DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Scott Speed, driver of the #47 Key Motorsports Chevrolet, stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway on February 24, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images for NASCAR)
The ex-Formula One driver talks about forgiving a past rival, how he got his last name and an awkward fan story you won't soon forget.
Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Scott Speed, who is driving for startup team Leavine Family Racing this season. Speed, an ex-Formula One driver, is 2-for-2 on his Cup qualifying attempts in the No. 95 car so far.
SBN: So my first question is...
SS: Wait, remember what I said last year?
SBN: About what?
SS: I called it! You said, 'Who is the most underrated guy?' (Switches into high-pitched, girly voice) Tony Stewaaaart! I did, I did!
SBN: Nice, I forgot about that. Anyway, what percent of your career races can you remember?
SS: Of everything I've ever done, an honest 60 percent. That's a lot of races. I mean, some races I just remember them because I remember, but the ones I don't, I write notes on everything.
Every race I've ever done, I've got a notebook at home that's got every one. So I can go back and look back and tell you what happened on every single one of them for sure, and when I start reading them, it'll click in and I'll remember everything about the race.
SBN: What was the first win you got in any form of racing?
SS: It was a go-kart race. I was 11. I won my first race at 11, and I won my first national race when I was 12. So right away when I started racing go-karts, within a year I was already winning national races. My dad was like, 'Are you going to do this, or are you going to keep playing football, baseball and all that?' And I quit everything and just did the racing.
When we won against the whole nation in just my second year racing, it was a big upset because where I was from in Northern California, typically no one really wins those national races. We beat all those guys out to win that year.
There was a lot of luck on our side and everything how the whole thing played out, but it was really big at the time. After that, for my whole life I've always been sponsored – which was huge, obviously, because my dad couldn't really pay for much.
SBN: Who is a clean driver in NASCAR you really enjoy racing with?
SS: Probably Mark Martin.
SBN: On the opposite side of that, who is someone you feel always holds you up or makes it hard on you?
SS: Dating this a little, but probably (Sam) Hornish. Not because he makes it hard on you, necessarily, but he's always so out of control, you're like, 'OK, is he wrecking now? OK, he's not wrecking, we're going to get through it.' (Laughs) He's the one guy who always seems like when you're racing around him, you're like, 'Get me out of here!'
SBN: What's your personal code of conduct on the track?
SS: For me, it depends on how our weekend is. If we're having a good weekend and we're competitive and we can do well, then I'll push the issue and make stuff happen. But if things aren't going well, you have to be respectful of people. Generally, I like to give everyone respect, because you can't have 43 guys pissed off at you and have a good weekend.
SBN: Do you keep a list of the guys who have wronged you on the track, and who you owe for payback?
SS: Depends on how long ago it was, I guess. I mean, time sort of heals everything. Like I really can remember thinking I owed Bobby Labonte one for blatantly wrecking us one year at Loudon (N.H.) when we were having a really good race. But so much time had passed that I ever got the opportunity to wreck him that I don't care anymore! (Laughs)
There are only so many times you have the opportunity to race around that person or give a payback that's not ridiculous and is going to try to kill somebody. Sometimes you forget about those things, and sometimes they're fresh in your mind and you immediately do something about it – (Ricky) Stenhouse comes to mind (see video below).
SBN: Oh yeah, the ARCA deal.
SS: It's one of those things where it's done on the track and afterward, it's fine. You know, people tweet me all the time about how Stenhouse is doing really good right now and they don't like Stenhouse because we should have won the ARCA championship and they're fans of mine.
I'm like, 'Dude, I love the kid! I think he's awesome.' I've never had a problem with him; if I were in his shoes, I might have done the same thing. It's just that on track, it's like a code of conduct. It's what has to be done.
SBN: Who is a driver from the past you'd like to team with if you could turn back time?
SS: (Dale Earnhardt) Sr., for sure. I think it's just so unattainable right now; it's because you can't. Maybe someone would say 'Richard Petty,' but you can kind of hang out with Richard; you know Richard. I didn't know Dale at all; I never met him. And obviously he impacted the sport as much as anyone. To see how he went about it in that age and see how that happened, that would be cool.
SBN: When is the last time you got nervous about anything?
SS: Man, every day when I go to bed, I'm always nervous about how many times (seven-month-old daughter) Juliet is going to wake up in the middle of the night. (Laughs)
Actually, when I play golf, I get really nervous.
SBN: Why's that? You're good at golf.
SS: I'm alright. I shoot in the 70s, but not the 60s! My spotter, Josh (Williams), is pro. He shot 64 the other day when we went and played. I get nervous because it's something I don't do naturally and I'm trying to get better at it, and I don't know the result.
Nervous is not knowing the result. In racing, I've learned that I don't try to predict anything anymore. I don't think, 'Man, I'm going to go out in this qualifying run right now, and it's going to be a little free, and I'm going to drive it a little bit free.' I go into everything now completely with an open mind, because you can't predict it, and that's racing – it's all reactionary.
So when I do something like golf where I've not grown up doing it and there's still a lot I don't know, naturally I'm just more nervous.
I care about everything. It doesn't matter what I'm doing; I have the same passion for everything. We could be racing golf carts around and I'd be just as competitive over it.
SBN: You guys meet a lot of fans at appearances and autograph signings, and sometimes they can ask you some awkward questions. Can you share a memorable awkward fan story?
SS: I remember when we were racing ARCA, we were going everywhere, and that time I had just come over from Formula One. You've got to understand, it's the biggest motorsport in the world and then I went to go race ARCA. So it was a lot different, right?
At the time, (future wife) Amanda started doing my P.R., and I'd have some NASCAR-type fans around at various tracks. But when we went to Canada, it was like every single person in the entire place came to see me. And I'll never forget Amanda going, 'What the hell is going on?' I'm like, 'Sweetheart – we're worldly!' Like everyone knew who I was, and it was crazy.
Anyway, there was this one girl there who was kind of freaking out a little bit. She asked me if I would sign her shirt – but I didn't have a pen at the time. Well, she kept following me and saying, 'Can you sign my shirt? Can you sign my shoe?' And I said, 'I don't have anything to sign with.'
So she literally said, 'Can you spit on my shoe?' She asked me if I could spit on her shoe! I'll never forget that. I said, 'No, I can't spit on your shoe. Come back later and I'll sign it.'
SBN: If you had to do one of the following jobs after you retire, would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or high-ranking NASCAR official?
SS: Oh, definitely something on camera. It's just more fun. I'm not necessarily a fan of just watching sport, really ever – I like doing it. But I'd like (broadcasting) for the simple fact that I could watch it and still talk about it. That's why I like Twitter so much – I like engaging fans, I like the ability to get instant feedback. I think that would be fun, just to see what the feedback would be like that you'd get from being an announcer.
SBN: Is that something you'd seriously be interested in doing someday?
SS: I honestly thought about it a lot. I don't know if I could do it in a traditional sense – like Michael Waltrip does, for example – but I could do something more than just what's being broadcast in the race. Like going in and explaining and showing stuff you don't get to see, I think I'd really enjoy doing something like that. Something that's more personal and real with the drivers.
When you're watching at home, I don't think the fans get a sense of what it's truly like. Not that NASCAR does a bad job of producing it or the TV doesn't do a good job of describing it, but they explain the technical side so well on the broadcast; I think people would be interested in seeing how the other, personal side works.
Like what are people doing in their lives? In the garage, there's guys who do it so differently. Some guys are working on race cars all week, every day; some guys, as soon as they get home, they're going on the boat. There's so many different contrasts and personalities, I think it would be cool to show that.
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
SS: Is my last name really Speed? When people first meet me and ask me what I do, they're like, 'Is that really your last name?'
SBN: Well, you've got to admit it's quite a coincidence.
SS: Oh, 100 percent! My dad's last name when he was born was Holtzclaw, and my grandma re-married when my dad was 3 to a guy whose last name was Speed. I always say, 'Good job, grandma, that was a good decision.' (Laughs) Thank you!
SBN: I've been asking each driver to give me a question for the next guy. Martin Truex Jr. couldn't come up with a very good one, so he just said to ask when his next win would be.
SS: (Looks puzzled) Really? That was really his question? When is he going to win again? What is that? Really? Come on, man! (Laughs) I'll just say next weekend (at Talladega).
SBN: And can you help me out with a question for the next guy?
SS: Yes. Would you rather be a race car driver in 20 years from now or would you rather be a race car driver 20 years ago? Obviously, the race car driver has changed. Like back in the old F1 days, the old Indy 500 days, you had to be pretty crazy to be a race car driver. They were more (Travis) Pastrana-like – no fear, all guts.
Now, it's becoming safer, everything is changing, it's a different type of sport. The race car driver is a little bit different; they're not always the crazy, risk-taker type. And I think in 20 years from now, it's going to change even more. The chance of dying or getting really hurt is going down, which will change things.
SBN: So how would you answer that question?
SS: I'd say I would race 20 years from now, because A) I'd be curious to see where it's at and B) It'd be safer. I enjoy my life, I enjoy my little girl. You know what I mean? Not that I'm not a risk taker, but that's what I'd choose.