ALVARADO, Texas — While the goal for every short track racer is to pull into Victory Lane at least once per season, earning a track championship in the premier division is the ultimate goal. On most occasions, it takes a few wins to secure a title, especially when you face stiff competition every week.
Yet for 37-year-old veteran driver Matt Martin, this season was an exception to that rule. Martin won the IMCA Modified championship at Kennedale without a win, yet earned eight top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in a dozen starts. It's that level of amazing consistency that propelled him to a title.
“It came as a surprise to us, as well,” Martin explained. “Most of the guys that win a title have four or five wins in the season, but that wasn't the case for us this year. I learned a long time ago, you need to finish races before you can put yourself in a position to win them.
“So we go out there every week, try to pay attention ahead of us, and just stay out of trouble. We were able to keep our nose clean all season, and it paid off. It wasn't our main goal, but it all came together.”
Having just concluded his 22nd year of oval competition, Martin has truly paid his dues.
“My Grandfather was a car owner back in the day, and had some pretty good people driving for him when I was a kid,” he explained. “He called it laying the groundwork for me when I started racing. He never drove a race car, but he sure loves working on them. He is a huge part of my racing program.”
With racing obviously in his blood, it wasn't long before Martin picked up a helmet of his own.
“I got started back in 1996 driving Karts,” he explained. “I ran those for four or five years and won a couple of championships. A lot of people that race at KSP and around the DFW area all started there, so we all kind of grew up racing together.
“They said I couldn't race big cars until I was 16. So I drove a Legends car for a year before jumping into a UMP Street Stock at Cowtown Speedway once I was actually 16. I raced it for a year, then went straight into a Modified. It was a learning curve, for sure, but we eventually got it figured out.”
No matter where Martin unloads, but especially at KSP, the competition is as tough as it gets.
“There are a lot of talented people in this division who've been doing this a long time,” he said. “You don't go out and beat them at their own game without doing your homework. There are a lot of younger racers in it as well who seem to have endless energy.
“As you get a little older, it takes more out of you and you can get burned out. Those kids that are coming up through the ranks now put 100 percent or more into it every lap. We used to do that, but now we tend to take it a little easier out there. But it's definitely tough competition no matter where we run.”
Throughout this incredibly consistent championship season, Martin drove a very nicely-built machine.
“I have a 2018 GRT chassis here, and it's a very good car,” he said. “While it may be an older car, it's had all the updates and can run up there with the new ones. We race against a lot of newer machines, but this one is still very capable and gets me around the oval in fine style.
“As for horsepower, I have a 604 Friesen Crate motor. I've run the thing for five seasons now, and it's still rock-solid. It has plenty of power for the tracks I run, and maintenance costs are a fraction of what they'd be with a built or open motor. So this combination of chassis and engine is fast, and practical.”
Along with his years of experience and top-notch race car, Martin also has a fine group of supporters.
“I am blessed to have so many good folks behind me,” he said. “I need to thank everybody who helped make our championship year possible, starting with my family and friends who support me.
“I'll also thank our great sponsors, including Sherwin Williams Automotive Finishes; Jay Neal with BSB Mfg.; X-Treme Graphics by J-Rod; GRT Race Cars, Uniflex Machine, and Chad Wehrs with Wehrs Machine and Racing Products. I couldn't do this without their support, and appreciate their faith in me.”
Martin also has an interesting sideline that serves the racing industry. He repairs wheels, a service we all know is needed by every team from time-to-time. For those in need, be sure to check out The Wheels Experts page on Facebook for more information. This Mod pilot may be able to help you out.
While some racers still have a few shows left on their 2023 schedules, Martin is done for the year.
“We'll probably just take the car apart now and begin going over everything for next Spring,” he added. “We never really even planned to run for points this year, but as the season progressed, we were leading the standings and decided to stay with it. It paid off with a championship, so we're happy with that.
“Yet I'll still admit it hurts a little that we didn't win a feature along the way. So that gives us a goal for 2024; to find a little more speed and go from super-consistent to super-fast. The car is good, I'm happy and we just need a little more. But either way, this was a great season and we need to savor that.”
By Phil Whipple, RaceOnTexas.com Staff Writer
Photo by Mike Frieri