After overcoming the unthinkable, NASCAR rookie Matt Tifft is preparing for his first Cup start in Michigan this weekend.
In 2016, Tifft, a native of Hinckley, was forced to put his driving on the back burner when he became overwhelmed with paranoia and headaches after a crash.
During the summer of 2016, Tifft, then only 19, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and doctors told him that he would never competitively sit behind the wheel again.
Now 22 years old, the Cleveland native is preparing for his first cup start in Michigan, but it didn’t come easy.
“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.
After several months of recovery, Tifft made the improbable return to NASCAR, where he participated in the Xfinity Series as apart of the Richard Childress Racing Team.
After a stellar 2018 playoff appearance, Tifft was able to make the jump to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the professional, big league level of American stock car racing.
Tifft, a former Highland High School Hornet, is now apart of a racing series where he competes against the Top 40 professional drivers in America. His rookie year has been full of adjustments, transitions and learning lessons thus far.
“It’s certainly a different animal than the other series for sure,” Tifft said of the transition.
The longer races at the major league level, sometimes up to five hundred miles, were previously foreign to the young driver.
“A big thing that’s changed for me this year is how much I’m working on myself in the gym,” Tifft said of his preparation for the professional races.
He has put an emphasis on his physical health and conditioning to ensure he’s ready for race day. He’s adopted the keto diet, which is focused on a low carbohydrate intake.
“You look at who you’re racing against, guys like Jimmy Johnson, a world-class athlete, that’s such a different caliber than what we had before,” Tifft said of the competition.
Off the racetrack, Tifft has partnered up with the National Brain Tumor Society, where he participates in fundraisers to generate funding to find cures for tumors like his.
“May was brain tumor awareness month, but obviously the disease doesn’t care what month it is. We’re still trying to find different cures for different types of tumors,” Tifft said.
Brain tumor awareness is something Tifft is passionate about and isn’t shy about using his platform to bring light to the issue.
“There’s 140 different types of brain tumors with only four cures for them, which is just unacceptable really.”
Outside of his work raising awareness and funding for brain tumors, Tifft is a passionate Cleveland sports fan.
When the Browns acquired Pro-Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. from the New York Giants, Tifft thought it was a joke.
A few days after the trade was announced, Tifft was racing in Fontana, California.
At the California race, was Cleveland-based rapper Machine Gun Kelly, sporting a white Beckham Jr. Browns jersey.
“I went up to MGK and I talked to him, and he was wearing an Odell Beckham shirt, and I was like, ‘How the heck did you get that?'” Tifft said.
Contrary to his Instagram, Tifft’s realistic prediction is a 10-6 record for the Browns. He believes they will make an AFC Championship appearance, but no Super Bowl birth quite yet.
Tifft’s first cup start in Michigan, so close to home, will be Monday, due to a rain delay.
Tifft and his team believe that Michigan International Speedway gives them a chance for a coveted Top 10 finish if everything goes according to plan.