View From the Top: 100th Race
Hello and welcome to another view from the top article. I’m Matt – most people know me as Fast Matt and I was the F2000 Championship series champion in the inaugural year of 2006. My view this time around covers the 100th race milestone that the series has achieved. There are a few people who are still around the series from that first year, and I’m lucky enough to maintain the occasional presence, through driver coaching and race drives.
I have always loved the class and to me the F2000 Championship series has always maintained the original concept, some of the best drivers – at the best tracks and is the most affordable professional open wheel road racing series in North America (or blah blah blah as some may say).
It has been a few years since my championship and occasionally I get in a car to remind people in the F2000 paddock that I’m still fast. This is a more reserved article for me – for once, there is something more important than me to comment on. The one hundredth race is here – and that, is very special. Somebody recently told me that I wasn’t old – just experienced – so I’d like to go back a little to detail how I ended up – at the top…..
I ended up in the series the inaugural year, 2006, when many stars aligned – the right time and place so to speak. Every driver worth his (or her) salt, wants to compete against the best, and win. Competition is key and the more you are exposed to it – the better you become. I started racing F2000 professionally in 2001. The travelling and logistics of doing an entire season did not fit into my life, so I did 2-3 races per year and raced in amateur events to fill the space in between. I was mediocre at best. Finishing tenth was a good result and I was always searching for the key to go faster.
By 2004, the switch had been flipped and we were very competitive – but the problem every year was that I was doing 2-3 weekends and then would be gone until next year. At the end of 2005 I was frustrated with the schedule and cost of running the series – is this as far as I could go was the question….. Running part time means essentially nothing if you want to achieve a goal. Around that time, we started to hear rumors of a new series that would be mainly east coast races.
There was a modest schedule posted - but the key factor for me was, who was going to be there. When some of the names started to appear, I had to get on board with being there. National amateur champions and some strong pro drivers were enough to convince me to commit to the full schedule. I didn’t know how lucky I would be that year, a bunch of poles and enough wins to earn the championship.
We had some luck along the way – the fuel injected motor we ran was new at that time (the norm today) and provided a little more power than the older carbureted engine and my driving and feedback had gotten very good. It is always a lot of work to win a championship - it takes so much effort from people and you are put in so many situations of trust, that you forge lifetime friendships (if they turn out positive, I guess).
I don’t talk to my engineer and team owner Glenn Phillips for weeks on end, but when we talk – it is like there was no break in between. We pick up where we left off and start joking around. I know wherever my mechanic “mean” dean is today – he probably smiles when he thinks of how many times we changed things, over and over – and I won’t forget that.
Many people don’t realize that I was runner up in defending the championship in 2007. I took a single victory in the first race (with a “Zanardi move” broadcast on youtube) and then slowly lost the championship lead until the very last race. In the end, we played the cards we were dealt, and they were not good enough. I have always said that if you could beat me on the track, then you deserved to win the title. Though I still joke with Cole Morgan I let him win – he was a very deserving champion.
When I was asked what was the most memorable moment, for the 100th race celebration many things flood back for me. There are too many to list – perfect laps, wild crashes, fires and no brakes to name few. There are things I shouldn’t talk about like “somebody” pulling down their pants in the middle of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit, food fights in restaurants with other teams and stuffing a driver into the trunk of a rental car – along with other things that I think I promised not to talk about.
But the thing I like most as we all celebrate the 100th - are all the friends I’ve made along the way. There is something special about the atmosphere in the F2000 Championship paddock. Many teams have come and gone and everybody wants to win and be the best (well, almost everyone……They all want to win anyway) but they get the fact that the series is based around being friendly and affordable for just about anyone with a car – and just about any team is willing to help another team get back on track to compete.
When I was racing for a championship, I didn’t care much about that stuff – but the first thing you start missing when you are away from the track, is that atmosphere and the funny things that happen.
I’ll be at the 100th race casually observing and maybe reflecting back now and then with people. But all the while in the back of my head – I’ll be thinking, if I only had a car today, I’d be 2 seconds in front pulling out a gap every lap. And what a party we would have after the race! I guess we’ll have the party, and my next win will have to wait…… Until next time……