Fri, May 02, 2008 - Page 23 News List

Former Formula One driver paying his dues in ARCA

AP , WAKE FOREST, NORTH CAROLINA

No more hanging out at the casino in Monte Carlo or attending parties hosted by a prince in Dubai.

These days, Scott Speed spends down time playing video games in his motor coach or hanging out with other drivers. And that’s just fine with the former Formula One driver.

“I’m having a lot of fun,” Speed said last Friday, just hours before going out and getting his first US stock-car victory on the Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) circuit at Kansas .

“Even outside the racing, just being back in America in general has been super easy,” he said. “Everyone’s been very friendly. It’s been great.”

This is “Stock Car Racing 101” for Speed, who was fired midway through last season by the Toro Rosso (Red Bull) Formula One team.

But Red Bull, which helped him get to F1 as part of its driver development program, has stuck with the 25-year-old Californian, giving him the opportunity to work his way up to from ARCA, akin to the third or fourth division of US stock car racing, to the top — the Sprint Cup series of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).

It’s certainly a different route than that taken by Juan Pablo Montoya, another former Formula One driver, and Dario Franchitti and Sam Hornish Jr, open-wheel drivers in America, who all went straight to NASCAR’s top two levels, the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup.

“[Red Bull] have been so supportive that it’s given me the opportunity to take my time and figure out what I have to do to get to Cup,” Speed said.

“I’m not worried about winning and impressing people right now, I’m just worried about learning,” he said.

“It’s actually helping me a lot. I’m learning quicker, I would say, than I have in my past when I really had to get results, you had to win, you had to keep moving up. So it’s been great,” he said.

Jay Frye, Red Bull Racing’s new general manager, is impressed with what he has seen from Speed, and that’s why the original plan to have Speed run only the full ARCA schedule this season has been amended to include 11 Craftsman Truck Series races — NASCAR’s third tier — in a Bill Davis Racing Toyota.

“He certainly has exceeded our expectations, so we’ve accelerated the process based on his performansce to date,” Frye said on Tuesday in a phone interview.

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