Driving Race Cars Is Not Tifft’s Biggest Concern

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 7 2019
Matt Tifft has not had a wonderful last couple of years. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Ashley R Dickerson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Matt Tifft’s courageous battle against his self-described medical “demons” has placed his NASCAR Cup Series career with Front Row Motorsports on hold, perhaps permanently.

Tifft, who suffered a seizure at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 27, addressed the season-ending incident  prior to the 15th annual AAA Texas 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.

“My goal right now is to find what caused it,” a smiling, upbeat Tifft said Sunday morning during a media scrum behind the hauler of his No. 36 Ford Mustang. “I want to be back in a race car but I don’t care about anything else right now other than finding out what caused this. Until then, nothing else matters. I’ve been through this stuff before and I know enough to be mature and smart enough to know that my health comes first.”

Tifft was taken to the infield care center at Martinsville Speedway shortly before Cup practice and later transported to a local Virginia hospital. He was released and sent home. NASCAR Truck Series champion Matt Crafton replaced Tifft on Martinsville’s half-mile oval.

John Hunter Nemechek made his Cup Series debut in place of Tifft on TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval with a 21st-place finish after starting 29th. Nemechek will continue in the No. 36 Yanmar/Martin Generators Ford during the Bluegreen Vacations 500 this weekend at ISM Raceway outside Phoenix. Nemechek also will finish-out the season for FRM at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17.

“It has been an interesting week for sure,” said Tifft, a 23-year-old native of Fairfax, Va. “It honestly has been a little crazy with everything that happened so fast. It’s crazy. You never know what’s going to happen in life, I guess.”

Tifft said he knows the seizure occurred at 8:15 a.m. “I remember seeing the time before I went down,” Tifft said. “I had parked my truck 15 or 20 minutes before that. I was extremely fortunate that I was in the infield and not driving the car or anything that happened leading up that morning.

“I was just talking about simulation stuff and the next thing I know I’m on the ground and woke up in the Martinsville hospital and that’s the next thing I remember. I’m glad to be back here at the track and honestly I wanted to come back just because it has been very stressful and a lot of anxiety just to come back. It’s crazy, but I feel fortunate to be here in good health and talking to you guys. I don’t know if I would have expected that fully after last Saturday.”

Tifft underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor on July 21, 2016. Remarkably, he returned to racing in September, driving in a NASCAR Truck Series race at Chicagoland Speedway. Tifft announced on Jan. 9 that his recovery had progressed to where he could forego a followup brain scan for at least one year.

“It’s a lot of facing some demons with that and trying to get back,” Tifft said. “Really, just looking for answers now. The great thing has been that the brain scans have been really good. My brain tumor looked great _ or the spot that it was in. Everything there looked really good so the next step is getting an EEG where they hook up the probes to your head and figure out what’s going on with the brain waves and see if that is it. If that’s not it, then we go down the next chain of command to see what could have sparked it.

“My goal is to get back in this race car and I want to be back as soon as I possibly can. But these next few weeks are going to be dedicated to finding answers with doctors to why this happened. It’s crazy but the racing part is going to come back and I will get back in a car one way or another, I do honestly believe that. But I have to get my stuff figured out and see what sparked this to happen.”

Tifft received a vote of confidence Sunday from Jeff Dennison, FRM’s senior director of sales and marketing. “Matt came to us under a two-year agreement and we will be honoring that,” Dennison said. “We will still have Matt be here next year. That’s our plan. Right now the plan is for Matt to drive for Front Row Motorsports until Matt tells us anything else. Right now we are committed to having Matt back in the car.”

While the evaluations continue, Tifft said he will not be allowed to operate a passenger car, or his truck. Tifft, who spoke for less than 10 minutes, admitted the event has been emotionally draining.

“It’s a lot to compartmentalize,” Tifft said. “If you guys don’t mind, it’s kind of a lot for me. I will answer further questions as the season goes on but I just wanted to show face and be here in front of everybody. But I thank you for you guys checking in. I will keep you posted on social media as it goes. It’s a little stressful right now and honestly just dealing with the anxiety of it. I just have to take baby steps. I appreciate you guys making the time to come see me. Thank you guys, I really appreciate it.”

Nemechek added his support to Tifft prior to replacing him at TMS. “This isn’t the way any driver wants to make their NASCAR Cup Series debut,” said Nemechek, a 22-year-old resident of Mooresville, N.C. “I’m hoping Matt feels better and can get back in his car as soon as possible. That’s what is important. Hopefully I can learn a lot and make Matt, the Front Row Motorsports team and its partners proud.”

Nemechek, son of NASCAR veteran “Front Row” Joe Nemechek, is completing his first full season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series driving for GMS Racing.

John Hunter has posted previous success on ISM’s 1-mile oval, earning a pair of runnerup finishes in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2015 and 2017 and a pair of ninth-place results in the Xfinity Series in 2018 and 2019. Nemechek and his father are entered in all three national touring series races at ISM. Last weekend at TMS, they became the first father-son pairing to compete in a Cup event since the late Bobby Hamilton raced his son, Bobby Hamilton Jr., at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2005.

Located in Mooresville, N.C., Front Row Motorsports was founded in 2004 and is owned by entrepreneur Bob Jenkins. FRM fields three fulltime Fords in the Cup Series _ the No. 36 driven by Tifft, the No. 34 of Michael McDowell and the No. 38 of David Ragan.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 7 2019
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