Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with Scott Speed, who is back in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series after not having a ride for much of this season. Speed and wife Amanda are expecting their first child this week. We spoke with Speed at Richmond.
SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?
SS: Huh. (Thinks for awhile) Tony Stewart.
SBN: Really? Tony Stewart?
SS: Because he's fuckin' just the best.
SBN: And he just doesn't get credit for it?
SS: He gets credit when he's winning, but I think people forgot how fuckin' badass Tony Stewart is now that he's not fucking winning all the time. He's one of the best. Done it all.
You forget that he kind of came from the same place me and Juan (Pablo Montoya) came from, you know? And he's come over here and he's one of the best over here. That mother fucker there is a driving machine.
SBN: What's a race in your career you feel like you should have won but you didn't, and it still bugs you?
SS: None. Nothing that sticks out that really bugs me right now. I mean, that's motor racing. You get lucky, you get unlucky, you get lucky, but it all evens out.
SBN: Let's say you're going to be on a four-car Sprint Cup team – you and three other guys. Who would you pick as your three teammates?
SS: Three other guys? Jimmie (Johnson), Kyle (Busch) and Michael Waltrip – just to keep it fun, to put a little oddball in there, you know?
SBN: Wait, so you wouldn't be oddball enough for the team?
SS: Oh, I would. But I can't do it by myself! I need someone with me!
SBN: What driver did you want to model yourself after when you were coming up through the ranks?
SS: Man...no one. I took a little bit from everyone. I realized at a pretty young age that everyone's a little different on how they approach things. Obviously, a Michael Schumacher is someone who goes out there and his work ethic and the way he thinks and runs is 180 degrees different than a guy like Kimi Raikkonen. Both fucking amazing drivers, right? But polar opposites with their work ethics and how they mentally approach race weekends. Totally the opposite.
I realized pretty early on that I should try to take little bits of what people do that was better, but I never really tried to change my basic, natural personality of how I attacked a race weekend.
SBN: What's a memorable escape you've made from the track to the airport after a race?
SS: One time we were really shitty at Richmond in the Cup car, and me and Amanda just left and drove all the way home to Charlotte instead of getting on the plane. We got out of the track fast and just kept on going – fuckin' missed the airport! (Laughs) From a 1-to-10 scale, I was about a 10.5 pissed. So I was like, 'Let's just roll.'
SBN: Who is somebody famous you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?
SS: Lady Gaga.
SBN: Oh yeah?
SS: Oh no, wait. I met her, actually! But that was before she got all crazy.
SBN: You met Lady Gaga?
SS: Yeah, I met her at the Winter Music Conference, like the first year I came back from Europe. We were hanging out and waiting to do an interview or whatever, but that's before she got all fucking famous – and crazy. Because when she started out, I thought she was pretty cool. And then I think she went off the deep end. You know, like, 'Everyone thinks of me as the crazy one, so I really have to fuckin' be crazy. Let's wear a fuckin' meat suit.' Come on, man. But at the end of the day, I guess you've got to push the boundaries to keep the title of being the crazy one. So I've already met her.
You know, I'd like to meet Roger Federer. I'd really like to hang out with him because I think he's one of the most evolved sports athletes in the world, mentally.
SBN: If you could either win a few big races and miss the Chase or make the Chase and contend but not win any races all year, which would you rather do?
SS: You'd want to make the Chase. Because there are so many instances where rain is going to play a factor in some oddball winning a race, for example, who wouldn't deserve it necessarily. Or maybe one weekend they get really lucky and they fall into something.
Luck means you won a race. But if you're in the points the whole year and you're up there, that means you ran good all year and you're going to be a factor.
I don't disagree with having two extra guys in the Chase due to wins and all that, just because it's something different, but I still think you've got to keep this thing the most natural and close to the original points as you can. The guy who does the best all year long should win the championship. That's why it's a championship.
SBN: Where does your motivation to win races come from? Why do you want to win?
SS: Dude, it's just being competitive. It has nothing to do with doing it for anyone else. I'll race golf carts around. It's just the way my personality works.
I only like working on something if it's competitive, if I have something to compare myself against. And I don't even like doing things that I dominate. I don't like playing a sport that I'm better than all my friends at; I hate that. I want to play something that I'm not as good as everyone else is and figure out how to make myself rise and be the best at a given sport. And it's been like that my whole life.
SBN: Is that what's behind your huge interest in golf over the last few years?
SS: Exactly, 100 percent. Dude, I shot even par a few weeks ago for the first time ever. A 71! At a mountain course at Bristol. I'm killin' it.
SBN: Your personality is often a topic of conversation. But how much does your personality differ from when you're inside the car to standing here talking to me?
SS: I would say my personality differs a lot from when I'm in a social setting and when I'm in a competitive setting. You know, I get really, really quiet and introverted when I'm in a competitive atmosphere and I'm focused. But every other time of my life, I'm an extremely extroverted person. But I flip between the two 180 degrees.
SBN: Let's say you could switch lives with an athlete from a different sport. Who would you want to be or what sport would you want to play?
SS: I'd want to be a golfer. You're a one-man show, you don't have to worry about the engine, tires, 42 other guys. Nothing. Just you. The whole weight is only on your shoulders. You can't blame the clubs, the ball. Everything is inside your control.
SBN: If you could take a year off from NASCAR and go do whatever you wanted but come back knowing you had a ride guaranteed, would you ever want to do it?
SS: No, I'd keep racing. The most fun I have is being at the racetrack and trying to get better.
SBN: Someday when you eventually quit racing, what do you want your retirement story to say about you?
SS: Well, I'll tell you what's going to happen. When my daughter is old enough to beat me at sports, to do things with me, I'll quit. I'm a family man first and foremost, just like my dad was. And when my daughter gets old enough, I want to help her do whatever she wants to do. Hopefully she doesn't want to race. (Laughs) Golf or tennis would be good – I think I'll push her to tennis.
There's no question she's going to be an athlete and competitive as hell, given Amanda and I. That's that. So when she's old enough to do that, I'll quit and I'll want to be known for raising my family. That's the most important thing – friends and family.
SBN: So you'll be able to walk away from racing, just like that?
SS: One hundred percent. I don't have any pieces of racing stuff in my house, I don't have any trophies from all my open-wheel success in Europe. I left it all over there. I can walk away from it for sure; I do it for me.
It's really weird, you go into some drivers' places – their motorhomes, their houses, whatever – and they've got pictures of themselves and trophies all over the place. And some don't. I'm the one that has zero. The only thing I have in my house is the Monster trophy (from the 2008 Dover truck race), because I got it when I was over here.
Amanda gets pissed at me all the time, because I don't care about this stuff. I don't have suits on the wall, nothing.
SBN: Well what would you do for a job if you quit?
SS: I don't know. I certainly don't need to be rich to be happy, so it's whatever.
SBN: Let's say you're going to win the championship at some point. You can either wrap it up after Phoenix or win it off Turn 4 of the last lap of the season at Homestead. Which would you rather do?
SS: Oh, everyone would say last lap of the season, right?
SBN: No, it's probably been 50-50 on this question.
SBN: I'm serious.
SS: (Laughs incredulously) If I want to remember something, I want to remember a specific moment. A championship you won three races early is not going to mean as much to you. I know it doesn't. I know when I won stuff that was easy, it didn't mean near as much as the stuff where I really grinded it out or there was an extreme circumstance around it. Those mean more down the line.