They all want in.
At least that's the feeling around the RallyCross paddock these days. Drivers from Formula One, NASCAR, IndyCar: They all want in on the fun. They hear Travis Pastrana at Nationwide Series races gushing about the fun he has sliding his Dodge in the dirt. They see the increased popularity drivers such as Tanner Foust and Ken Block are experiencing now that the series has truly gone global. They watched former F1 and NASCAR driver Scott Speed win the X Games in Foz do Iguaçu in April. And now they all want a chance to be the next rookie champ.
"Just today, I was in race control watching practice and one of the biggest racing teams in America was texting me about being in the sport," says Global RallyCross CEO Chip Pankow. "Six to eight drivers in NASCAR and IndyCar want in, a handful of guys in Formula One, drivers in dirt racing. The interest was already so high, and when Scott won [in Foz do Iguaçu], they realized a new driver can come in and win."
It happened in Los Angeles last year, too. French driver Sébastien Loeb, a nine-time World Rally Championship winner, won X Games in his rookie RallyCross debut. Loeb is the most successful driver in WRC history. The fact that his skills translated to a win in RallyCross was little surprise. But Speed's win was. He was coming in cold to dirt racing, had never jumped a car and had experienced only tempered success in F1 and NASCAR. He was not a favorite in Foz.
Until the racing started, that is. "It all clicked," Speed said after winning his first heat in dramatic fashion that day. "It just seems to come naturally to me."
Speed's win certainly raised the bar for all future rookies—eight of 15 drivers in Foz were rookies; two are competing here in Munich—but it also piqued the interest of drivers who thought RallyCross looked like a heck of a lot of fun but never believed they had a legitimate shot of competing with the best drivers in the series.
"I've wanted to do Global RallyCross for over a year now, but this is the only race that fit in with my other commitments," says nine-time Indy 500 competitor Townsend Bell, who is making his RallyCross debut in Munich. "I would've flown to Russia to do it. It just looks too cool. And Scott Speed certainly made it look easy."
Especially considering he had zero minutes of seat time in a rally car before racing in Brazil, a storyline played up heavily on the broadcast. Bell prepared for his Munich debut with two days of testing in a GRC Lites car. Sounds like the perfect amount of prep time for drivers from a major racing series whose schedules would allow for little more.
"I think we're going to see a lot more crossover drivers," says ARCA and former Nationwide driver Steve Arpin, who finished fourth in Foz and is making his second start in Munich. "I've had a lot of guys call and seriously ask about it. For now, I'll just say friends. NASCAR friends. Guys who drive in the Cup series."
After Foz, Tab Boyd, spotter for Sprint Cup driver Joey Logano, called and offered to work as Arpin's spotter in a GRC race. "I told him, 'I don't know that we can afford to pay you,'" Arpin says. "But Tab says, 'Pay me? I'll do it for free. That looks like so much fun.'"
But not everyone in the field believes drivers should be taking joker laps into the sport. "There are a lot of dudes who I believe don't deserve to be here," says 2011 X Games RallyCross champ Brian Deegan. "There are a lot of fast guys who race cars. But should they get to come to X Games? I don't think so. They haven't earned the right to be here. They haven't paid their dues."
But Deegan concedes that, in a young sport like GRC, one that is still finding its footing, creating stars, and building rivalries and a fan base, a few bold-faced names from other racing series could help to grow the sport.
"I'm cool with anyone who's put in the time, has the skill, is a good character and is good for the sport. If you're helping bring in fans and sell tickets, great," he says. "If you're not, get out of here. This is X Games. Fans come to see the stars who helped to build this thing battle one another. These guys are taking away from that. Every so often, you can sprinkle in a few new drivers, but I think the sport is getting overrun by guys who don't deserve to be here."
But as long as those guys are running at the front of the pack, more drivers will continue to want in.