Tanner Foust - Xtreme Motorsports Dept

Pej Behdarvand

Foust, 35 but looking younger in a T-shirt, plaid shorts, and skateboard sneakers, is hanging out in the Rockstar Energy Drink rally team's motorhome after an X Games practice session in the sweltering Southern California summer heat. Last year, an estimated 27 million people watched the event on TV, and Foust expects the exposure he gets this year to pay for his entire Rally America program. But live attendance for the rally component of the X Games promises to be relatively paltry, and the event feels more like a glorified club race than a major league motorsports event.

The rally teams occupy a makeshift paddock in the parking lot of the Home Depot Center in suburban L.A. Although Foust is the reigning X Games Rally Super Special gold medalist, he's playing second fiddle to motocross legend and odds-on favorite Travis Pastrana - dubbed the Golden Boy by the TV announcers - who's driving a quasi-works 2008 Subaru Impreza WRX STI prepped by Vermont SportsCar, which is the Penske Racing of American rallying. Foust, meanwhile, is making do with a two-year-old Subie crewed mostly by guys who fly in for races.

Practice was what Foust charitably describes as "chaotic." The engine was overheating, the turbo wasn't developing proper boost, the front end wasn't turning in, and the rear brakes weren't biting. So at the moment, Foust is multitasking with a vengeance - conducting an interview, helping another Rockstar-sponsored athlete find a missing cache of logo hats, discussing possible mechanical fixes with team manager Andy Pinker, and working his iPhone and laptop in search of, among other components, a stiffer rear antiroll bar.

"How should I pay for it?" Pinker asks after Foust gives him directions to a vendor.

Foust grins. "Offer him some [X Games] tickets and see what happens."

Foust has been working angles ever since he fell - or, actually, flew - into a career in racing. Although he grew up in a family of physicians and went to college as a premed student, cars have been his passion since he was a six-year-old kid identifying them by their headlights. After graduating with a degree in molecular biology, during a flight to Denver, he spotted a club-racing track - Second Creek Raceway - shortly before landing. He rented a car, drove straight to the circuit, and, on the spur of the moment, wrangled a job working on race cars in return for seat time. "I ended up becoming one of the worst mechanics ever," he admits. "But I learned to speak the language of motorsports."

After competing in his first race at the advanced age of twenty-three, Foust took an odd but handy detour: he went to work at Pikes Peak International Raceway, selling everything from title sponsorships to VIP suites, and got a crash course in the underbelly of racing. "I saw how convoluted and political most of the racing deals that you see on TV really are," he says. "But at the same time, I realized how close I was to making a career in racing."

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