course there’s the racing is so different. I mean, you’ve got to pass guys around the outside. There’s really hard, close racing all race long. That as well is so new it’s a huge challenge.
AA: You’re looking at coming in from Formula One – from arguably the most high- technology racing vehicles in the world, into what’s relatively a low-technology vehicle. Albeit there’s a lot of technology in the development and the design but it’s really a hands-on mechanic’s (car), and you’re not looking at the computers running the machine and the ability to make adjustments on the fly; the pit crew has to make adjustments.
Plus, you’re going from Formula One where again, you don’t get a lot of side-by-side racing – to racing door-to-door in very narrow confines of tracks here. How has that adjustment come, and how have you been able to adjust your psyche to that vast difference in technology and in racing?
SS: (Laughs) It’s certainly a lot different. I mean the technology and the, let’s say, I don’t know, the quality of the cars here are nothing, they’re crap at the end of the day. I mean they’re really old, old, old, technology, and it’s kinda interesting to see how the way the engineering works as well. I mean, In Formula One there are no old engineers – there’s not anyone who’s been around forever. I mean those guys get passed up by the new up and coming, you know, geniuses of tomorrow from college.
So there’s always this venting and venting and venting in Formula One and here, it’s almost as like, you know, the technology hasn’t changed in so long. It’s just been perfected and perfected and perfected. So you’ll see a guy walking around the garage area who’s, you know, looks old, looks weathered, looks like he’s been around for thirty years, and like, that’s the man. You know he’s been around for so long he knows the ins and outs of everything, and the technology hasn’t changed. And that guy still is very wise and helpful in this era where that would never be the case in Europe. So it is [a] totally different atmosphere and the fact that it is relatively simple, most people can understand it. Formula One is a place where, you know, it’s so hard to understand because it is on such a different level it almost loses its… pride I would say.
You know when you win a race here, you can look into every single person who’s touched and made that car, and you can understand what they’ve done. In Formula One it’s almost, you know, untouchable.
AA: Such is the vast difference between the racing series. Has a specific date or track been established for your Cup debut? I think the teams are very pleased with your progress to date and are looking forward to possibly getting you in the Cup car later this season.
SS: I’m sure we’ll be in a Cup car sooner or later. No date’s been set, nothing has really been organized. I’m sure they’re working on something. I mean, I’m personally in no rush at all - The longer the better for me. But in saying that, it’ll happen sooner or later.
AA: One more question here before we let you go. Scott, talk about your post-race pose. I mean, you’ve got guys out there who’ll do backflips, they’ll climb the fence, they’ll give a bow. It looks like you’ve brought your own unique little signature, “Hey. I’m here, I’ve won. This is my thing,” kind of deal into NASCAR.
SS: Uh I don’t know. I like to mix it up a little bit. I’m not one normally to copy. I like to be my own. If it something strikes me in my head to do, I do it. I’m at a bit of a different place than most people here just because, you know, I’ve lived in so many other areas. And I’d say I’ve experienced a fair bit more culture than most people here. So I have different ideas and different things that I do and I don’t mind being different or if someone things that because I have my toenails manicured/pedicured that I’m crazy. I don’t care. I mean, I do my stuff my own way and leave it at that.
AA: That’s fantastic, well Scott Speed we wish you the best of luck and look forward to hopefully seeing you Friday evening when the Craftsman Truck Series comes rolling into the Texas Motor Speedway along with the Indycar Series this weekend. We appreciate you taking time with us.
SS: Thank you.