Matt Tifft Set To Test At Hickory Motor Speedway While Recovering From A Brain Tumorby Hunter Thomas August 19, 2016 0 comments
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Matt Tifft had surgery on July 1 to remove a low-grade glioma in his brain, and as a result of his progressive recovery, he’s now set to test a Late Model at Hickory Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Tifft is a NASCAR NEXT driver, who has six starts in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and three in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series so far this season; however, his career was put into jeopardy when doctors found the low-grade glioma during a treatment of a disc condition in his back. The 20-year old underwent a craniotomy on July 1, and now the only remnant of the terrible situation is a small scar and a few strands that doctors weren’t completely able to remove.
“It was a benign brain tumor and this was something that we just couldn’t mess with,” Tifft said. “We didn’t want to wait around. This was something that hadn’t taken on a cancerous form or a dangerous form yet, but in the future it very well could have. On July 1, I had a craniotomy – I have this nice scar over here now. It was a successful surgery, they got as much as they could out and with these things, they best describe it as a wet cotton ball like in a cup of water basically. They can pull out as much as they can, but there’s always going to be a couple strands left in there. That’s just one of the risks that they know of, but they were actually able to go in and do a fairly aggressive surgery and get the most out as possible.”
Following the procedure, obviously getting off of the anesthesia was a difficulty in itself, but on the bright side, Tifft’s sense of smell returned. Tifft said that one side effect of this particular type of brain tumor is the loss of smell. While speaking with the media on Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Tifft said that he can now smell things that he hadn’t been able to for years.
“I came down the stairs I think the Monday after I had surgery and my Mom was washing something with Murphy’s oil and I guess I couldn’t smell things for years and it just made me nauseas,” Tifft said. “All of the sudden I started smelling everything and I was like, ‘I can’t believe this.’ My sense of smell is back incredibly so that’s cool. Just one of those things you wouldn’t really recognize normally unless we figured out it was a brain tumor and that is one of the symptoms.”
Once Tifft was able to overcome the anesthesia, he began the process of returning to normal life by getting healthier. Every day, he began to not only get stronger, but he was learning more about the functioning of his brain.
“One of the most fascinating things I thought from the surgery was that they had to take a flap and basically the jaw muscle over here was stretched out so the most painful part was actually the jaw because your brain doesn’t actually feel the pain there like you would think it would,” Tifft said. “What I would figure out though was every day when I had new experiences and going to the mall and walking around, just things that you think are just so normal to everybody, all of the sudden those things were stressful situations that you could just tell what affect every day normal things had on your brain so it was just fascinating getting to learn about that.
Eventually, Tifft got to the point to where he could driver a street car, but his doctors had him go through a five-day EEG study to make sure that he wasn’t going to experience any more seizures. After all, it would be unsafe to have a seizure-prone driver competing on the racetrack.
“This is obviously out of respect for everybody with competition and making sure everybody is safe and for myself being out on the track as well just because the nature of what we do is obviously a high pressure situation,” Tifft said referring to the five-day EEG study. “Proved both times that there was no evidence of seizures whatsoever so that was a huge step in the recovery process ultimately to show that it was a successful surgery and my brain was functioning at a healthy and safe level. One of the great things was that we had two sets of doctors from Duke and UCSF come back and tell us that as far as treatment for this tumor, they actually felt like since it was a slow growing, low grade tumor that I actually will not have undergo any treatment and that was the best news out of all of this.”
Tifft will now undergo MRI monitoring every few weeks (about eight) and the plan is for that monitoring to eventually be done every few months. The most promising thing however, is that Tifft will get back into a race car and work towards pursing his career in NASCAR. The last time that Tffit was behind the wheel of a professional-caliber race car was back in June during the ARCA Racing Series event at Michigan International Speedway. He piloted the Venturini Motorsports No. 15 Tork/Cometic Gasket Toyota to a fifth place finish. Sam Hornish Jr. subbed for Tifft in the June NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Iowa Speedway and won. A few weeks later, Tifft had his surgery, and David Ragan subbed for him in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
“You never want to see, one of the oddest things for me was seeing my name on the door plate there and you’re not in it,” Tifft said. “It’s bizarre. I think it made it easier knowing I had the support of the team and support of everybody to get back in. You never want to get to that point in any sport where you feel like someone is taking your job, but when you go through something like this, hopefully years down the road I look back at this and it’s just a little speed bump in a long career and it’s just great that we caught it when we did. It’s never an easy situation.”
On Sunday at Hickory Motor Speedway, Tifft will finally strap into a race car once again and clock laps. He’ll be testing with a team that he did some racing with while in Florida. Depending on how the test goes, Tifft may compete in a Late Model race or before returning to NASCAR national series competition, or he may not. Those plans are still very much up undecided.
“The team we’re going with is one that I knew from when I did some Late Model racing back in Florida so I think it will be a pretty low pressure environment. For myself, what I want to see is short run speed and how well I’m able to adapt to tire falloff, but just the normal stuff that you want to see and how I can adapt and feel the car again just with handling characteristics and stuff like that. Make sure that I’m totally good to go with all that. Also long runs and trying to run as many laps as possible to get a whole fatiguing day so at the end I can feel that is equivalent to a race day.”
Tifft has been sharpening his driving skills with computer simulations. He said that when he finally gets back into the race car on Sunday that he will be ‘smiling from ear-to-ear’.
Photo Credit: Hunter Thomas