Scott Speed has been around the world doing what he loves: Racing. Sao Paulo. Hong Kong. Montreal. Monaco.
Those are the perks that come with being the first American to land a Formula 1 ride since Michael Andretti in 1993.
But after two years of F1 racing, Speed came back home to America. And after a short stint in NASCAR, Speed has found a home in Global RallyCross, a dirt-track series that includes jumps and hairpin turns in 600-horsepower compact cars.
His next race is on Friday at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway, just 30 minutes from his Mount Holly home.
Speed’s rise to a level few Americans have reached started in 1993, when Speed began racing karts at age 10 near his Manteca, Calif., home.
Speed, coached by his father, Mike, won his first first national title in just his second year in racing. When Red Bull identified him, at age 19, as a potential racer for their F1 team Speed left the Bay Area to go abroad, graduating from karts to cars.
Having to focus on racing all the time made the transition easier. But with no family in Europe, Speed’s phone bills routinely fell between $1,200 and $1,600 per month, something that just became a cost of living.
“I very much enjoyed that I was able to go see the world,” Speed said. “It gave me a much different perspective on America and how life can be outside of the small fishbowl we all live in. It was probably the thing I’m most thankful for in my life.”
But two years after earning that F1 ride, Speed wanted to come home to join Red Bull’s new NASCAR team. Being in the United States was nice, he said, but the transition was, again, tough.
“It was quite different for sure,” Speed said. “Racing on an oval is quite a bit different than racing on a road course (in F1). It was a very, very steep learning curve.”
Speed struggled in NASCAR – he has one top-five and four top-10s in 118 career starts – and was released from his contract by Red Bull in 2010, leaving him without a team for most of the 2011 season.
After bouncing around between teams and a short attempt at IndyCar racing, Speed finally found a home in Global RallyCross. In his first race, at X Games Brazil, he shocked the field by taking the lead on the final lap to win.
“That was obviously a very cool first way to enter the series,” Speed said. “Having never driven a car like this before to go and be able to win, it’s something that fit my driving style I guess.
“Honestly I was just expecting to have some fun. It was so different, I had almost zero expectations for anything. I was just enjoying the opportunity I got to try something so different, and I fell in love with the sport.”
Global RallyCross appealed to Speed because of how much better technology the GRC cars have than the “archaic” NASCAR cars. It probably also didn’t hurt how quickly GRC caught on with him.
Just five months after his win in Brazil, Speed won another race in Charlotte, allowing him to finish fifth in the overall standings on the year. This season, after signing with Volkswagen Andretti RallyCross, he’s second in the season standings, with wins in Barbados and at X Games Austin.
Now with a year under his belt in GRC and his second hometown race coming up, Speed feels confident with his future in racing.
“For the rest of my life no matter what ever happens, making it to Formula 1 will be the most successful thing I’ve ever had happen,” Speed said. “I think after going over there and experiencing it and doing it all, I had an opportunity to stay, but honestly the idea of coming back to the States to try something new was quite exciting as well.”