HINCKLEY, Ohio — Hinckley native Matt Tifft made a name for himself in the racing world by becoming a NASCAR driver. Now, no longer behind the wheel, Tifft is following his passion in a new way.
Northeast Ohio roots
Tifft graduated from Highland High School in 2014 but got his start speeding around a track much earlier than that. A preteen with a passion for fast driving, he raced go-karts and competed at Barberton Speedway.
“All of a sudden, I started winning a lot of races, won some regional and national championships,” Tifft said. “And I was like, ‘Maybe this is something I should pursue for real.’”
Just 12 years old, Tifft was driving 150 miles per hour—and doing it well.
Racing in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and then back up to race in the Midwest, Tifft continued to win races, even earning Rookie of the Year honors on the ARCA Midwest Tour.
Tifft moved up the ranks and eventually made it into the top three national series of NASCAR.
“Going from the truck series, then the Xfinity series, which would be kind of like triple-A baseball, and in that I ended up going to the playoffs, almost making the final four,” Tifft recalled. “And from there I got the opportunity from a team called Frontrow Motorsports to go race at the Cup Series, the major leagues of NASCAR.”
By 2019, the Hinckley native was racing at the highest level, competing in the Daytona 500 with all of the biggest names in the sport.
In that moment, Tifft had it all. His dreams and goals were coming to fruition, and he had all the promise to become a household name as a NASCAR racer. But life for Tifft was about to take a drastic turn.
On October 26, 2019, Tifft was in Martinsville, Va., set to race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series when his life changed forever.
Just before practice, Tifft was transported to an area hospital after having a seizure at the track. One month later, Tifft had to step away from racing to focus on his health.
Three years earlier, in 2016 Tifft had a brain tumor removed, and doctors prepared him to never be able to race again, but he defied that and got back on the track. This time was different.
“That was the end of my career driving at that point,” Tifft said. “I would go on to be diagnosed with epilepsy.”
Without racing, Tifft was lost.
“You work your whole life to go do one thing, and it’s gone literally within seconds,” Tifft said.
Shifting into a new gear
He found himself again last summer. Tifft spent a lot of time with fellow driver B.J. McLeod hanging out and talking about life.
One day while the two were hanging out, McLeod, who at that point had been the team owner of B.J. McLeod Motorsports for about four years, pitched the idea of them teaming up to own a Cup Series team.
“It was a pipe dream. We never thought it could actually happen,” Tifft said. “And then a few months later ... one was for sale.”
What started as two guys shooting the breeze ending up becoming Tifft's new future in NASCAR.
“We thought, 'We don’t know how we’re going to pull this off, but we’ve got to do this.' So we’re bidding against guys like Michael Jordan, Justin Marks, who eventually became teamed up with Pitbull, all these other guys—we had Floyd Mayweather in there,” Tifft said. “There were some big, big names in there and somehow, don't know how, we pulled it off.”
Tifft and McLeod ended up getting the charter, becoming the owners of Live Fast Motorsports, a name chosen because it’s about being “edgy and exciting. “
A fitting name for Tifft, who is now NASCAR’s youngest owner with a Cup Series team at 24 years old.
On your marks
Tifft has his pedal to the floor when it comes to his new career. Just a few months into becoming an owner, Tift is preparing for NASCAR’s biggest race.
On Sunday, Tifft's team will start the season one of the sport’s biggest stages—the Daytona 500.
“The cool thing about Daytona is that anybody can win that race. So we go down there with our best car, our best motor, literally everything is top-notch for that car that goes down there,” Tifft said. “And that's why the race is so exciting, because somebody can literally be in last place and all of a sudden be coming at the next corner.”
With 13 Ford Mustang cars and deals with Motorsport Games, Xbox and NASCAR Heat 5, Tifft is a busy man with new goals not far from where his heart was two years ago.
“It's so cool to be sitting here and be able to be back in racing because when I had [the seizure], it was a dark few months because I didn't know my place anymore, where I was going to go,” Tifft said. “So it's been really cool to be involved in the sport in a much bigger role than even just being a driver.”
Tifft has a 10-15 year plan for his team to become a powerhouse in NASCAR, but it all starts at the Daytona 500 on Sunday with McLeod behind the wheel of the No. 78 car.
And while it’s not one of the more popular sports in the area, Tifft hopes his fellow Northeast Ohioans can rally around their own.
“It's something that I'm so passionate about, but not a lot of people from Cleveland necessarily know about. But I want to be the face of NASCAR for people in Cleveland that they can go look at,” Tifft said. “The Live Fast name—the reason we take that name is because it's about being edgy and exciting, and I think that fits perfectly with the Cleveland mentality of all sports here and the underdog thing of, ‘Hey, we may be here, but we're going to keep on building to be a championship team someday.’”