Yes, I know it’s been a long while since we left off. But a lot has happened, since the last time I had a chance to really dig into my first conversation with Tanner. Not only did I have to get final preparations completed for and go run my own program at the 89th Pikes Peak Hill Climb, but I was also changing jobs in my “real life” and trying to impress a new boss. On top of all that I was covering a multitude of other events for my ever-growing family here at My Life at Speed. Busy?…umm, yes.
During that time, however, I also finally had an opportunity to meet Tanner in person at the Global Rallycross event at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Coverage and photos from that event can be found here. He was extremely busy that weekend, but Tanner still took the time to speak with me for a while. That was pretty cool. Seeing Tanner interact with fans was pretty amazing, as well. He takes the time to make each person he’s speaking to the center of attention for that brief, but important moment. I know we’ve all had an experience meeting someone we admire and it doesn’t quite meet our expectations. Tanner seems to be fully aware of how important these occasions are to his fans, and is committed to making the experience a pleasant one.
ML@S: Tell me a bit about your life before racing. Did you go to college or hold odd jobs?
Tanner: I can’t remember how it all went down, but somewhere in there was college. I did finish school but in the hiatus that I had taken between my Freshman and Sophomore year, I went up to Vail and was a ski bum for a season. Then I took a job back in Boulder just before I went back to school as a lot guy at a car dealership. Looking back, pretty much all my jobs had to do with driving. I was a bag guy at a country club…I got that job basically so that I could do donuts in the golf carts. I was a bus driver in Vail. That was the only job I ever got fired from…for doing donuts in a 50′ bus in the Beaver Creek West lot in Vail. All fun stuff.
One of the guys at the dealership, his name is Scott Crouch, we became friends and six or seven years later; as I had been working at the ice driving school for a number of years and had graduated, he came up to Steamboat with a brand new WRX which had just come out here in the States. We took it out on the ice track and he said, “Man, we gotta get a rally car. This is awesome!” and literally that afternoon, we found an old, used rally car and he bought it; and the dealership maintained it and that was a full ride sponsorship for probably four years after that. He was a co-driver and I drove. That was, I think my first “official” paid ride.
ML@S: When did you get into drifting?
Tanner: Around that same time. Maybe a couple years later. A friend of mine, Sam Hübinette, went out to LA and did this drift competition, and I had heard of it, but didn’t really know about this Japanese craze, you know. He had such a blast and got so much publicity out of it. He got so much PR out of it and had such a good time, that I started thinking about moving to LA and getting involved in it. And it fit right into what I was already doing. We had been drifting these BMW’s and Vipers around the tracks in these marketing programs and spent so much time sideways that when it came to competing in these events, Sam and I seemed to have a real advantage over other drivers here in the US. And Samuel and I are still the only two people to win multiple championships in drifting. For me, Drifting was really the next catalyst for me in terms of becoming a professional driver.
ML@S: What was your first drift car?
Tanner: A 240SX.
ML@S: That was an S13 Coupe, wasn’t it?
Tanner: It was an S13 Coupe. I drove three of those. The first two we used the KA motor, cast iron block. Didn’t make a lot of power. Then I started working with a team called McKinney Motorsports. They were a drag racing family that made these really cool turbo-charged Datsun 510’s. But I drove an S13 and then an S14 for them. We started getting into bigger power and had some success; and that’s when Stephan Papadakis asked me to come drive for him and the AEM sponsored car, as his teammate. That was a salaried ride and I approached it very professionally. We set the car up and finished third in the first event we entered and third in the championship the first year. Once we got the Rockstar sponsorship, we took that same 350Z and won the championship back-to-back the next two years. And for the first time in my career, I was not the underdog. It was the first time in my life that I was the Austrian Ski Team. Or whatever those skiing movies were!
ML@S: What year was that? You’ve had this relationship with Rockstar for quite a while, then, haven’t you?
Tanner: Well, I kind of had parallel lives going on between the rally racing and the drifting and they were completely separate. The rally racing had been going a few more years than the drifting and eventually rally made into the X-Games. And when that happened I got a great opportunity to run a factory-backed Subaru alongside Colin McRae, Ken Block and Travis Pastrana. That’s when Rockstar offered to jump on board with the rally program, and that was 2006. That was my first partnership with Rockstar and we’ve really had a great relationship. They’ve been a great company to work with.
ML@S: Tell us about your relationship with Scion and the Mulholland Drift.
Tanner: I was driving the 350Z when Stephan got the deal with Scion. We went away from the typical drift car and that was something I really enjoyed doing. Everyone was using the S13 or S14…it was the quintessential drift car and everybody had one. That’s why I really like the idea of setting up the 350Z and we really were the first to make the 350Z successful. Even the Japanese teams hadn’t been able to make it to work. We used that car for three years. It was basically a stock car. Then Scion came along and asked us to convert a front drive car into a rear drive car. It just seemed so out of the box, and so strange that I figured if we’re going to build a Frankenstein car, we should really go all the way. So we pressed Scion to get a NASCAR engine from the TRD racing program. So that’s what we did…we stuck a NASCAR engine into a rear wheel drive Scion and it is the coolest car to drive. Just the sound of the engine, which revs to 9000 rpm, makes over 650hp…it’s awesome. And we ended up doing the viral video driving it up The Snake at Mulholland.
ML@S: How did your relationship with Ken Block figure into that run?
Tanner: In Rallying in 2006, I was Ken Block’s teammate. Ken Block is the guy who founded DC Shoes and is a marketing genius; and here he was trying to earn some stripes driving. I had taken him up to the ice driving school after we had become friends, and to the drifting events, and one of the officials at the time was trying to put together an event, where he was bringing a Japanese and European style of driving called Gymkhana to the US. And he put on an event at El Toro. Ken had decided that he didn’t like the ice driving and he sort of liked the drifting, but having judges and all that didn’t suit him. I told him that I thought he might like this Gymkhana stuff, so I suggested that he come out to the event at El Toro with me. And I introduced him to the Subaru team, Crawford Performance. Well…he liked the Gymkhana stuff, so he asked if he could rent the facility himself and one of the cars because he thought it would be really cool to go a hundred miles an hour and go sideways; and just see what it looks like on camera. And I was like, yeah, I guess…if that’s what you want to do. And of course now he’s got like, 90 million hits on the video that he made. And it changed his whole life, really.
ML@S: So, You are the person responsible for introducing Ken Block to Gymkhana…?
Tanner: Absolutely, completely responsible! Really, though, it’s one thing to be there when all the dots are in the same place. But it takes someone like Ken to connect all those dots and have the vision to put it all together. So, yes I was there, but I was far from being responsible for anything. As soon as he sent me the first cut of the video, I immediately wrote him back and told him that he completely changed the way that we as racers had to market ourselves. And that’s sort of how the Mulholland Drive shoot came about. We need to put these videos out that really express whats fun about our sport. It’s not just all competition on the track. And besides, if you can get the CHP to shut down a whole section of road, you can have an absolute blast in these cars, you know!?
Conversation: Tanner Foust Part 3: Bridging the generational Gap – Opportunities overseas – Global Rallycross and more.