NASCAR Cup Series
(VIDEO) Fan Jam Episode 1 - Matt Tifft and Drew Parker
Jan 26, 2022
The former NASCAR Cup Series driver and co-owner of Live Fast Motorsports competed in three Super Late Model events last weekend, his first time racing since 2019.
For NASCAR team owner and former Cup Series driver Matt Tifft, sitting atop the pit box each week for the past few seasons has been both a blessing and a struggle. The now 27-year-old was on an upward trajectory in his racing career, running his NASCAR Cup Series rookie season with Front Row Motorsports in 2019 and earning two top-13 finishes that year.
However, it all came to a crashing halt that October when Tifft suffered a seizure at Martinsville Speedway. Tifft faced a lengthy recovery and his future behind the wheel was very much in question.
Since then, Tifft partnered with BJ McLeod and Joe Falk to form Live Fast Motorsports, where he focuses on bringing engaging and lasting partnerships to the team. Nearly every week he sits on the pit box and watches his car circle the track with someone else driving.
“The hard part about it is you can prepare and do all you want all week and all season and really all off season, you can do all that all you want, but the real fact of it is you are on the pit box,” Tifft told Racing America. “So just like anyone racing, you feel the highs and lows of it, but you're not in control. As a driver, the wheel is in your hand. Does it suck sometimes as a driver? Yeah, it does. You have bad days but you have that direct control over the car. When you are on the box, you're not able to feel it. You just feel a totally different set of emotions.”
Despite his medical setback and new role in NASCAR, Tifft’s love of racing and desire to get back behind the wheel never wavered. After working with his doctors at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and getting back in shape, Tifft’s dreams of racing began to become a reality.
“I worked with my doctors on a lot of neurological exams and tons of MRIs, EEGs, to be honest, not too different from when I got back in the car after my brain tumor,” he said. “I'd say very, very similar, but maybe a bit more involved this time because of what happened in 2019.”
Earlier this year, he climbed behind the wheel at Hickory Motor Speedway for a test session. It was the first time he had driven a race car since 2019 and he was unsure how it would go.
After a successful test, he knew he wanted more.
“The big thing out of that test was that I realized I may want to do this a bit sooner than later. I didn't want to second-guess anything,” he said. “I talked to Dan Frederickson up in Wisconsin and I wanted to do a weekend where I could go race a couple of times. I didn't want to go up there and run 30 laps and be done.”
Tifft got that opportunity when he joined forces with Frederickson and competed at Marshfield Speedway and Golden Sands Speedway last weekend in the No. 36 4PL Solutions LLC Chevrolet.
It was nice to be able to go up and have three races. This weekend was very nice to knock off some of the rust.”
Tifft may have had some rust to knock off, but not much. At Marshfield, Tifft finished fifth in his first race back in the car. At Golden Sands he sat on pole and finished fourth in the first race, then finished 7th in second feature.
Although it had been nearly four years since his last race, the mild-mannered Tifft took no time at all returning to his intense ways behind the wheel.
“By the second day, I was streaming on the radio cussing things out and my team was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he's such a nice guy, what's going on?’ They quickly realized, ‘Oh, yeah, he is like the rest of us,’” Tifft joked. “I come off as such a chill guy, but as soon as I strap in - and I think it's just been pent up energy for the last four years, not doing anything. I'm screaming on the radio, I'm cussing people out dropping F bombs. It's funny because you forget who you are as a race car driver a bit, and it's like, oh yeah, we see red there, it's back.”
Following the race, he told the team he was ready for more, but wanted to do longer races and be a bit more selective moving forward. Although he may return to Wisconsin in the coming weeks to race with Fredrickson some more. He also does not want to limit himself to Super Late Models or even just asphalt racing.
“I want to go run some dirt modified stuff. I'd love to go do that,” he said. “I just want to try some different things. I remember when I was like 14, 15, 16 years old, that was so fun because I could go do that stuff then jump in another car. That time was so cool because you weren't just restricted to one type because of time. So, if I get a call and Kyle Tilley says, ‘Hey, you wanna go run an autocross deal or a LMP2 car then heck yeah, let's go do it.”
While he is eager to stay behind the wheel and drive a variety of cars, Tifft is not necessarily eying a return to the NASCAR Cup Series anytime soon.
“First off I'd love to, I would love to do it,” he said of returning to NASCAR. “I don't have much of an interest in racing Cup. I think if you do it, you really have to run 10-15 races a year to be really in it. When I raced Cup, you learn quickly that you have to be in every single week and I see with guys that come and race with us that they do well, but there's just some things that benefit so much by being there every single week.”
Tifft won’t rule out a potential one-off run in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series or Xfinity Series at some point down the road at tracks such as Road America or Richmond, but right now the focus is on having fun and racing for trophies in as many types of cars as possible.
As a public figure and race car driver, Tifft has become a spokesman and advocate for the epilepsy community, brought more attention to the condition and formed lasting bonds with many within the community. His return to action this weekend served as a continued inspiration for many dealing with similar situations.
“I think that's been a really unique part of my journey. Unfortunately, having to go through it twice, but also, fortunately I have been able to make an impact,” he said. “I don't know if I was supposed to be here and God had a plan for me to be doing this and making some kind of impact with that and trying to be an inspiration for folks or what."
I just know that I love racing and, and I was just drawn back to it, and as much as I kept on trying to bury it and put it away, I just kept on being drawn back to it.”
Following his races last weekend, Tifft said the outpouring of support from all reaches was a bit surprising. He did not hype up his return to racing and wanted to keep it quiet, not making a big deal out of it on social media. Still, his supporters came out in full force.
“The outpouring of support from the epilepsy community, from the racing community, from the brain tumor community, from friends, family, sponsors, people I hadn't talked to in years, old high school classmates, I couldn't believe the support. I mean, it blew me away,” he said.
Photo courtesy Lexi Lovelace