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Where It All Started: JGR's Matthew Philpott Connecting to Short Track Roots

The veteran NASCAR crew member spent his time working with Strmiska Racing for the ASA STARS National Tour events in North Carolina in May.


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The month of May saw a number of NASCAR stars make the move back to short track racing for events in North Wilkesboro Speedway and Hickory Motor Speedway for the ASA STARS National Tour events and CARS Tours event. Hendrick Motorsports drivers Chase Elliott and William Byron, along with NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers Ty Majeski and Carson Hocevar, competed in multiple events at both facilities, bringing more attention to the short track events.

While the drivers brought some eyes to the race weekends, they were not the only ones from the NASCAR garage spending their weekdays in May working on late model stock cars.

Matthew Philpott serves as an interior mechanic and tire specialist at Joe Gibbs Racing, working primarily on the No. 11 Toyota Camry driven by Denny Hamlin. Philpott is a longtime NASCAR crew member that has worked for organizations such as Richard Childress Racing and JGR in both the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series for many years.

While Philpott’s day job remains handling tires and interior for the No. 11 JGR Toyota, his short track racing roots never stray far. In 2022, Philpott was part of the team that helped Derek Thorn capture the Tom Dawson Trophy for winning the prestigious Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

Yet, for the month of May, Philpott was splitting his time between the JGR race shop in Huntersville, North Carolina, with the short tracks of North Wilkesboro and Hickory, all in an effort to help longtime friends and fellow racers Strmiska Racing.

The two families raced against one another for years in California before separately making the trip east to pursue NASCAR racing. Philpott and Robert Strmiska previously worked together at Richard Childress Racing and their bond has remained strong still to this day.

“I get to come out here and do this deal for a family that my family raced against back home in California for many, many years,” Philpott told Racing America during the May 25 ASA STARS National Tour event at Hickory. “They brought two cars from California out here and it’s really costly to get their guys that help them on the West Coast to fly out here and everything, so Robert put together some guys to come help his brother Ross.”

Philpott’s relationship with Ross Strmiska goes all the way back to their high school football days in California, when Philpott played for Tracy High School. The pair even lived together for a stint and the families remained close. Living on the East Coast now allows Philpott the opportunity to help a longtime family friend and get back to his roots.

Even though JGR does not allow its drivers to compete in racing events outside of their NASCAR duties, the restrictions are a bit less for the crew members and employees back at the race shop. For most within the shop, short track racing is where they learned and how they came up the ranks.

“This is where it all started. I get to race on Sundays now because of all of this. It’s where people cut their teeth,” said Philpott. “It’s always fun to come back and work on these things. Grassroots racing is just home to guys like me.”

One key factor to his continued involvement in short track racing is Chris Gabehart, crew chief for Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 JGR team.

“Gabehart is a short track guy too,” said Philpott. “He’s understanding and lets us know that our responsibilities at the shop have to be done before we can come play out here. That makes it nice that he is so understanding with our passions and letting us pursue them. Hickory is an hour from the house and I get to go late model racing. The wife is at work, the kids are at school, so it just makes sense to come help.”

For Philpott, the biggest change between the day job on the NASCAR side of things and the volunteer efforts in the ASA STARS National Tour boils down to the people in the garage, but at the end of the day, racing is racing and ultimately there is work to be done to get the race car - regardless of the series - onto the racetrack.

“There’s a lot more unfamiliar faces today. It’s still work. I treat it like a job and you still have to do your job. Doing tires is - it’s the only thing that touches the racetrack. Everything is important, but tires are really important. These things can really throw you for a loop. It’s really just unfamiliar faces but there are still some people that I see on Sundays, and there are a couple of the NASCAR drivers out here too, which is cool because you want to race against the best when they show up.”

While Philpott remains connected to his roots by going back to short track racing with the Strmiska family, he does all he can to bring his love of racing to anyone he meets, especially young fans.

Toyota Racing captured a moment earlier this year at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in which Philpott found a young Denny Hamlin fan watching the cars roll out of the garage. The veteran crew member went over to the young fan, asking him and the family if it was alright he helped the team. After an approval from the family, Philpott lifted the fan over the fence and they rushed to catch up to the rest of the JGR crew, helping push it to the starting grid.

Philpott continues to find ways to interact with young fans in the garage and outside the racetracks, doing all he can to spread his love of racing to the next generation of young fans.

“That’s where we all started out, so I just want to help make some memories for these young fans that they may have never had the opportunity to have,” he said.

Photo Courtesy: Joe Gibbs Racing

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