ASPEN, Colo. – As if carrying the torch as the best snowboarder on the planet and boasting moves that make him one of the world's most dynamic skateboarders wasn't enough, now Shaun White is trying something new: auto racing.
No, the Flying Tomato isn't ditching riding for driving, but he is taking steps toward a potential third career in rally car – a type of racing that mixes the speed and agility of a Corvette with the ruggedness of a Jeep. Add a few "Dukes of Hazzard"-style jumps in between – and that's rally car racing.
"Out of everything I've done, this is so far out of my normal bubble of things," he said. "The inspiration is to take a novice like myself and turn me into a full-on race car driver."
And that's the irony. White isn't a good driver, something he openly admits. In fact, before he started working with a team of drivers from BF Goodrich, White didn't know how to work a stick shift. He'd only tried once before, when he had to drive his brother's car home from the airport. Even the Lamborghini he owns is an automatic.
"It has paddle shifters," he said Wednesday in his defense after fellow American snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler cracked on his driving skills. White and Bleiler are in Aspen preparing for the Winter X Games, which kick off Thursday.
According to one of White's driving coaches, he was a quick learner.
"As we came out to the course, it was funny," explained Samuel Hübinette, a two-time Formula Drift champion and Hollywood stunt driver. "He had been riding with me and was pumped up watching me pull the e-brake and getting the car into drift. Obviously that's not racing technique. I was just taking him for a fun little thrill ride. So the first corner comes in and he pulls on the e-brake, steps on the gas and he pulled of a pretty good drift in the corner. I was like, 'Wow, he's got skills.' "
That White thought to copy Hübinette right away shouldn't come as a surprise. White's path to Olympic gold started as a 6-year-old when he learned how to snowboard by mimicking his older brother as the two rode down Snow Summit Mountain in Big Bear Lake, Calif.
White's plans for competitive racing aren't clear. For now, his quest to become a better driver is wrapped up in an ad campaign with BF Goodrich.
If he does decide to take his talents to a road course, it would likely be in rally racing at the Summer X Games. But to become competitive would take time. Because while he may have shown off some skills initially, he also left Hübinette with a beat up Dodge Viper.
"The story's been out there that I crashed one of my cars," said White, who totaled his first Lamborghini driving near his home in Los Angeles, "and I don't have the cleanest record in the rental-car scenario. But it's one of those things that I've always been curious about – what it takes to be a great driver, to pull the moves off like you see in the movies like 'Fast and the Furious.'
"[I'd pursue racing] if I got to the point where I was like really feeling like, hey this is my thing, this is an interesting avenue for me," he added. "But I definitely feel like I have so much in my sports between the skating and snowboarding. … But I would walk away from this going, 'This is a skill that I've thought about and would really like to acquire.' You know what I mean – the ability to, 'Later babe,' and just do a 180 and be that guy. It would be insane."