Scott Speed hopes for RallyCross repeat
At 30 years old, the appropriately named Scott Speed has raced virtually every type of vehicle there is with four wheels and an engine. Karts. Trucks. Formula One, NASCAR, Indy and rally. A career that started at age 10 with karts has taken him around the globe, from Brazil to Malaysia to France to Bahrain to that most exotic and romantic locale: Talladega.
But he's now looking eagerly ahead to this weekend, when he'll race at the X Games in Barcelona's Olympic Stadium and get the chance to recreate cherished childhood days playing with little model cars on the living room floor.
"The reason this appeals so much to guys like myself is that when you're really young, before you're watching motor racing on TV, you're playing with your Hot Wheels cars,'' Speed said recently during a break in racing at Talladega. "And you're not just driving them over the course, you're jumping them. The imagination takes over. And basically what we have here is something that is closer to what you were doing as a really young kid when you were playing with your Hot Wheels cars.''
Of course, the situation is a little different now. For one thing, parents probably wouldn't be too comfortable with their 5-year-olds behind the wheel at the X Games RallyCross, even if their short legs could reach the gas pedal. The RallyCross race will take place entirely within the narrow confines of Olympic Stadium, which makes for a very tight course.
"It will be a little compact as far as space,'' Speed said. "But it's interesting in that they've almost made it like a figure 8, where at some point, you have to go over the other cars going the other direction. I think that's going to make for one heck of a show.''
The twisting course should also provide more learning curves for Speed, whose RallyCross debut was last month at the Brazil X Games, where he experienced vision-clouding red dust, joker turns and his exhilarating first-ever jump. It wasn't exactly Talladega, Daytona or Indianapolis, but Speed nevertheless won the race in a major upset when he passed Toomas Heikkinen with a superbly executed joker turn just before the finish line.
"I really enjoyed how different it was. I obviously enjoyed the joker aspect of it,'' he said. "There were just a lot of different things I hadn't done in a race before. It was very much a show, a sprint race that was unbelievably ecstatic for us. There was never any time I was driving around out there just making laps. It was always a 110 percent go.''
Speed said that when he earned the pole position for the re-start final, the plan was to use the joker in the first lap "to make sure no one would overtake us and we would have a clear track in front of us and the dirt wouldn't affect us.'' Once he fell back to third place in Turn 1 though, it was time for Plan B. That meant holding the joker until the end, when he dashed past Heikkinen for the surprising gold in a most crafty move.
Speed attributes his quick success in rally partly to the experience gained by driving in so many different formats.
"I grew up with open-wheel stuff. That's what I was best at,'' he said. "When you transition to something like stock car racing, there are a lot of things you have to learn and a process you have to go through. And I think that having gone through a process of change like that I'm just inherently better at adapting to new situations. So I think it's just that different process of driving different things and learning how to adapt.''
Speed says he learned a lot in Brazil thanks to the generous help of such drivers as Travis Pastrana, especially with techniques for successfully landing his jumps, which he had never experienced on four wheels before. He'll face more challenges this weekend. Not only will there be limited time to practice on the RallyCross course, he'll be competing against Barcelona's Nani Roma in addition to all the other top drivers.
And he's looking forward to it with the zeal of a young kid playing with his Hot Wheels.
"I'll say right away, that there is still a lot I need to learn in [rally] and still a lot of room for improvement,'' he said. "So I feel good about that.''