Scott Speed, the former F1 and NASCAR driver turned three-time Global Rallycross champion, overflows with honesty. He was either born without the instinct to have filters or long ago decided to discard them.
So it’s no surprise that one question into an interview about Speed RC — the indoor racetrack and hobby shop he co-owns with NASCAR’s T.J. Bell — Speed grins from beneath the brim of a flat-billed hat and lets the truth pour out.
“This has probably been the biggest life lesson I’ve ever had because A) I realized I don’t like customers, and B) customers are terrible,” Speed said.
The customers in question come to the store to buy RC car parts, but they don’t understand that Speed is already selling the parts as cheaply as he can. So when some of them try to haggle over prices, it drives him nuts.
“This one guy came in and he wanted to break my balls over some part,” Speed said. “I pulled out my wallet and was like, ‘Here, do you wanna take my credit card? Do you want anything else? How else can I help you? Please, would you like a drink? Now that I think about it, can you take this? I’m gonna pay you $5 dollars to take this.'”
“I was having a bad day,” he said with a shrug.
Speed laughs at the story, because he knows something I don’t: The successful business I thought I was here to write about actually isn’t successful at all.
“It costs me money,” Speed said. “I’ve almost got it to where I can break even or maybe lose $10,000 or $20,000 a year. It will definitely never make money. The margins aren’t there.”
So wait a minute. Why is Speed keeping the doors open if Speed RC doesn’t make money and never will? As it turns out, there’s a compelling reason.
Before we go any further, let’s talk about RC racing. These aren’t the little cars you got for Christmas from Toys R Us and drove around your neighborhood cul de sac until the batteries died.
These are agile vehicles that zip around Speed’s dirt track like mechanical bees, whipping through corners and flying over jumps. They demand an insane amount of skill to master, which is why the likes of Tony Stewart, Jamie McMurray and Justin Allgaier have spent hours at Speed RC in their spare time.
“Most forms of racing come down to 90 percent car, 10 percent driver, right?” Speed said. “Well this is 90 percent driver and 10 percent car. It’s all you! You can’t hide! It’s a big excuse eliminator, and that’s why I love it.”
Lots of people love it aside from just Speed, and many of them will be at the track this weekend. Speed RC will play host to the 350-entry JConcepts Indoor National Series Finals, which brings the best RC racers in the world to compete.
Most of the time, though, the track isn’t hosting elite events. The typical week is closer to the feel of a bowling alley, where amateurs can drop by to play around or those with more experience can go head-to-head in a series of league nights.
Compared to other forms of competitive racing, it’s by far the most affordable. While high-level karting or Late Model racing can cost thousands, a competitive RC car is $500 (an entry level version can be had for as low as $180). And $1,000 will get you the exact car used by the national champion — setup and all.
“It’s down there on the budget list, which I love,” Speed said. “I love the idea that anybody can do it.”
It definitely takes some practice to get good, though. Speed insisted I give it a try, and — holy crap! — my car looked like Milka Duno driving with her eyes closed.
Racers stand atop a wooden platform overlooking the track with a remote in their hands, eyes focused on their cars going around the track. An automated voice calls out the lap times as each car passes the finish line to help drivers track their progress. Though the track layout changes every few months, the good drivers seemed to run about 15-second lap times in the session I was in; meanwhile, my laps were closer to two minutes.
I got in the way of other vehicles, crashed into barriers, flipped over jumps and got stuck against the wall — and that was just the first lap. On the next lap, I was overzealous on one jump and almost took out Bell — who was standing on the course as a marshal.
“I’m glad you can write,” Bell said afterward, laughing.
But while anyone can learn to be fast (one local woman who stands out is a high school math teacher), pro racers seem to pick it up more quickly than others. That’s especially the case for motorcross riders, who grew up going over jumps and handling corners on dirt; somehow, their brains adjust for the different angle.
“It all comes down to learning,” Speed said. “I can go around the track a couple dozen times, and based on the lap times I’m hearing and how the car goes around the track, I can figure out what the fastest, most efficient way to go around the track is.
“That’s literally all racing is. You take the car back to the line as fast as you can and you try to analyze: Was that better or worse? It’s really not any different than that. Everybody can develop car control and drive a car super early on in life. Then it becomes learning what the car wants you to do to it to make it go faster.”
Along those lines, it probably won’t surprise you to learn the best NASCAR driver to come through the track recently and quickly get up to speed is none other than William Byron. A regular at Speed RC, Byron has figured out RC racing as fast as he’s figured out stock cars.
Speed had no idea who Byron was when the 20-year-old started showing up, but he was impressed right away.
“Nicest freaking kid,” Speed said. “He’s gone from being a little worse than me to now when me and him race, he will beat me three out of five times.”
Byron faithfully comes to race whenever possible and even won a league race the night before flying to Miami for the start of Homestead weekend, where he captured the Xfinity Series championship.
“To me, what better thing to do during the week than go race?” Byron said. “It takes a lot of mental focus to do that for that period of time and win races. … It kind of gets me prepared for the (NASCAR) weekend.”
On the night I was at Speed RC, no one seemed to pay any mind that a future NASCAR star was in their midst. Byron blended in, sitting at his work station like everyone else who prepped their cars; he even served as a course marshal after his runs (which is the standard track etiquette for each driver after they race).
“Nobody treats me any different, and that’s what you want,” he said.
But as good as Byron is, he’s perhaps not quite at the level of a 16-year-old named Rex Mathis — who happens to be Speed’s stepson.
The real brains behind the Speed RC operation is a Speed, but it’s not Scott. It’s his wife Amanda, who grew up in a drag racing family and later worked in NASCAR team public relations — where she met Scott.
It’s Amanda who is constantly working on something for the business (“She’s 700 percent more productive than I am,” Scott said) and is essentially the contractor for a new building that will house Speed RC next year.
She juggles running the business between being a mom to Rex and the two young daughters — Juliet and Ava — she has with Scott.
Like any small business, operating Speed RC can be difficult, exhausting, thankless work. But when the place is packed and Amanda sees people happy, she feels like it’s worth it.
“I mean, yeah, I’d like this place to make money,” she said. “But how many kids are 15, 16, 17 years old back there? They’re not hanging out somewhere doing drugs.
“Or my little girls, they can come here and play with other kids. It’s a fun family atmosphere. You have all walks of life here. It’s cool to me to see everyone in one place, hanging out and getting along.
“We need that, especially in today’s world. You get to know people by name. Everybody here has become family and friends.”
Scott said the track has become “effectively a charity at this point,” not the profitable business he envisioned when drawing up the plans a few years ago. But he remembers how much of a role karting had in keeping him out of trouble as a kid, and he hopes RC cars can be the same sort of activity for local youths.
“I never went out and partied because I had something to focus on,” he said. “So it’s really important for me to have some place where Rex can do that, as well as kids his age. I see it as a good club, like the YMCA.”
But there’s one more reason Speed RC is important to Scott, and it’s a big one. Maybe the biggest.
Rex has gotten good enough at RC racing to where he’s attracted sponsorship for his skills. And the fact Scott, 34, can stand alongside his 16-year-old stepson on the platform and compete? Well, that’s worth more than having the business make money.
“It’s hard when you have a stepson to make connection, because you miss the blood aspect,” Scott said. “So you’re trying to connect with the stepson that you don’t know how to connect to. It’s difficult.
“But the racing, it really gave us something to connect over. Therefore, Speed RC is still going.”
Address: 118 Cedar Pointe Dr.; Mooresville, NC.
Phone: (844) 722-2771