For most college students, April is the busiest time of the year. The long semester is beginning to come to an end. Professors are assigning projects and presentations left and right. Finals are on the horizon. Stress levels are about to crash through the roof.
It’s difficult for most anyone to balance everyday life with so much going on in the classrooms.
But for one UNC Charlotte student, the balancing act has always been a whole lot bigger.
Matt Tifft is currently finishing up his sophomore year at UNC Charlotte. The Cleveland native is studying business management, a major that requires a lot of time and effort. But he isn’t your typical everyday college student. Tifft has the need for speed.
A student at college and a driver on the track.
Tifft was bit by the “racing bug” when he was little. He grew up watching short track races at local dirt tracks in Michigan. At the age of 11, Tifft got behind the wheel of go-karts in Norton, Ohio and throughout the next few years of his life gradually began working his way up the ranks.
In 2013, the then 16-year-old raced for Win-Tron Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, along with some select events in the ARCA Racing Series. In 2014, Tifft signed with Ken Schrader Racing to again drive in the ARCA and K&N East series. He acquired six top-10 finishes throughout the two racing seasons in ARCA.
He received his NASCAR national tour break in the Camping World Truck Series later that year at Martinsville Speedway. At arguably one of the most difficult race tracks on the schedule, the young racer scored a head-turning eighth place finish.
The finish caught many people’s attention and gave Tifft confidence and momentum headed into what would be a promising 2015. The young-gun signed on with Kyle Busch Motorsports for a select number of Truck races that season. Being behind the wheel of KBM equipment gave Tifft the chance to run up front and earn more seat time.
The more time and effort you put in, the more opportunities will come knocking. They did for Tifft.
It was announced that the Ohio native was going to be behind the wheel of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing machine in the XFINITY Series Race at Kentucky Speedway. Another step up the ladder for Tifft, it was his first start in the “college football” level series of NASCAR.
But the fun didn’t stop there. Not only was he going to race for arguably one of the best organizations in the business, but he was also going to boast one of the most unique sponsors on the hood of his race car.
In a once in a lifetime turn of events, the school that Tifft was paying to attend, actually paid to sponsor his car.
“It was cool to have them as a partner on there,” said Tifft, who isn’t sure if the school will be making another appearance on his car in the future. “I’m actually not sure of anything in the future, but it would be cool. We are still in contact with them as they are very supportive of what we are doing.”
Tifft crossed the finish line in 10th that night, quite the feat for his first ever start in the series.
Flash forward to 2016. Tifft has already made four starts in the XFINITY Series, three of them being behind the wheel of the No.24 JGL Racing machine. His fourth start of the season came last Saturday at Richmond, where he was back behind the wheel of a Joe Gibbs Racing machine for his first of thirteen scheduled starts this season.
But for Tifft, the ball still hasn’t stopped rolling.
On Wednesday, April 20, Camping World Truck Series team, Red Horse Racing, announced that Tifft will get behind the wheel of their No. 11 Toyota Tundra at three upcoming races: Kansas, Dover and Charlotte, along with more potentially down the road.
“I’m looking forward to working with Timothy Peters (teammate) and Scott Zipadelli (crew chief) on our No. 11 Toyota Tundra team,” said Tifft. “We’re going to some tracks I really enjoy and I’m confident we’re going to have some speed and we’ll go and try to get some really good runs.”
As Tifft’s credibility grows on the track, so does his popularity in the classroom as fellow students are beginning to recognize the young race car driver.
“A little bit. It’s not all too often,” said Tifft. “Definitely been a lot more of that since the Kentucky race. In some classes I have had people recognize me and it is actually pretty cool.”
When most people look back on their glory days in college, they think about the parties and all the fun they had.
Later on in life when Tifft is looking back on his glory days at UNC Charlotte, he will probably remember all the fun he had, but not the conventional type of college “fun.”
Tifft is right now on the path to accomplishing a dream of his. He gets to be behind the wheel of a race car on the weekends, while most college students are out partying their wallets away.
Granted, it may not be what most would consider the true college experience, but for Tifft, he is enjoying every minute of it. For fellow UNC Charlotte students, we may watch a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race a few years on down the road and say to whoever we are with, “Hey I went to college with that kid.”