Whispers in the Dark: Year after brain tumor scare, Matt Tifft can finally get some sleep

Leave a comment

Even before he knew about it, the tumor that once slowly grew in Matt Tifft‘s brain kept him awake at night.

When Tifft drove at night, walked through his darkened house or just lay in bed, a sense of paranoia would envelop the then 19-year-old.

“I actually for a long time would hear strange voices,” Tifft told NBC Sports. “One of the symptoms of brain tumors is badly increased anxiety. That would actually really bother me. I would have to have a box fan. I would have to have some kind of noise to distract me from it to be able to fall asleep.”

He couldn’t always drown out the “strange whispers.” Tifft would often hear eerie music.

“It seemed a lot of times like pop songs with female singers and it would get played into this bizarre, creepy tune in my head,” Tifft said. “And it was warping itself and it was really freaky. It was really bizarre. I didn’t know what it was and it didn’t bother me during the day or anything.”

The strange sensation grew “more and more frequent” as time went on. Tifft went from being “a very calm person to being a very paranoid person in that time frame. … It was totally taking over my head.”

The nocturnal feelings were compounded by an early morning sensitivity to light, which Tifft thought was the result a concussion earlier in his racing career.

This was what led to Tifft to ask for a MRI of his brain in early June last year during a doctor’s visit related to a back problem. Weeks later, on July 1, Tifft had brain surgery to remove a low-grade tumor in his right frontal lobe.

Almost a year later, the whispers and paranoia are gone.

Now Tifft is reminded of the tumor and recovery process that kept him out of the driver’s seat for three months every time he gets a hair cut.

That’s when he sees the scar.

“I always kind of forget it’s there until I go get a hair cut and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s still there,'” Tifft said. “You never know if it’s going to go away or not.”

Now what keeps Tifft awake at night is the general anxiety of being a rookie for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series.

“For awhile it was, ‘ok, what’s wrong with me?'” Tifft said. “Now, it’s just, ‘Ok, how do I make myself better? What do I need to do to do get our team where it needs to be and get out of where we’ve been?’ … At the same time I’ve actually taken quite a few steps to control that stress and anxiety throughout the week.

“I think that’s been part of my maturation process, being able to control that and be able to just let it go a little bit. I’ve gotten better with that. It’s learning how to slow down and be your thoughts in your head. I think that’s the biggest thing now, just wanting to be better and wanting to succeed.”

The Hinckley, Ohio native is 10 races into his tenure driving the No. 19 Toyota full-time for JGR. So far his results haven’t been stellar. He is eighth in points and has earned just two top 10s (Texas, Talladega). He’s led only four laps, at Phoenix, and he placed 26th last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway for his second-worst finish of the year.

But the tense summer last year surrounding his tumor has provided Tifft with helpful insight surrounding his career and life.

It could be worse.

“Other than check ups, I’m good,” said Tifft, who gets a MRI every eight weeks to make sure there’s no signs of a resurgent tumor. “There’s still people that do have to deal with it.”

Every week, Tifft tries to meet fans at the track who have gone through similar experiences or with family members of those who have. At Charlotte, Tifft’s car was sponsored by the National Brain Tumor Society and BrainTumor.com as part of Brain Tumor Awareness Month.

In April, Tifft took part in Charlotte’s Brain Tumor 5k that raised $135,000 for research and awareness. A month later, Tifft traveled to Washington D.C. to petition members of Congress for more funding for brain tumor research programs.

“I guess that makes me feel good to still help out other people and families going through it,” Tifft said. “A lot of people, it’s not four months of stuff, it’s four years. It’s forty years worth of stuff. That’s a bit different than what I had to do.”

But the four months Tifft experienced will make June 26 mean a bit more to him this year. That’s when Tifft will turn 21.

“Everyone talks about turning 21, people know why you’re excited to turn that,” Tifft said. “But for me, I’ve gone through so much by the time I’ve been 21 years old. It’s crazy when you look back at the year. Not only me, everything I’ve had to grow through and things going on around me. It’s been a pretty challenging year just in itself. I’m hoping that’s a bit of a reset button.”

However he celebrates, at least he’ll be able to sleep it off.

and on Facebook

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at New Hampshire

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Busch. He puts last week’s disappointment behind him with another fast car and (this time) a clean day in the pits.

Dustin Long

Denny Hamlin. He sweeps New Hampshire and Toyota continues its dominance at this track.

Daniel McFadin

Kyle Larson. After charging through the field from the rear in July and finishing second, the No. 42 team finishes the job today.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kevin Harvick. He hasn’t been heard from much recently, but this is the kind of track Harvick is at his best. He wins and moves on to the Round of 12.

Today’s Cup Series race at New Hampshire: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOUDON, New Hampshire – The middle race of the first round of the playoffs offers teams that had a bad start a chance to recover or fall further behind.

The pressure builds with the 16-team field cut to 12 after next weekend’s race at Dover.

Here are the details for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern):

START: Marc Del Vecchio, chief technology officer, ISM Connect, will give the command to start engines at 2:07 p.m. Green flag is set for 2:15 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 300 laps (317.4 miles) around the 1.058-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Cup garage opens at 8:30 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at noon. Driver introductions are at 1:30 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Marine Corps Veteran, “The Singing Trooper,” Daniel M. Clark will perform the Anthem at 2:01 p.m., followed by a flyover from two F-15C Eagles from the 104th Fighter Wing, Barnes Air National Guard Base.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race at 2 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 1:30 p.m. The Performance Racing Network radio broadcast begins at 1 p.m. on goprn.com and affiliates. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 81 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin led 54 of 301 laps to win the July race. Kyle Larson placed second. Martin Truex Jr. was third. Kevin Harvick led the final six laps to win this race last year. Matt Kenseth was second. Kyle Busch placed third.

 STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup

 

Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer tied at top of Xfinity playoff standings

Leave a comment

Justin Allgaier and Cole Custer are tied for the top spot in the Xfinity playoff standings after the playoff opener at Kentucky Speedway.

Each driver has 2,057 points.

Allgaier finished third after bouncing back from losing a tire on Lap 19 and going two laps down. He was two laps down for 27 laps and one lap down for 30 before getting back on the lead lap.

Custer, who finished fifth, won the first two stages of the race, earning two playoff points in the process.

The top five in points are Allgaier, Custer, Elliott Sadler (-2), Daniel Hemric (-5) and William Byron (-6).

Click here for the points standings.

Results from Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tyler Reddick scored his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win, leading a 1-2 finish for Chip Ganassi Racing on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Reddick beat teammate Brennan Poole by 14.5 seconds in the playoff opener.

Reddick is the seventh different winner in the last seven series races. He led twice for 66 laps. Reddick had not led any laps until Saturday night.

Playoff contender Justin Allgaier rallied from two laps down after a right front tire went down early in the 200-lap race to finish third. Ryan Preece placed fourth. Rookie Cole Custer, who won both stages, finished fifth.

Click here for race results