By Richard Doyle
At an age when most parents marvel at how fast their middle school kids are growing up, Quinten and Vicki Tifft experienced a whole different side of fast when they watched their son Matt mature.
Try more than 100-mph fast.
While most 14-year-olds were looking for bands for their braces, Hinckley Township resident Matt Tifft was racing stock cars throughout the midwest. Now reaching the ripe old age of 16, the Highland junior has his eyes set on bigger things — namely to compete with the elite drivers of the NASCAR Sprint Series.
“I got started racing go-karts at Barberton Speedway when I was 11, and raced a national schedule when I was 13,” he said. “Each of the cars are only 350 pounds, and yet they would go upwards of 90-95 mph. They definitely would be moving.”
Tifft’s progression on the racing circuit quickly moved from local go-kart tracks to half-mile asphalt tracks throughout the midwest. Soon, the region’s best race car drivers were competing against a 14-year-old in car No. 89.
“In 2010, we partnered up with Iron Eagle Racing in Wisconsin, mixed with Finish Line Racing School in Florida, and both those teams are asphalt late model racing teams that are a really big stepping stone into the bigger NASCAR Late Model Series,” he said. “Those are essentially the first stock cars you get into.”
The term Late Models refers to vehicles similar to earlier versions of what are now the NASCAR Sprint Series cars, albeit lighter and a little slower. They are typically the highest class of cars seen on local tracks, and can reach speeds in excess of 180 mph on some of the larger tracks.
At the time Tifft started competing in the larger cars, he was racing against men two to three times his age. To compete two years before his friends got their temporary licenses required some effort.
“It’s kind of like a scouting thing,” he said. “You’ll go out to a track and run through some practice sessions, and they’ll have track officials or series officials evaluating your skills to make sure you have enough talent and responsibility to go out with a bunch of 25- and 35-year-olds and not cause a problem.”
Tifft pointed out that starting out as a 14-year-old driver is nothing new. His childhood idol, NASCAR star Jeff Gordon, did the same thing. Gordon remains Tifft’s favorite driver — not just for his on-track results, but for what he does off the track for kids and cancer research.
“He’s definitely someone I’d like to emulate,” Tifft said.
In trying to follow in Gordon’s footsteps, Tifft has already proven he belongs by winning a couple regional races and finishing in the top 10 in 70 percent of his starts. His continued success landed him the honor of being named the 2012 ARCA Midwest Tour Rookie of the Year.
His next goal is to compete in the larger-track Truck Series, which is one step from the Nationwide Series. Patience will be required, as reaching those levels requires participants to be 18.
“This year in the K&N Series, and hopefully next year in the Truck Series, the main thing within these next two years is getting my name out there and getting some results to be seen by the Nationwide Cup Series,” Tifft said. “The main thing is to get your foot in the door of that series so you can be seen by some of the bigger teams.”
For now, Tifft races 40-plus weekends a year. He is not complaining by any means, as even now he gets to compete side-by-side with some of the legends of racing, such as Matt Kenseth, Kyle Bush and Rusty Wallace in the Late Model Series.
All the traveling can be grueling to a full-time student, but Tifft, who had a 3.8 grade-point average, praised the support he has received from Highland teachers and administrators.
The tour is also hard on the pocketbook. Tifft couldn’t compete without his parents and key sponsors such as Hinckley-based Clinical Research Management, JLP CPAs, Malco Products and Rapid Marketplace.
“There’s a reason why they say that NASCAR race cars are moving billboards,” he said. “It takes a lot of money to run a team, and I am just so thankful for my sponsors who support me.”
Getting his name out is easy to do, as Tifft likes to speak to local organizations and show off his car whenever possible. Kevin Dunn, former president of the Medina Chapter of the Rotary International Club, witnessed it first hand.
“It’s really a neat thing to see a young man’s dream kind of being unfolded and showing how he’s planning on accomplishing that,” Dunn said. “He’s really a sharp kid and a very good asset to our community.”
In 2013, Tifft will be racing the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East with Win-Tron Racing. On his website, MattTifftRacing.com, fans can view a schedule, request autographed materials, purchase promotional items and interact with the driver.
Tifft wants to continue pursuing his dream of being a professional NASCAR racer while also having his eyes set on attending Bowling Green State University and majoring in business management.
If history is any indicator, Quintin and Vicki Tifft may have to forgo their son’s college graduation ceremony so they can attend one of his NASCAR races.
Contact Richard Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org.