Novice Race Car Driver Speeds To The Top

Scott Tucker drove a race car for the first time only four years ago, but he's already a world-class driver. Among the races he's qualified for are the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Daytona, where his team placed third this past January. Host Scott Simon talks to Tucker about his sudden success.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Imagine if one of those county fair horses managed to make his or her way to the Kentucky Derby. Or a weekend hiker decided to climb Mt. Everest. Or the quarterback in a local semi-pro league suddenly found himself in the Super Bowl. Hey, wasnt that Kirk Warner?

Anyway, that's the sort of feat achieved by Scott Tucker in international sports car racing. Till just four years ago, Mr. Tucker had never sat behind the wheel of a race car; in fact, he'd never even set foot on a racetrack.

This past June, at the age 48, he drove at speeds of over 200 miles per hour in the 24 hours of Le Mans, the world's most prestigious endurance race.

Scott Tucker joins us now from member station KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri.

Mr. Tucker, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. SCOTT TUCKER (Race Car Driver): Thank you. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: So before you got into racing, what's the fastest you ever drove that you can talk about?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TUCKER: Thats an interesting question. You know, probably like most of us, got the car a little bit over a hundred on the highway and thought that was pretty fast.

SIMON: You still, in fact, run a private equity fund, right?

Mr. TUCKER: That's correct.

SIMON: So, what made you decide to try car racing?

Mr. TUCKER: I've always been interested in cars, and before I started racing, you know, I was collecting cars. At one point in time, I went to a car show down in Florida.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TUCKER: There was a particular model there, a Ferrari that I had, and they were racing that. And I just said to myself, you know, I think I'd like to try that and that's how it all got started.

SIMON: It's a frightening business sometimes, isn't it?

Mr. TUCKER: You know, it's not for the meek, that's for sure. It has some high consequences and that's, you know, part of the reason why it's somewhat appealing to me and probably to a lot of other people that like the sport.

SIMON: Now, how old are you now, Mr. Tucker?

Mr. TUCKER: I turn 48 in May.

SIMON: A lot of the best drivers are a generation younger, aren't they?

Mr. TUCKER: At least.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TUCKER: At least.

SIMON: I was being a little kind, so...

Mr. TUCKER: At least.

SIMON: ...boy, what have you got?

Mr. TUCKER: I guess it's just that internal drive to want to be the best I can be and, you know, this is like any other sport or any other business. There's really to be successful and get to the top of your game, there's really no shortcuts. It's hard work and, you know, identifying a goal and trying to execute on it. A lot of racing, it's a team sport and, you know, a lot of my success that I've had kind of falls on the shoulders of my teammates and the guys that work on my car and our crew.

SIMON: Is it hard to be both a professional race car driver and the chairman of a private equity fund, I mean at the exact same time?

Mr. TUCKER: It has its challenges. They're both demanding. The mental demands of racing are, everybody thinks it's such a physical sport, which it is, but the mental capacity and the things mentally that you have to do to prepare yourself are much more than I ever expected. But in training myself with that, I've found that it's helped me over in my business career also, especially when it, you know, it comes to critical things and critical decision-making and things that youve got to do fast, which, you know, is both in the racing world and in the business world.

SIMON: May I ask what's next? Youre going to become a ballet dancer, a heart surgeon?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TUCKER: No, I've thought about mountain climbing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Seriously?

Mr. TUCKER: No, mountain climbing where youve got to hang and climb up rocks, but more endurance type mountain climbing, like Kilimanjaro, things like that.

SIMON: Oh, you - real easy to climb Kilimanjaro, I'm sure.

Mr. TUCKER: It's on my list for something to do one of these years.

SIMON: Mr. Tucker, thanks so much. Good luck to you in whatever it is you do next, and in your next race.

Mr. TUCKER: Thank you very much.

SIMON: Scott Tucker, a driver with the race car team Level V Motorsports. The next race, August 22nd in the American Le Mans Series in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. TUCKER: Thank you.

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