Scott Tucker of Leawood goes on trial this week in New York for what has been called one of the nation’s biggest cases of payday-lending fraud.
In recent years, Tucker made a meteoric rise in the world of sports car racing and became one of the most well-known team owners and drivers on the circuit. But on the Kansas City sports scene, Tucker’s racing accomplishments received very little attention, and that’s the way he liked it.
Mention Scott Tucker’s name around a sports car setting like at recent IMSA circuit stop at Virginia International Raceway and you get a variety of reactions. Some recoil. Others speak out. TV commentators and journalists covering the race at VIR politely declined to talk about Tucker.
By the time the FBI arrested Tucker last year, the news about the lengthy investigation into Tucker’s financial background had already circulated around the garage area.
Tucker, 55, did not respond to an interview request for this story.
He burst onto the sports car scene in 2006 in his mid-40s as a Ferrari driver, and two years later formed his own operation called Level 5 Motorsports. Guy Cosmo, a driver for Team TGM in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, recalls his brief stint on the Level 5 team sharing driver duties with Tucker, “The guy was as committed as I have ever seen outside of maybe some 16-year old kid trying to make his way to F1.”
The tag “gentleman driver” applied to Tucker. It’s a term given to someone who made a lot of money in other endeavors and invested that money in sports car racing. The late Paul Newman was also a gentleman driver when he wasn’t making movies.
Cosmo says everyone knew Tucker was wealthy, but he admits he was taken aback when learning that the racing operation was allegedly being financed by predatory loans. “Obviously there were rumblings about the nature of the business and all those things, but really I don’t know anything about it,” says Cosmo.
Tucker spared no expense in his multiple-car, multiple class operation that competed in the United States and Europe, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, often considered the Super Bowlof sports car racing.
Tucker was wildly successful. In 2010, he won Rookie of the Year honors in the American Le Mans Series and the team championship in the same season.
Gunnar Jeannette, a driver in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship series, finished runner-up to Tucker in 2010. Jeannette says he didn’t like the manner that Tucker chose to win the championship.
“He cheated really well inside of the rules, which maybe says a lot about his character,” says Jeannette.
He adds that Tucker was a detailed-oriented racer who found loopholes. “For the first time in series history, (he) got them to allow him to get points in whichever car finished better,” Jeannette says.
“(It) was very difficult racing against him where he would drive two cars and, basically, if one car had an issue and the other car finished better, he would get points for that,” says Jeanette, whose team only fielded one car.
IMSA is sports car racing’s major sanctioning body in this country. Its rules changed the following year.
The lead engineer for Tucker’s team was Jeff Braun. In his opinion, Tucker put together the closest thing to a dream team in sports car racing. Level 5 won in a controversial outcome at the 2014 24 Hours of Daytona, which marked Tucker’s 100th victory in sports car racing. But afterward, the team was disbanded, which Braun says was disappointing.
“It was about the people,” says Braun, now the leading tech for the CORE autosport team on IMSA’s WeatherTech circuit. “A lot of people think it was because of the money and all that stuff. It was the right people together, and I mean from drivers down to the hospitality people, the truck drivers, the managers and all of that.”
Even in the weeks leading up to this week’s trial, Braun says he continued to receive messages from Tucker about what’s going on with the sports car circuit.
Greg Echlin is a frelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.