Matt Tifft always enjoyed Martinsville Speedway as a boy, so when the UNC Charlotte freshman recorded an eighth-place finish in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut at the tough short track, he couldn’t quit smiling.
“You have to be so aggressive and up-on-the-wheel (at Martinsville),” said Tifft, 18, who drove a Chevrolet in the Oct. 25 event for the Mooresville-based B.J. McLeod Motorsports. “We were probably one of the smoothest or cleanest (trucks) out there. I mean our front end is not completely destroyed, so we weren’t completely shoving people out of the way. We were just trying to ride and be smart about where things were falling out.”
Tifft qualified 20th, but didn’t crack the top 10 until the race had entered its second half. He had fallen to 18th with 70 laps remaining after a pit stop. Within 30 laps he had made it back into the top 10 where he hovered for the rest of the event.
“It’s front-to-back, front-to-back and if you can keep doing that, you’ll have a shot at getting a good finish,” said Tifft, a business major.
A Jeff Gordon fan as a child, Tifft always watched the Martinsville and Bristol races. He finally made it to NASCAR’s shortest Sprint Cup Series track from his family’s Hinckley, Ohio, home as a fan when he was around 9 years old.
“I watched it from the middle of turns three and four,” Tifft said about his first Martinsville race, as he pointed to the grandstand. “It looked like moving bumper cars.”
Racing came naturally to Tifft, who grew up attending dirt late model races primarily in Michigan with his father’s team. In the fall of 2007, he made his go-kart debut at Barberton Speedway in Norton, Ohio.
Two years later he competed in go-kart racing at the divisional and national level with Beasley Motorsports and coach/mentor Gary Lawson. He transitioned to asphalt and dirt super late models in 2010, receiving help from Josh Richards, Dale McDowell and Clint Smith on dirt, Tim Schendel on asphalt, and Benny Gordon on dirt and asphalt.
Tifft’s first full year in stock cars came in 2011, with a highlight of the season being a top 10 points finish in the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway during the short track’s Speedweeks.
The following year, Tifft won rookie honors in ARCA’s Midwest Tour with a fifth-place finish in the standings. He broke into NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series in 2013 and ran selected ARCA races with Win-Tron Racing. That year he produced one top-five and three top-10 finishes in the K&N Pro Series West, three top-10s in the K&N Pro Series East and a top-five in the ARCA race at Toledo, Ohio.
This year, Tifft competed in New Smyrna’s Speedweeks as well as selected ARCA and K&N Pro Series races for Concord-based Ken Schrader Racing. He collected three top-10 finishes in seven K&N races. In ARCA, Tifft produced five top-five and seven top-10 finishes in 10 events.
Tifft’s debut in NASCAR’s Truck series came with McLeod, who the teenager credits with teaching him how to drive a stock car.
“He was an instructor at the Finish Line Racing School (at New Smyrna Speedway),” said Tifft, who will drive McLeod’s truck in the Nov. 7 Phoenix race. “I was 13 (when I went to the school). Then we tested for him a couple of times when I was 14.”
McLeod described his pupil as “top of the class” and “one of the most humble kids I’ve ever worked with.”
“You could see he had some talent (at the school),” McLeod said. “He definitely looked promising. He started running super late models for me in Florida at the same time he was racing for Tim Schendel in Wisconsin.
“His talent exceeds the way he talks 10 times over. It’s really pleasant working with a kid like that. He has the drive, he definitely has the natural talent and he’s building the experience you need to be good at this level. I think what he showed (at Martinsville) was incredible.”
For 2015, Tifft envisions a schedule consisting of ARCA and truck races, and a few late model events.
“The late models don’t seem like they’re too different from the trucks with the power-to-weight ratio,” Tifft said. “The ARCA cars have a little bit more power on the short tracks and they’ve got the tapered spacer on the bigger speedways. It was cool to run the mile-and-a-half tracks this year and Pocono, get the variety of tracks. I have a lot more car knowledge and a better sense of a race vehicle in general from running all the different series.”
Action Express Racing, which won the 2014 IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar championship, will field two full-time teams out of its Denver facility in 2015.
In addition to the returning championship duo of Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Corvette Daytona Prototype, the team will field the No. 31 Whelen Corvette Daytona Prototype for Whelen Engineering. The car will have a Coyote chassis and be powered by ECR Engines. Eric Curran, of Sarasota, Fla., and Dane Cameron, from Glen Ellen, Calif., will be the No. 31 team’s drivers.
A 125,000-square-foot building that will house Gene Haas’ F1 team in Kannapolis is nearing completion. Construction on the facility is scheduled to be completed in late November. The building is adjacent to Stewart-Haas Racing.
Haas F1 Team is scheduled to make its debut in Formula One racing in 2016. Adam Jacobs recently joined the organization as its chief marketing officer. Jacobs, who will lead brand strategy and partnership for the team, was formerly the sports marketing manager for Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser brand in NASCAR and the Bud Light brand in the NFL and college sports.
Hickory’s Fall Brawl
Concord’s Payton Ryan finished second to Josh Berry of Hendersonville, Tenn., in Hickory Motor Speedway’s Fall Brawl 150 late model race. William Byron, of Charlotte, placed fourth and third-generation driver Coleman Pressley, who lives in Kannapolis, was fifth. Pressley is the son of former NASCAR driver Robert Pressley and the grandson of the late Bob Pressley.
In the Fall Brawl’s limited late model event, track champion Taylor Stricklin of Mt. Ulla finished second to Granite Falls’ Monty Cox. Kyle Mansch, from Lenoir, took fourth. Stricklin is the son of former NASCAR driver Hut Stricklin and the grandson of legendary NASCAR driver Donnie Allison.
Newton’s Ben Ebeling won the street stock race, while Wayne Edwards of Denver finished second. Taylorsville’s Chase Pollard placed third and Lenoir’s Kevin Eby finished fourth. Pollard is the grandson of retired NASCAR driver Harry Gant and the son of former NASCAR driver Larry Pollard.
Concord’s Bob Park finished second to Kyle Bonsignore in the classic sportsman race, while Midland’s Robert Hapeman took third. Rounding out the top five were Larry Benz of Harrisburg and Don Fenn of Lincolnton. Park is the father of former NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Steve Park.