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Kickin The Tires

Matt Perry: In The Driver’s Seat February Edition: Hang it up or keep pushing

Courtesy Photo: Matt Perry

In 2020, Kickin’ The Tires welcomes a new feature called ‘In The Driver’s Seat’ where four to five different drivers will come on board and share their thoughts, race season and more with you the fans each month. Our mission is to provide a glimpse into their lives in and beyond the driver’s seat.

Hang it up or keep pushing?

By: Matt Perry 

The people that are closest to you will be the first to say you cant make it or you shouldn’t do this.

I remember going to my first super late model race with maybe $3,000 in my bank account. I had a jar labeled “NASCAR Funds.” It all started with an late night conversation with Jesse Iwuji in probably one of the worst times of my life (and I mean worst….I was at the bottom) and the opportunity was on the table. I just needed to bring the $2,000 to go race. I was fortunate my mom came to my first race. I remember my parents didn’t have the budget to come out, it wasn’t recommended she should come with a hurricane about to hit my hometown. She probably wouldn’t be able to fly back home (she ended up being stuck in Atlanta for a few days on her way home). In all my years my parents have never given me as much as a penny to support my racing. If I wanted to do something in life i had to go make it happen and if this went south I had the help of my parents with a college fund which i never used…..I’ve never had to use it.

I remember the wreck in that first race that costed me almost $5,000 in repairs. I didn’t have $5000 but I had my first truck my dad got me nine years before and I was determined to make this career path work. I sold my first truck for $1,500 and I never saw it again to pay for the damages.

I went into my next season living paycheck to paycheck, sometimes putting myself in a position where I’d go a few days without food so I could go racing. Those laps I spent on track took my mind off everything else in life for a few moments. To me I wasn’t just racing to clear my mind, I was racing to be happy in my life.

2018 was no different. Paycheck to paycheck, taking days off work to fly across the country and go race, barely any money in my pocket. Funds dried up and I started a GoFundMe. The people closest to me came forward in ways I didn’t expect. My best friend Jesse, his girlfriend Cynthia, his agent Matt, my Sister, some more close friends, and one I didn’t expect…my mom. My grandfather always loved to see me do what I love. It wasn’t long before that he had passed away. To this day I wish he could see just a glimpse of what I’m doing in person. I know hes watching. My mom gave me $1,000 and said you know dad (my grandfather) would be so happy to see what you’ve become. This is from him.

Then a car accident made my life come to a complete stop. Six months later I’d get a phone call from Jon Pittman who has helped many other drivers in their careers. This lead to a great friendship between him and team owner Teddy Brown. I still couldn’t race but what they gave me was a lot more than than I could have given them while driving a race car. I went on to help Teddy in his shop and a roll as a spotter for his team.

We went to Irwindale Speedway in March 2019 for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series. We were the only two crew guys working for Armani Williams (the only kid racing NASCAR with autism). I coached Armani on the track I had turn tons of laps at before in late models. Teddy worked on the car setup bouncing back and forth feedback from Armani and my experience at the track to get the car they way it would run best on the long run. We pulled off a top 10 passing drivers I’ve never seen passed in underfunded equipment.

Teddy told me he was going to crew chief at Sonoma in K&N Pro Series. That a seven hour drive for me (turned 10 hours). I told him I’ll come spot if someone will pay for my gas to get there. We ran top-three against cup drivers in old equipment and a lot of heart. We didn’t get the finish we wanted but to me it meant a lot more. The driver offered me more money than just transportation. I told him just cover the cost to get me here, I’m thankful for the opportunity.

The people that are closest to you will be the first to say you cant make it or you shouldn’t do this.

I remember many months later a conversation with my dad. The wait and want to get back in a car was wearing on me. I was considering hanging up my helmet. My dad was the guy that took me to the dirt tracks when I was little and also the guy that wasn’t very supportive of my dream of racing. It doesn’t pay, runs bank accounts dry, and has a high probability of not working out. He told me I support your idea of chasing other options but I also really hope to see you back in a race car again. It’s rough right now trying to walk again, physical therapy isn’t fun, you are at a tough point but give it time. This will pass and you will have a better mindset on what you want to do.

This was the first time he’s ever supported me in racing.

Little did I know he was supportive all along behind the scenes. I had a sponsor event in my hometown in January. We had our show car from SLR (Scott Lagasse racing) at the event. Some of his friends which were like family to me told me, “I remember years ago your dad coming to me and saying my son is racing NASCAR now!” And they also said to him, “Yeah let’s see how far that goes…” Saying that they were proud to see how far I’ve come and where I’m going. They never thought it would continue as far as my career has being active duty military and not making a large enough income to support racing. It gave me hope and drive to keep this dream going no matter what it takes.

I’m still living paycheck to paycheck at times but I’m more comfortable with how things are moving forward. What was originally suppose to be a 13 race dirt schedule at Kankakee County Speedway with the goal of getting approved to run the Eldora Dirt Derby in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor & RV Truck Series has now added about 4-8 more races in Dirt Late Models down in the South East of the Country with Jon Pittman driving his personal car that he planned to race this season.

Little did I know that these connections with Teddy Brown and Jon Pittman would not only ignite some fire inside of me, a glimmer of hope but it’s easy to say you can’t read a book by its cover and I’m very thankful to have some great friends that keep pushing me to be better and teaching me how to be better on and off the track.

I was just a six year old kid dreaming about all of this.

“This for the kids out there fighting for it All the late nights I’ve stayed up For all the guys that took a shot on me and believed in me this is for those guys. I always talk about embracing the journey and i think embracing the journey is just believing that everything in life happens for a reason good, bad, indifferent. Everything happens and we just try to learn from it and be better people.” -Jordan Anderson (Daytona-Feb 2020)

I’m not ready to hang up my helmet and with an amazing painted helmet coming from Off Axis Paint who would want to? I’m not hanging mine up anytime soon. I’m here to stay.

U.S. Navy Sailor Matt Perry focused on racing in 2020

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