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Hinckley Township native Matt Tifft reaches the top in NASCAR

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    #2: Matt Tifft, Richard Childress Racing, Chevrolet Camaro Go Green during practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Whelan 200 auto race at ISM Raceway, Nov. 9, in Avondale Ariz.

    NIGEL KINRADE / NKP / AP

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    Elliott Sadler (1) and Matt Tifft (2) during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Whelen Trusted to Perform 200 race at ISM Raceway, Nov. 9, 2018, in Avondale, Ariz.

    RUSSELL LABOUNTY / NKP / AP

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It has been a whirlwind past few weeks for NASCAR driver Matt Tifft. The Hinckley Township native signed on to become the third driver for Front Row Motorsports late last month, elevating him to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the highest circuit of the sport.

“It’s like getting the call up to play for the Indians or making it to the NFL,” Tifft said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid, and it’s cool to make it here, thinking about how it all started from Barberton (Speedway) and running go karts up and down my driveway in Hinckley.”

Tifft joins the circuit of the 40 best drivers in America after a strong season on the Xfinity Series in 2018, in which he advanced to the semifinals of the playoffs and finished sixth overall competing for Richard Childress Racing.

One thing that helped Tifft improve on the track was the hiring of a personal driving coach, Blake Koch, who helped him with his mental approach to racing.

“I hired a driver coach at the beginning of last year and that really allowed me to get better, prepare better from an analytical approach, and as the season went on I was better at tracks the second time around,” Tifft said. “It was the most fun season I’ve ever had.”

The 22-year-old had six top-five and 19 top-10 finishes on the Xfinity Series last season. Tifft finished third in his final race of 2018, the Whelan Trusted to Perform 200, and had he won would have qualified for the Championship 4 race, the Ford EcoBoost 300 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I know it’s a huge opportunity (to race on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series),” Tifft said. “So many drivers want this chance, so it’s exciting to see all my hard work pay off.”

The 2019 season will kick off with what Tifft called the Super Bowl of his sport, the Daytona 500, on Feb. 17. Tifft explained that race will have a larger audience and more television exposure than any other race on the schedule.

“I’m only going to learn one way, so I have to jump in with both feet,” Tifft said. “These first couple of years will be a learning process. It’s definitely a goal of mine to win rookie of the year, and hopefully I can get into the top 25 in points.”

Tifft, in a No. 36 Ford Mustang, will be competing with Daniel Hemric, who finished third last year on the Xfinity Series, and Tanner Berryhill for 2019 Rookie of the Year. Tifft will be able to lean on the veteran experience of Michael McDowell and David Ragan, Front Row Motorsports’ current drivers.

“It’s an exciting time for growth in our team at Front Row Motorsports,” Tifft said. “They’ve been around 10 years and are really getting bigger, and they are going to open a new race shop in January.”

Along with beginning to assemble his race team and pit crew, Tifft has been training every day for races that will be nearly twice as long as those he competed in on the Xfinity Series.

“Until January, I’m doing a lot of complex circuit training to build up my strength,” Tifft said. “Then I’ll start doing intensive cardio to prepare for what happens during the race.”

With races running three to four hours and a car’s cockpit reaching temperatures well over 100 degrees for the length of the race, Tifft said he has to get his body prepared to sweat off 10-12 pounds as his heart rate reaches 160 beats per minute.

Tifft has switched to the Keto diet, something he’s done after battling a brain tumor roughly two years ago. The special diet is supposed to help his body stave off other tumors, but it also has helped him get into peak physical shape and prepare him for the training.

“The discipline of my new diet has definitely helped me stay disciplined in my training,” Tifft said. “I’m even designing my own on-the-go-shake for the diet now.”

The fact Tifft is back behind the wheel is an incredible feat on its own, let alone climbing to the top of his sport just two years following surgery on the tumor.

“I remember doctors telling me I’d never race again and my first thought was, ‘It’s time to get a new doctor,’ because I was going to race again,” Tifft said. “It was a tough time and it was sometimes terrifying re-experiencing everything for the first time (after the surgery).”

It hasn’t just been an exciting time for Tifft around the rack. He also recently got engaged to his girlfriend of four years, Jordan Holt, at the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, N.C.

“It’s funny, people always ask me what it’s like to go 200 mph and if I’m afraid to crash, but proposing was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done,” Tifft said. “But it was awesome. I’ve been with her for four years and she’s always there for me.”

Tifft recently returned to North Carolina after going to the Dominican Republic to help raise money for the David Ortiz Children’s Fund. He participated in a golf tournament that helped raise money for pediatric surgeries. He took part in the same event in 2016.

“They help children get surgeries down there that they otherwise couldn’t afford,” Tifft said. “These are life-changing things for those families.”

Contact John Urchek at sports@medina-gazette.com.


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