Less than three months after having brain surgery, Matt Tifft is back doing what he loves to do best.
“I radioed in after my first practice (Thursday) and said how much I missed this,” Tifft said at Chicagoland Speedway, where he finished 12th in the NASCAR Truck Series’ American Ethanol 225 Friday night. “It takes a lap or two for you to get used to it. But, definitely, I was soaking it in going around the first couple of laps.”
On July 1, Tifft – a promising young regular on the Xfinity Series circuit and a finance major at UNC Charlotte – had a noncancerous growth removed from his brain. The tumor had been discovered earlier in the summer when doctors checked for what was thought to be a disk condition in his back.
Although the benign tumor -- a low-grade glioma slightly smaller than a golf ball -- wasn’t considered life threatening, it gave Tifft plenty to think about.
“After the diagnosis, I didn’t feel any different that day than I had the last couple of years,” he said. “I had talked about I had a couple of symptoms, but those weren’t very (obvious) symptoms at all. Going through that process I was like, ‘OK, I know I have something going on,’ but it was strange because I had a tumor in my brain, but at the same time I felt normal.
Brain surgery is a very major deal and it’s a scary thing to go through.
“So, it wasn’t like it was a panic alarm going off in my head, it felt like any other day. It was more of a different situation that I didn’t understand what was going on in there. That was definitely a weird part for a while because it was like, ‘Well, yeah, I’ve got this going on but I want to get back in the race car. I want to go. There’s nothing wrong with me.’ But, obviously there was something in there.”
The surgery was a success. Doctors removed a tumor near his right temple that Tifft described as looking like a wet cotton ball. While he recuperated and rehabbed, he thought of one thing: returning to the race track.
He tested a late-model sportsman car Monday at Hickory Motor Speedway and practiced in a race simulator.
“After the surgery, I think the reason I was able to make such a quick return was just the support I had from family and friends and just the motivation to get back to racing. That really helped along with the recovery process because the days that were hard I could say to myself, ‘OK, next week you’ll feel a little bit better, a little bit better. Someday you’ll be back.’ And, that day was (Thursday).”
Tifft will run a limited schedule of Xfinity, Truck series and ARCA races the rest of the season.
Before his surgery, Tifft had come close to breaking through in the Xfinity series. He had consecutive eighth-place finishes at Talladega (where he won the pole) and Dover. He’d like to keep that going upon his return, but he plans to run a limited schedule for the rest of the season in the Xfinity and Truck series, as well as some Auto Racing Club of America races. He’s also taking the semester off at UNCC and plans to return to school in January.
“Matt is a very positive person and for what he went through for the last couple of months – it is pretty major,” said Timothy Peters, Tifft’s Red Horse Racing teammate in the Truck Series. “Just the feedback and all of the positives that he brings to the race team (are) second to none. A good person to boot, it’s hard to beat that recipe. He brings a lot to the team as far as being positive and very energetic.”
Tifft, who is from Hinckley, Ohio, has focused a lot of that energy on social media, where he tweeted photos and videos of himself in his hospital bed after the operation. He also is using it as a way to communicate his support to others who have found themselves in similar circumstances and is becoming active with the American Brain Tumor Association.
8 Tifft’s career-high Xfinity finishes at Talladega and Dover this season.
“Brain surgery is a very major deal and it’s a scary thing to go through,” Tifft said. “I had a lot of people reaching out to me and really trying to comfort me through that time. At first I thought it would be good for people to actually see me and actually talking and moving and just to show that I was OK. But, then after that video it really went around quite a bit and I realized how many people were going through huge operations, whether it was brain related or not, and I felt like that platform could be used pretty well to show my recovery process.”
Tifft, who said he lost his step-grandmother to a brain tumor, said he got a huge response.
“The result of that was a ton of people coming to me saying, ‘Hey, my daughter is going through this,’ or ‘My son is going through this. Can you give a shout out to them?’ ” he said. “That was really neat to see that people were actually connecting with me over that -- whether they were NASCAR fans or not. Just to see someone going through it and getting better was pretty cool for them to see and I loved working with them on that.
“(I) maybe have just a little bit better understanding – maybe a little bit more responsibility I put on my shoulders for trying to use our platform in NASCAR and as a driver for a better cause. This is a very big deal, but I feel like there’s also a need for an outlet for medical conditions such as mine. But ... with my step-grandma ... I know what that’s like to go through it from an outsider’s perspective as well. That’s definitely a passion of mine. I think the biggest change is I feel a social responsibility to help others going through stuff like this.”
Want to know more?
Visit the American Brain Tumor Association’s website: www.abta.org