Speed's advice to F1 hopefuls? Move to Europe
INDIANAPOLIS -- If you are a young racing driver from the United States and you want to compete in the United States Grand Prix, this is what you have to do:
Go east, as in Europe.
That's what Scott Speed says, and that's what he did. And this Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway he becomes the first American to race in his home Grand Prix since Eddie Cheever competed in the 1989 Grand Prix in Phoenix.
"You have to go to Europe," Speed said. "It has been proven time and time again."
"I got lucky," Speed added. "I was able to go to Europe and really be in the environment that breeds success. It's the most competitive racing environment in the world."
If the advice of a 23-year-old F1 rookie isn't enough, three-time F1 world champion Jackie Stewart says the same thing.
"If you are a good student, do you want to go to Harvard or Oxford or Cambridge?" Stewart asked. "Or do you want to go to some local college? If you are really good, you want to go to the toughest school in the world to get the best degree."
The toughest schools for training young road racers are in Europe -- and, more specifically, in just a couple of European countries.
"If you want to be a good racing driver, you have to go Europe," Stewart told ESPN.com. "Whether it is Britain or Germany or France, but mostly Germany and Britain -- you have to compete against the best."
The series that are stepping stones to F1 in Europe, such as Formula Ford, Formula 3, Formula Renault and GP2, are crammed with young, talented drivers from all over the world, be it Europe, Japan, South Africa, South America, North America, Australia
It is a very tough environment to succeed in, and those who come out on top are truly the cream of the crop.
Stewart points out that the great Ayrton Senna came from a very wealthy family in Brazil but left it all behind to race in Europe.
"His daddy had a private jet before anybody had a private jet in Brazil," Stewart said. "But Ayrton was sleeping in the back of a van when he came [to Europe] to do Formula Ford. He went from the lush farmland to an arid desert in order to achieve his goal."
Of course, most young drivers don't have rich daddies. Speed freely admits he never would have made it to Europe and F1 had it not been for the Red Bull Young Driver Search scholarship program.
"There are many drivers [in America] who have the potential to make it in F1," Speed said. "It is very difficult because very few people get the opportunity that I had. I came from a family that could not even afford my kart racing if I was not fully sponsored.
"So the chances that I got hooked up with Red Bull -- and they supported me so much through my racing in Europe, through these stepping-stone stages into F1 -- was for me a miracle. It would not have happened without it. So I am sure that there are many drivers who have the same potential."
They may have the potential, but do they have the hunger? It's not easy to leave a comfortable lifestyle in North America for unknown risks in Europe.
"If you are living in comfort like you do in North America, you are spoiled," Stewart said. "Compare hotels here to hotels in Magny-Cours [near the French F1 track]. I have to say that the North American continent is highly spoiled for material benefits and creature comforts.
"To go to Europe and take the risk of being beaten up by a whole bunch of people whose names you can't even pronounce is not a very nice thing! But, if you are good, then you are going to do it. And if you do it as an American or a Canadian, you are going to become a giant."
Speed is not yet an F1 giant, but he has succeeded where others have failed or not even ventured in the last decade.
"For sure I am better than I would have been talentwise now that I have been racing in Europe with the best drivers in the world," he said.
Back in 1865, Horace Greeley wrote an editorial in the New York Tribune in which he urged young men to head west and settle the untamed country beyond the Mississippi River.
"Go West, young man, and grow up with the country," he said.
John B.L. Soule actually first printed the saying in an 1851 editorial in the Terre Haute Express. Fittingly, Terre Haute is just down the road from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
So, to paraphrase Greeley and Soule, if you are an American and want to race in F1 at Indianapolis and anywhere else in the world:
"Go East, young man. And race in Europe."
Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.