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Life in the fast lane: Manteca racer reflects on career, future

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Life in the fast lane: Manteca racer reflects on career, future

Manteca native Scott Speed hops into his No. 82 Red Bull Toyota during the Auto Club 500 in Fontana Feb. 20.

Photo by DALE BOSOWSKI/


POSTED March 14, 2009 6:35 a.m.
With a rare break in the schedule, Manteca’s Scott Speed will get a welcome weekend off before the grueling 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season resumes on March 22 at the famed Bristol Motor Speedway quarter mile in Tennessee.

Just getting to NASCAR has been a long and winding journey for Speed, who honed his racing skills around the Central Valley in go karts. His proficiency in karts was rewarded with coveted driver scholarship with Red Bull that catapulted him into a progression of open-wheel series in both the U.S. and Europe.

His consistent success in those series ultimately earned Speed a seat on the Scuderia Toro Rosso Formula One team for the 2006 season, becoming the first and only American to drive in F1 since Michael Andretti in 1993.

 “The competition is so much better over there in road racing — everyone is better,” Speed said. “It is like soccer, if you want to really learn the sport, you go to Europe. It took three years just to catch up to them.”
Speed’s sudden and surprising plunge into stock cars transpired in 2007 when he was released from his contract with Toro Rosso seven races into the season in what was described as a mutual parting of the ways. With continued backing by Red Bull he headed back to America to try his hand in the ARCA/REMAX Series and NASCAR Craftsman Trucks.     

Although NASCAR was a completely alien world to him, the outgoing, sometimes brash 26 year old has not had any regrets about leaving Europe and open-wheel racing for oval style stock car racing in the states.

“Being back in America has been great. The transition has been a little harder than I thought, but everything is more fun here. People here want to see you succeed where in Europe they (the press) seemed to be against you just because you were an American.”

It is not without irony that despite his close proximity to the Stockton 99 Speedway while he was growing up, Speed never had any interest in getting behind the wheel of a stock car, although he did develop friendships with some of local talent racing there — including the Belletto family and Burney Lamar — through karting.

“I never cared about oval racing at all. The only thing I remember ever doing at the local stock car tracks was going up to see Burney race at Altamont once. I told him ‘Man, you have sold out racing ovals,’” Speed said with a laugh.

Despite his lifelong ambition to race, Speed claims he never idolized any other drivers while he was growing up.

“I never really had any heroes, at least in racing. I never wanted to admit that anybody could beat me or was better than me,” Speed said. “The only hero I’ve ever had is my dad.”

After driving fulltime last season in ARCA for Eddie Sharp Racing, where he just missed winning the season championship after a controversial finish in the final race of the season, and a partial schedule in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, where he finished in the top 10 in nine of 16 starts and picked up a win at the Monster Mile in Dover, Delaware, Speed was deemed ready for Cup.

“The trucks really helped me, but it has been a huge change,” Speed said. “This is like being Tom Cruise in Top Gun — a bad-ass fighter pilot. These things move around a lot and you are always on edge. Qualifying is not so difficult, it is not rocket science, but as soon you get 40 guys swarming around you it gets to be really tricky. It becomes an art.”

Speed has been impressed with the reception he has received from the other drivers and teams in Cup. He believes that paying his dues for a year in ARCA and the trucks gained him some respect and goodwill in the paddock.

“Unlike F1 everyone is really friendly here. Jimmie Johnson has been a big help, but the guy I have watched the most since coming over here has been Kyle Busch. I think he is an incredible driver. What he does on the track and how he does it is what I want to be able to do.”

While Speed appreciates the competitiveness and the atmosphere in NASCAR, he does miss the technology and agility of F1 cars.

“An F1 car is so damn fast it is like being the pilot of the space shuttle. Their acceleration and the way they corner is just amazing,” Speed said. “With these (NASCAR) it is almost like driving your family car down the freeway.”

Speed has not set any specific targets for himself in his rookie season other than to continue to improve his stock car skills, particularly on oval tracks. He currently sits in 37th in the Sprint Cup points, with three DNFs in the first four races.

“I haven’t set any result goals because they are so controlled by what everyone else does. I just want to learn as much as possible and continue to get better. The funny thing is the more I go at this, the more I realize I still have a lot to learn.”

Speed scoffed at recent rumors that he is considering a move back to F1, along with Indy Car’s Danica Patrick as his teammate, with the newly formed USGP team that is planning to hit the asphalt in 2010.

 “Danica has a hard enough time driving an Indy Car on road course. What makes you think she could drive a car twice as fast?” cracked Speed. “The competition in F1 is so fierce and the sport changes so fast that I don’t think I could go back right now and be successful.”

Does Speed feel that he has found a permanent home in NASCAR? Maybe and maybe not.

“I have enjoyed learning a new craft like NASCAR so much that after I have done everything I can here and I am in a position where I can’t win a championship or run as well as I would like,” contemplates Speed, “then I will do something totally different like maybe jumping on a Pro Stock bike and try drag racing.”

Pit Bits
Escalon’s Eric Holmes, driver of the Bill McAnally Racing #20 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, will begin the defense of his 2008 championship this weekend as the NASCAR Camping World Series West kicks off its 56th season with the Allstate Texas Thunder 150 at Thunderhill Raceway in Kyle, Texas, on today.

The race will be shown on SPEED on March 25 at noon.

Merced Speedway will open its 2009 schedule with the 21st Annual Mr. Dirt Track event this Sunday afternoon, March 15th. The IMCA Modifieds, Compacts, Hobby Stocks and Valley Sportsman will be racing.

The New Stockton 99 Speedway will host a Spring Fling this Saturday, March 14th with an Enduro, NorCal Vintage Hardtops, American Limited Stock Cars and a Demolition Derby. The 99’s official NASCAR Whelen All American Series grand opening is scheduled for Sunday, March 22.

To contact Dale Bosowski, e-mail dalebosowski@yahoo.com.
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