A family at Speed

How a father's weekend hobby turned into a career for his son, and built a family that takes every apex together

Unlike the grins of the other racers on the podium at the Phoenix round of the 2016 Global Rallycross championship, Scott Speed wears a look of bottled frustration. His second-place finish was a strong recovery from an unlucky bout of tech issues, but victory seemed well within reach. And he’s not alone in disappointment.

As crew and cameramen surround his dusty Beetle GRC after the race, a little girl wrenches herself free from her mother’s grasp and runs up to the disappointed race car driver. Tears stream down her face, and someone turns to her mother to ask what’s wrong.

“She’s upset because Scott couldn’t win,” replies the girl’s mother. “She’s been crying since the checkered flag.”

Scott Speed kneels down to greet his four-year-old daughter, Juliet. His own disappointment melts away as he comforts the weeping girl in a ritual of shared emotion that will be repeated through all the ups and downs of the racing season.

Just as their father before them, Juliet and her younger sister, Ava, will grow up at racetracks across the country. A racing tradition that began as a hobby for the girls’ grandfather, Mike Speed, has grown into a way of life for three generations of the Speed family.

As an adult newcomer to competitive karting, Mike Speed embarked upon his new pastime with humble beginnings, hauling his rig on a homemade trailer behind a 1966 Volkswagen Beetle. While he had no intention of making a career as a driver, Mike—who worked as an electrical engineer at the time—quickly discovered a natural talent for the sport, claiming multiple national championships in his racing classes.

“He never had any budget or anything good” equipment-wise, says Scott Speed. “He was just a hell of a wheelman.”

Mike Speed with his son, Scott. (Courtesy Speed family).
Mike Speed with his son, Scott. (Courtesy Speed family).

When he was three, Scott started attending races with his father and soon became hooked on the idea of driving himself. After years of pleading for the chance to get behind the wheel, Mike finally relented and let his son test a friend’s kart at age 11. Scott was immediately quick, and after a year of learning his craft, began to compete at a national level.

Still, the idea of a career in racing for Scott was not a goal for the Speed family.

“It was never intended for him to move on to car racing,” recalls Mike. “We just did it as a family. It was a natural progression for my kids to go through it as well.”

Winning races led to the family traveling farther to attend big karting events. Scott remembers the time as “an easy life.  We always traveled together. We drove ourselves to races all around the country, camped out in the motorhome and raced go karts. That was the deal.”

Scott’s younger brother, Alex, also got in on the act, starting in a kart at age 10. By now there were three Speeds on track at any given race weekend, and Mike began to reevaluate his dual roles of driver and engineer/mechanic for his kids. At one Grand Nationals event in Oregon, Mike set aside driving to focus on being Scott’s chief engineer – and Scott went on to win that race.

That’s something we’ll always share—how competitive we are

Despite his own successes as a driver, Mike didn’t regret moving to the sidelines. For him, engineering and working with his children was still racing, and allowed the family to spend time together, which is all he really wanted out of karting in the first place.

But his skills had opened a door for his sons that is often closed. The financial investment to compete in racing’s highest levels—even in karting—is much greater than what is required by other sports, and it’s difficult for a family without the necessary resources to usher a child up the rungs of the motorsport ladder. The Speeds didn’t buy their way into racing, however; it was Mike’s driving skill that laid the groundwork for Scott.

A teen-age Scott Speed in the pits. (Courtesy Speed family).
A teen-age Scott Speed in the pits. (Courtesy Speed family).

“We didn’t have money, but my dad was good enough that he was fully sponsored in go karts,” says Scott. “When I got my chance and proved that I was fast, I got that sponsorship and that’s what allowed me to race at the highest level. I got free go karts, free tires, and that’s very uncommon in karting.”

Scott’s life changed when he was selected as a winner of the Red Bull Driver Search program, an initiative designed to put an American driver at the top class of open-wheel racing. At 19, Scott moved to Europe to race in the junior series that feed into world championship racing. Mike found himself in the difficult position of sending his still-young son halfway across the world so that he could pursue his dream.

“We went to England and I tried to set him up there and then step out of the picture,” Mike explains of the time. “I thought it would be best because at that point, I’m not his dad any more. I didn’t want to be in the way of hurting any of his progress.

“It was really hard.”

Things became more difficult during Scott’s first year in Europe when he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Scott was told to return home to recover, and Mike was certain that signaled the end of his racing career. “I thought it was all over when he came back,” remembers Mike. “I really had to think a lot ‘is this the best thing for him?’”

With care from his family, Scott recovered and soon returned to Europe, immediately dominating his races. In 2006, he reached his goal, earning a seat in top-tier open-wheel racing. “That was the goal, right? That was the completion,” he recalls. “For my family to have been able to go through all that with me—it means everything.”

Ten years on, Scott’s career has brought him back to the U.S. and the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross driver has begun a family of his own. Scott’s wife, Amanda —whose father is also involved in racing as an NHRA team owner/driver—their two daughters, Juliet (4) and Ava (2), and Scott’s stepson, Rex (15) are fixtures of almost every Red Bull Global Rallycross race weekend. In an echo of his own childhood—growing up while watching his father race karts—Scott and Amanda have made racing a family affair in which their children participate fully.

Scott Speed and family
Scott and Amanda Speed with daughters Juliet and Ava

“Jules is old enough right now that she really understands what’s going on,” he says. “I love it because I see so much of myself in her. Phoenix is a perfect example—it was the most precious thing ever. I was already very unhappy with finishing second, but to see my kid, Jules, in absolute tears because we finished second was amazing. That’s something we’ll always share—how competitive we are.”

For his part, Mike delights in attending his son’s races even though he’s no longer involved in the on-track activities. “It’s very enjoyable right now. It’s such a good time,” he says. “I’ll be there in Daytona for sure, and it’s not like I’ll be there for the races—I go to see the kids.”

Scott recognizes the special role his father played in making his dreams a reality. “Without his support and expertise, and the two of us working at that goal, I wouldn’t be a race car driver today.”

While Mike enjoys his son’s many racing achievements, it’s Scott’s commitment to family and his desire to include them in every aspect of his career that stands out to his father. “I’m very, very proud to watch the family aspect of Scott,” Mike says with a smile. “I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s not his overall accomplishments in racing—that is the one I’m most proud of.”