Brant James
Tuesday December 7th, 2010

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Tanner Foust was picking at the edges of the blue table cloth inside the hospitality tent Saturday morning at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He sat, nearly anonymous, in the shadow of 15-time NHRA champion John Force, who was holding court near the coffee pumpers.

The scene served well enough as a metaphor for the 37-year-old's career: Foust, the degreed biologist, teetering on the periphery of popularity, while Force's gregarious, overt personality suited him well for the senses-overloading sport of drag racing.

A two-time X Games rally gold medallist this year, a two-time Formula D drifting champion, five-time champion ice racer and reputed stuntman, Foust would see his mainstream profile increase in just a few days with the launch of an American version of the BBC staple "Top Gear" on the History Channel. Those more appreciative of his racing exploits would likely be more cognizant of his win at the Gymkhana Grid last week, in which he defeated fellow Ford driver Ken Block, the sport's most visible proponent and event host.

At this point in his career, Foust is different things to different audiences. He's a racer on the European Rallycross circuit, a trailblazer, a brand. He has thoughts on things. We sampled a few. What is the future of motorsports and how does what you do fit into that puzzle?

Tanner Foust: Worldwide, rally and rallycross have enjoyed a pretty illustrious past. It's the second-most popular form of motorsports in the world behind Formula One. The rallycross events are different than (World Rally Championship) rally. The cars are twice the horsepower, they race door-to-door on a short course. That's been going on since 1967 internationally. In the U.S., I think it has an amazing future because they're small cars. Worldwide, the 1.6-liter, 2-liter cars are the high-performance cars. Fiestas are tuner cars built up for speed. In the States, they're not considered that. They're economy cars. Our Mustangs, those are our performance cars.

My Fiesta goes zero to 60 in two seconds. They're 600 horsepower. It's insanely fast. It's blindingly quick. It makes 60 pounds of boost in turbo. These small cars are being built very, very quick, I think it's something that makes for a bright future in the States. With fuel prices and with environmental responsibility, I think it's a move that the U.S. is last to take in the world. It's inevitable that small cars become cool. They need to become cool, and this form of racing shows how fast these platforms can be. Is that how rally racing finds its relevance, that being such a key term for manufacturers?

TF: Our rallycross cars, while they are all-wheel drive and make 600 horsepower, as opposed to the street car being front-wheel drive and making not that much horsepower, they're more similar than a NASCAR is to a street car. There is a lot of relevance there. There is a win-on-Sunday, sell-on-Monday closeness to it. Probably the closest form of racing where that happens is motocross, where you can just about go to the showroom and buy one of those race bikes. But this is one step off of that. Interestingly, the style of racing is a lot like motocross because there is door-to-door, they are shouldering people out of lines, there is a lot of contact.

The racing itself, it has all the best parts of motorsports put together: ridiculously fast cars, door-to-door aggression, contact is OK, jumps, dirt, sideways action and the races are very quick. They're only six laps. Is rallycross, particularly at the X Games, the bridge to get fans to pure rally racing?

TF: X Games is the gateway drug. X Games takes every sport, lights it up in a spotlight that is very unique and over the top. This year is going to be no different. The X Games course I've seen for Super Rally, which is like European rallycross, where it's four, five or six cars door to door, it's going to be insane. Rallycross is a great motorsport for someone with ADD. It's really easy to watch. There's always something happening because it's so fast-paced. One of my favorite sports to watch is hockey because it's so quick and there is so much action. In the motorsports world, I would say that is the equivalent. Will action-style motorsports become the dominant form in the future?

TF: I think there is a place for both styles of motorsports, where one is more action sports side, youth-oriented, not necessarily hardcore racing fans but fans who love cars and love seeing extreme things. Is that a generational thing? I don't know, but there is definitely a place for more traditional motorsports: NASCAR, IndyCar, more traditional road racing, things like that, where there is a precision to it, more of a clear-cut technique and where the experienced teams benefit.

For the driver, that is the path more traveled. It's difficult to climb that ladder. It's an expensive ladder, paved with gold and platinum, so there is a lot of interest from up-and-coming drivers to get in the action sports side where maybe some car control can benefit you and you can win but you don't necessarily need the team that has won the last 10 years on your side. And your fit in all this?

TF: I don't have a feel where things are going for me. I've been moving toward television, and the racing fuels the television, the television fuels the racing. They are both important parts of my business. And it's funny to call it a business because with "Top Gear" you're camping in the woods in a truck in Alaska and you're racing a car down a ski mountain in California. It's just such a ridiculous show that's so much fun to be involved with. I'm really enjoying the TV side of things and I'll keep expanding in that direction, I think.

In racing, I may keep going to Europe for this rallycross stuff and learning from the best in the world in these types of cars. And I'd like to do more road racing. I'd like to do LeMans at some point. I'd like to go back to what got me into road racing in the first place, which was traditional road racing in sports cars. Aspirations to do NASCAR? Not necessarily, but I'm just the guy that at some point decided to turn a hobby and interest into a profession and I just really love to drive different stuff. I love the variety in my world. I will try anything.

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