Getty Images

NASCAR Next: Matt Tifft’s Long Summer

2 Comments

If he were to start writing it today, what would 20-year-old Matt Tifft title his autobiography?

“That’s a good (question),” Tifft says. “Because whatever I think of, it’s definitely a whole lot different than say March or April.”

Tifft takes 20 seconds to think about it. Over the phone, 20 seconds of silence can feel like minutes. But Tifft has to consider what he has experienced in the last three months.

Like any other person, the three months that made up the majority of the summer feel like they occurred over “almost a year” while going by in “kind of a blur.”

On May 21, Tifft finished sixth at Charlotte Motor Speedway in his third Camping World Truck Series race of the year for Red Horse Racing. Tifft wasn’t scheduled to make another NASCAR start until the June 18 Truck race at Iowa Speedway.

But Tifft wouldn’t start that race, the Xfinity event the next day or any race since. Through either multiple wrecks in 2015 or a general lack of care for his back, on June 14 it was announced that Tifft would miss both races due to a “disc condition.”

On July 1, Tifft underwent brain surgery.

“Oh boy, that’s a good question,” Tifft says after 20 seconds are up. “Let’s call it ‘The Race Against Time.’ I like that one.”

SUMMER BREAK

While getting his back examined, Tifft asked for a scan of his brain.

The driver had suffered a concussion early in his career and believed an ongoing sensitivity to light was a lingering symptom.

“I just really wanted to get a baseline MRI for my head moving on, just in case something did happen,” Tifft says.

“Just in case” happened immediately. The scans showed a mass on Tifft’s right frontal-lobe.

In a conference call including his parents Quinten and Victoria Tifft back home in Ohio, doctors said they believed Matt had either Cellular Dysplasia or a low-grade brain tumor, which the former could be mistaken for.

Tifft’s parents immediately bought tickets to North Carolina, where they would remain through the entirety of their son’s ordeal.

“I knew there was the possibility of it being (a tumor), but until we did the biopsy, there was no way of knowing,” Tifft says. “I kind of had a strange feeling that it might have been a tumor. I had no evidence of that, but sometimes in those situations you kind of have to prepare yourself for the worst.”

If it were a tumor, the treatment, depending on the diagnosis, could make it worse.

Tifft’s MRI results were sent to the Carolinas Medical Center’s tumor board which decided there was a 60 percent chance the mass was a tumor and a 40 percent chance it was Dysplasia. With such close numbers, a biopsy was ordered.

Tiff waited a week to learn the results.

“I knew if it was a tumor that I was probably going to have surgery or there’s chances of doing chemo or radiation,” Tifft says. “If it’s Dysplasia, I wouldn’t have missed any races and everything would have been probably fine. Maybe they do something for the Dysplasia, but more than likely no.”

It was a tumor. A low-grade one, but still a tumor, located in his right-frontal lobe and roughly the size of a half-dollar.

“The fact that I caught it when I did is shocking, because I shouldn’t have caught it,” Tifft says. “It shouldn’t have made enough symptoms to be able to find it with how the tumor was. Which is kind of the scary part, because if I hadn’t of said something about it, there’s no telling when I would have caught it.

“If I was 30, it might have been a Grade Four tumor that could have taken a cancerous form, you just don’t know.

On June 28 it was announced that Tifft, in the middle of a year that has included driving for Joe Gibbs Racing and being named to this year’s’ NASCAR Next class, would undergo brain surgery.

THE ROAD BACK

Tifft woke up.

He remembers seeing a black and red clock that read 7:31.

The surgery had begun around 3 p.m.

Tifft has not been able to sleep the night before thinking about what could happen during his surgery – losing his motor skills or the use of the right side of his face. Now he wasn’t given time to think.

After quickly being wheeled to his room, Tifft was given a series of tongue twisters he can no longer remember thanks to anesthesia. “After I did that, I was like ‘huh, ok, I must be alright.'”

His path back to a racing wasn’t clear yet.

Though he wouldn’t have to undergo chemotherapy or other forms of aggressive treatment therapy, Tifft participated in a five-day EEG test to survey the electric activity in his brain.

A two-day test prior to the surgery to measure his susceptibility to seizures, which are linked to tumors, had come back negative.

The post-surgery test during the week of Aug. 9 was to ensure he had the same chance of a seizure happening as any other driver.

For five days 25 probes were glued to Tifft’s head. A wire leash kept him from moving more than 10 feet.

“I was not allowed out of the room,” Tifft says. “I could walk to the bathroom, that was about it.”

His entertainment?

“Let me tell you, I watched a lot of the Olympics,” Tifft says with a laugh. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much Olympics coverage.”

While he watched and even now, Tifft feels his brain repairing itself after removal of the tumor.

“Every day you’d have these little electrical pulses in the area where the tumor was and it’s literally your brain rewiring, which is crazy,” Tifft says. “It had a foreign thing there and now it is trying to fill it up with fluid and all that kind of stuff, which it’s still doing, but it’s completely fine now.”

Along the way Tifft has even bonded with Sprint cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has given the driver two decades younger than him advice based on his recovery from a concussion.

On Aug. 5, Tifft tweeted that he felt completely “like myself” for the first time since his surgery. At a Aug. 19 press conference at Bristol Motor Speedway, Tifft said he was cleared by doctors to drive a race car again.

But Tifft won’t truly be himself until he’s competing in a race again.

NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS

After a mid-season break that’s lasted almost long as a normal offseason, Tifft would give anything to just blow an engine on the first lap of a race.

“As a race car driver, that’s something you never want to do,” Tifft says. “I’d much rather have that day than what I went through here. There’s a lot of positives to take away from it, but it’s hard to understand what that type of thing puts you through.”

Tifft finally returned to a cockpit on Monday, driving a late-model in a test at Hickory Motor Speedway.

When he finally does participate in a race weekend, Tifft will have many thoughts on his still mending mind. Among those will be the words of medical professionals who thought Tifft would never get to experience life from the cockpit again.

“I’m sure it will be emotional, but almost a relief, too,” Tifft says. “I had some people say in this whole process that I would never race again … It’s a dream of mine that I always had as a kid and I just grew up as a fan and I get to do what I love. Feels like it got taken away from me a little bit and I can’t wait to get back.”

Joey Logano set to test Next Gen car today, Tuesday at ISM Raceway

AP Photo/Mike McCarn
Leave a comment

Joey Logano will become the second Cup driver to test the Next Gen car when he hits the track today and Tuesday at ISM Raceway.

This test of the car, which is scheduled to debut in 2021, follows the session that took place Oct. 8-9 at Richmond Raceway by Austin Dillon. Logano will drive the same car that Dillon did. That car was prepared by Richard Childress Racing.

Logano explained what he was looking forward to with the new car:

“Just understanding, for one, just some durability stuff but also understanding what works and what doesn’t. I’d like to, once we get to some point, I’d like to make some longer runs just to kind of see where things go. There are so many differences with the car that we need to understand.

“I think it’s still very much in the beginning of the process. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to getting back in a race car.

Logano said he was “curious” how the car would drive with the independent rear suspension.

“I think that will be interesting to say the least,” he said.

The next text for the car is scheduled in January at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That will mark the car’s first test on a 1.5-mile track.

Rain washes out Snowball Derby, rescheduled to Monday

Five Flags Speedway
1 Comment

Rain has postponed the 52nd Snowball Derby Super Late Model race from Sunday to Monday at 5 p.m. ET/4 p.m. CT at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

Track officials tried several times to dry the track, only to be met with recurrences of rain.

Even with the rain issue, one bit of significant news was announced: the track is granting a special provisional exception and expanded the race day field from its normal 36-driver field to 37 drivers. The reason: veteran racer David Rogers was presented with the Derby Dedication Award for his 32 previous starts in the Snowball Derby.

Monday will make Roger’s 33rd career start in the annual pre-winter event, breaking a tie with legendary driver Red Farmer for most starts in the race.

Rogers has had a challenging year, having battled and then overcoming lymphoma. Monday’s rescheduled race will be the Florida resident’s first start behind the wheel since he was officially declared cancer-free.

“David’s Snowball Derby dedication has been unmatched in the history of this race,” Five Flags Speedway owner Tim Bryant said in a statement.  “We felt like being in this race served as real motivation for David in his battle with cancer this year, and we wish him the best of luck in today’s race.”

Also, driver Justin Bonnett, grandson of late NASCAR star Neil Bonnett, is recovering in a Mobile, Alabama hospital after undergoing surgery to repair a broken leg and treat burns to his face, hands and body. Bonnett was involved in a crash and subsequent fireball created by a fuel cell that broke away from a fellow competitor’s race car during Saturday night’s Snowflake 100 race at Five Flags Speedway.

 

Follow @JerryBonkowski

UPDATED: Neil Bonnett’s grandson seriously injured in fiery crash

Photo courtesy Justin Bonnett Racing official Facebook page
Leave a comment

The grandson of late NASCAR Cup star Neil Bonnett was seriously injured in a crash during Saturday night’s Snowflake 100 late model race at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

Justin Bonnett suffered a compound fracture of the fibula and tibula and burns to his hands, face and neck in a fiery wreck that prompted him to be transferred to a hospital in Mobile, Alabama, according to a post on his team’s Facebook page.

According to various media reports, Bonnett was running 26th on Lap 54 when he was unable to avoid and made contact with the spinning car of Jarrett Parker.

Driving the No. 12, the same number his late grandfather carried for much of his Cup career, the younger Bonnett’s car was engulfed in flames after the fuel tank on Parker’s car became dislodged and caught fire, spilling fuel and flames across the racetrack. Here is a video of the incident, courtesy of Joshua Nelms, who shot the video, and Sidedrafting Productions, which posted it.

Bonnett’s car came to a stop on the apron between turns three and four, where he was quickly pulled from his car by safety crews, who also extinguished the fire. The race was red-flagged for a lengthy period of time afterward.

According to media reports, the 26-year-old Bonnett was taken by ambulance to a local Pensacola hospital, where he was briefly treated before he was airlifted to a hospital in Mobile.

It was upon arrival at the Mobile hospital that it was determined Bonnett would undergo late night surgery, according to several posts on his Facebook page, written by his aunt and Neil’s daughter, Kristen Bonnett Ray.

Later Sunday morning, Bonnett’s aunt posted this update on his condition:

Justin Bonnett still lives in Hueytown, Ala., home of the famous “Alabama Gang,” of which his grandfather was part of, as well as Bobby and Donnie Allison, Red Farmer, Jimmy Means, the late Davey Allison, Hut Stricklin and David Bonnett, Justin’s father.

The Snowflake 100 was a preliminary race for Sunday’s main event, the 52nd annual Snowball Derby. The 300-lap race starts at 2 p.m. ET.

Here are several additional posts on Bonnett’s wreck from social media:

 

Follow @JerryBonkowski

10 coolest paint schemes from 2019

Getty Images
1 Comment

With the year coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on what went down in 2019.

But this isn’t some serious retrospective on the events witnessed in NASCAR over the last 12 months.

Nope, we’re going to talk about paint schemes.

That’s it.

Without further ado, here are 10 of the coolest paint schemes that graced the track this year.

 

Corey LaJoie drives his Scooby-Doo car at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Corey LaJoie’s No. 32 Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine Ford

For the second year in a row, Go Fas Racing and sponsor CorvetteParts.net expressed their inner child for the Martinsville Cup race ahead of Halloween.

Following their “Peanuts” car in 2018, LaJoie’s car was transformed into the Mystery Machine from the Scooby-Doo cartoons.

It definitely echoes the Cartoon Network cars that competed in the 1990s and we don’t have a problem with that.

 

 

 

(Photo by Matthew Bolt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Kurt Busch‘s No. 1 Star Nursery Chevrolet

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver didn’t wait until the Southern 500 to bring a throwback scheme to the track.

Busch had Star Nursery on his car for the spring race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A local Las Vegas sponsor, the company backed Busch when he won the 1999 Southwest Tour championship.

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

William Byron‘s No. 24 City Chevrolet … Chevrolet

Hendrick Motorsports dropped the hammer with Byron’s Southern 500 scheme, almost a direct copy of a car Cole Trickle drove in the movie Days of Thunder, which Hendrick Motorsports advised on the making of.

City Chevrolet is a real car dealership in Charlotte, North Carolina, that Rick Hendrick owns.

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Michael Annett‘s No. 1 Baby Ruth Chevrolet

JR Motorsports trotted out this tribute to Jeff Gordon’s 1992 Xfinity Series car at Darlington.

Having both the right number and the sponsor to complete the ensemble made it the MVP of the Xfinity Series’ portion of the throwback weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Alex Bowman‘s No. 88 Nationwide Patriotic Chevrolet

The Hendrick Motorsports driver arrived at Charlotte Motor Speedway with this scheme for the Coca-Cola 600 in May.

Unlike the typical red, white and blue schemes for the Memorial Day race, Bowman’s had a more subtle approach and came away with a very slick look.

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Bubba Wallace‘s No. 43 Air Force P-40 Warhawk Chevrolet

Richard Petty Motorsports unleashed this scheme at the Bristol night race.

A tribute to World War II fighter planes, we can imagine being startled by seeing this car approaching in the rear-view mirror.

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Lyle Setter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Miller Lite Holiday Knitwear Ford

Sure, this paint scheme was raced in Arizona in the middle of November.

But we’re not going to fault the timing of this holiday-themed car.

While it would be easy call this an “ugly Christmas sweater” design, there’s nothing ugly about it.

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick‘s No. 4 Busch Beer Gen X Ford

The folks at Busch Beer proved it’s possible to have a sequel paint scheme … or would that be a prequel?

Harvick drove this Gen X-themed scheme at Pocono in July. Two months earlier, Harvick competed in the All-Star Race with a Millennial paint scheme.

 

 

 

 

 

(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Ben Rhodes‘ No. 99 Havoline Ford

Rhodes and ThorSport Racing provided a blast from the past with this sponsor and scheme in the Truck Series.

Havoline made its return as a NASCAR sponsor for the first time since 2008. It was on Rhodes truck for eight races.

 

 

 

(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Harvick Beer Ford

Using the excuse that it was tired of giving free promotion to Kyle and Kurt Busch, Busch Beer turned the No. 4 car into the “Harvick Beer” car for the playoff race at Dover International Speedway.

For anyone who has played a NASCAR video game or collected diecasts, it’s a reminder of the kid friendly cars that replaced beer names with the names of the driver.

 

 

What was your favorite paint scheme this season? Let us know in the comments.