Scott Tucker: Go big. Then go home?

Will the championship-winning driver and owner of Level 5 ever come back to racing?

Sports car racer Scott Tucker seemed to have come from nowhere, headed one of the most professional, successful teams in recent memory, then disappeared as quickly as he arrived.

Tucker, of Overland Park, Kansas, is 52, and came to racing relatively late in life. His foray into pro racing was an often-puzzling paradox: He typically refused interviews, yet was followed almost everywhere by a video crew. There is no question about his commitment to being a professional racer, though. Yes, he surrounded himself with the best equipment and the best people that money could buy, but he worked very hard to learn how to compete at the top level. He was seldom the fastest, but seldom the slowest either. And he seldom crashed.

Tucker began taking racing seriously in 2006 when he competed with the SCCA, then in the Ferrari Challenge, where he raced through 2009. In 2007, he also began racing in the Grand-Am Series.

It was in 2010 that Tucker really began to make a name for himself, and for his Level 5 team, named for a business philosophy. That year, he hired Sébastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sascha Maassen, Lucas Luhr, Richard Westbrook and Emmanuel Collard to co-drive a pair of Daytona Prototypes in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

Tucker and Level 5 also began competing in the American Le Mans Series, and eventually found a home there, winning the 2012 and 2013 ALMS P2 championships.

Meanwhile, Tucker was driving everything he could, everywhere he could. Arguably for a two-year period, no driver competed in as many different cars, at as many different tracks, at venues all around the globe. In 2009 he raced in, and won, the SCCA Runoffs. The next year, he raced an Audi R10 TDi at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The next year he won a Trans-Am race. The width and breadth of the racing experience Scott Tucker had assembled in a very short time was unparalleled.

Biggest challenge not on the track

In 2011, though, Tucker began facing his biggest challenge, and it wasn’t on the race track. On September 26 of that year, CBS news, in conjunction with an organization called the “Center for Public Integrity,” produced an expose on “payday loan” companies, which loan relatively small amounts to people to essentially tide them over until payday – money needed for utility bills, a car payment, rent or food.

Pay the loan off quickly, and the interest isn’t that severe. But let the loan linger for months, or years, and the interest piles up to staggering levels. Certain states and the Federal Trade Commission were looking into payday lenders, accusing some of deceptive or illegal practices.

And according to CBS and the Center for Public Integrity, multiple payday loan companies were part of AMG, of which Tucker, according to CBS, “is a key player.”

The CBS report painted Tucker like this: “Today, the 49-old-year-old Tucker enjoys a high-octane lifestyle. He races a fleet of expensive cars, and flies on a $14 million corporate jet. An $8 million home in Aspen is listed in his wife's name and the property taxes, we discovered, were paid by AMG Services.” The Center for Public Integrity’s account was even more accusatory.

At the center of it all is what the report, and multiple government investigations, accuse Tucker of doing. They essentially claim that he owns some payday loan companies, but has affiliated himself with American Indian tribes, which are largely immune from federal and state financial disclosures, as well as certain lawsuits and prosecution. The report said that about 30 payday loan companies “partner with American Indian tribes,” ostensibly camping out on the inherent tribal immunity.

To what extent legal issues have kept Scott Tucker from the racetrack is unclear. At the Petit Le Mans press conference at the end of 2013, where his team had won the race and the championship, I asked him what his plans were for 2014, when the ALMS and Grand-Am would formally merge into the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, and he said he didn’t know.

Daytona win, and then gone

At the 2014 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, Tucker and co-drivers Townsend Bell, Jeff Segal, Bill Sweedler and Alessandro Pier Guidi won the GT-Daytona class, but a hasty and flawed ruling from the sanctioning body stripped them of the victory, accusing them of car-to-car contact that never occurred. Four hours later, it was announced that the ruling was overturned and Tucker’s Level 5 Ferrari team won, but he was long gone from the track by then, and never got to celebrate his 101st victory.

Less than six weeks later, Tucker’s brother and business partner, Blaine Tucker, a cheerful, well-liked visitor at many of Scott Tucker’s races, committed suicide. He was 48. Six days later was the 12 Hours of Sebring. Scott Tucker wasn’t there, and apparently, hasn’t been to a major race since.

Then, last week, a Washington, D.C. based group, Public Justice, which bills itself as “America’s public interest law firm,” published a story that said Scott Tucker remains under legal scrutiny, most notably from a case in New Mexico that is looking closely at Tucker and the company AMG.

Says the story, which makes minimal pretense at presenting an unbiased account: “A New Mexico court is in the process of determining whether AMG Services, Inc. -- a company that specializes in high-interest, short-term payday loans, and that claims it is wholly owned and operated by the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma -- is entitled to share in the tribe’s immunity from lawsuits... But AMG is using tribal immunity as a license to cheat, argue the plaintiffs in this case. Far from being a legitimate tribal business, the plaintiffs claim that AMG is actually controlled and operated by -- and for the benefit of -- Kansas tycoon Scott Tucker.”

Public Justice has been part of the anti-payday lender litigation, thus perhaps explaining the guilty-until-proven-guilty slant to the story.

I wasn't able to reach Scott Tucker, which is not unexpected. But a source close to his organization say that he still owns most all the cars and equipment he acquired, and that there is still some mid-level racing going on out of his shop....it’s just that Tucker isn’t a part of it.

I won’t comment on whether or not that is good or bad for sports car racing, but I do admit to missing the Level 5 team at the races, and I’m certain a lot of drivers and crew miss the always on-time checks Tucker paid them with.

Have we seen the last of Scott Tucker? Only he knows, and apparently he isn’t talking.

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About this article
Series IMSA
Drivers Emmanuel Collard , Sascha Maassen , Lucas Luhr , Townsend Bell , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , Jeff Segal , Alessandro Pier Guidi , Richard Westbrook , Scott Tucker , Bill Sweedler
Article type Analysis
Tags ferrari challenge, level 5, scca, trans am