The smell of burning rubber and the race day excitement returned home on Saturday for one NASCAR driver.
Matt Tifft is a professional driver competing with Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Xfinitiy series. On Saturday, Tifft was able to race in front of family and friends from Cleveland at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Tifft, the Hinckley native, grew up loving the Cleveland Browns, Cavaliers and especially the Indians.
On Saturday, his No. 2 Camaro sported an Indians-themed paint scheme for the race weekend on his home track. The Cleveland Indians welcomed back one of their own by allowing him to throw the ceremonial first pitch at Thursday’s home game.
“It was really cool. I’ve been going to Indians games for so long,” Tifft said about throwing the first pitch. “It made it over home plate so I guess that’s all that really matters.”
Not only did his first pitch start the game for the Indians win on Thursday, it started a jam-packed weekend of meeting with fans, visiting family, practicing and racing.
At Mid-Ohio, the 22-year-old had his hands full with markers, photos and hats being signed. In typical Cleveland fashion, the humbleness and humility of Tifft was unmatched, taking photos with every fan that came his way.
The Indians-themed No. 2 Camaro was a gigantic hit among fans at Mid-Ohio the entire weekend. Tifft and the entire RCR team were welcomed by fans showering them with hometown love and support.
Being from the Cleveland area and having the opportunity to race at Mid-Ohio was a big deal for Tifft and the entire No. 2 team, who spend 33 weeks of the year traveling around the country racing.
“I have always had a lot of pride just being from Cleveland,” Tifft said. “I moved down to Charlotte to become a race car driver, but I don’t think the roots have ever left me.”
However, the journey for Tifft to return home to race did not come without challenges.
In 2016, Tifft was experiencing symptoms after a crash that did not seem right. He did not seem or feel like himself and was experiencing migraines and light sensitivity.
While visiting a doctor about a disc issue in his back, the then 19-year old would experience a crash that was much bigger than driving.
Tifft was diagnosed with a brain tumor during the summer of 2016. Doctors told him there was a good chance that he would never competitively sit behind the wheel again.
Like any hardworking Clevelander, Tifft was not going to let adversity stand in the way of his career.
After people in the brain tumor community reached out to him, telling him he could overcome this, he decided that it was time to buckle down and do whatever had to be done to get back on the track.
“When I was told I wasn’t going to drive a race car again, I started making all kinds of phone calls to figure out how I could do it,” Tifft said.
And he did just that.
Tifft was able to make an improbable return to NASCAR.
His car is equipped with heart monitors to ensure that he stays cool, despite the temperature of the car often times exceeding 110 degrees.
Tifft says that it is quite possible to sweat off anywhere between 8-10 pounds during a race. He says that NASCAR is just as competitive as any other mainstream sport because the heart rate of the racers are always incredibly high.
“The only athletes that it actually measures against is triathlon and marathon runners,” Tifft said.
“If you mess up in hockey or football, you get put on the sideline or put in the penalty box,” Tifft said about how NASCAR is different than other sports. “If you mess up here, they send an ambulance for you.”
Tifft placed fourth overall Saturday at Mid-Ohio in the No. 2 Cleveland Indians Camaro.
The Cleveland native was able to make the home crowd proud, after he has overcome so much.
Nick Pedone, NASCAR’s newest fan, can be reached by his Twitter, @NickPedone12