From Rookie of the Year to State Champion – Tyler Matthews Making a Name for Himself
Oh how much difference a year can make. One year your struggling, the next you find your self on top of the world. One year your the lapped car, the next your lapping cars. Things are not always that extreme, sometimes you find yourself like Tyler Matthews, a 19 year old Richland, North Carolina native, who is slowly making a name for himself within the Late Model Stock Car community. Matthews began his journey in this crazy lifestyle we like to call Late Model racing last year in in 2015 and wound up winning the North Carolina Rookie of the Year award at just 18 years old.
Matthews, a two sport athlete in high school – Football & racing ATV’s found himself in a pretty tough spot with some decisions to make. Starting off in the world of racing ATV’s Matthews spent most of his Friday’s traveling to race. Once he started playing football with his high school, Friday travel days to the race track were all but impossible to make. Instead of giving up on one of the sports he loved Matthews just made an adjustment.
“I used to race atv and we were traveling on Fridays,” said Matthews. “Then I started playing football we couldn’t travel around to races so we started doing something closer to the house that we can race on Saturdays and not have to travel all day Friday”
Matthews played middle linebacker, tight end and fullback for his now alma matter Richland Hights High School while driving his Late Model Stock Car. “I had some DII football offers to play in college but turned them down to go racing,” Matthews told The Weekly Racer.
One year later Matthews found himself at the top of the leader boards again – this time as the North Carolina State points champion. Competing in thirty-four races between two tracks, Matthews – who calls East Carolina Motor Speedway home – found himself with with four wins, eighteen top fives and twenty-eight top tens to edge out fellow competitor Brenden Queen by just two points, and Late Model veteran Louis White by fourteen points. Crediting ECMS with the top three drivers in the state who listed East Carolina their home track in 2016.
Though Matthews found himself finishing third in the season finale at ECMS behind Louis White and Brenden Queen, (Louis White Wins Second Ronnie Barnett Memorial at East Carolina Motor Speedway) it was just enough to lock up the sophomores second NASCAR accomplishment in just his second year of racing. “You know it really hasn’t set in just yet,” Matthews spoke about winning the title. “Last year it didnt set in till we got to Charlotte and you walk and your surrounded by all these great drivers. Last year we finished fifteenth in the state which wasn’t really all that bad and locked up rookie of the year.”
Matthews started the season out strong running between his home track East Carolina Motor Speedway where he picked up a couple wins while visiting Southern National on the off weekends. “We came out this year and lead the state early,” Matthews told us. “Mainly because we just had more finishes than every body. We hit a lot of bad luck there in the middle of the season and didnt really get the finishes that we wanted. We put a strong run there though specially with guys like Matt Bowling coming down and trying to get full field wins. We definitely couldn’t have done it with out him last week. To split [a win] with him, thats probably one of the biggest weekends of my career yet. Not sure how his night went but if he locked up the National title thats going to feel pretty awesome to split with a national champ this late in the season.”
NASCAR took just a little bit longer than their normal Tuesday to release the points information, our guess was just to take the time to check and re-check points to make sure they were correct. Matthews told us in our interview that he was blessed to be able to call himself a state champion.
“Not many people have one those you know,” Matthews spoke about state championships. “In racing or even high school sports, its pretty cool to be able to say you are a state champion.”
The season isn’t quite over the young driver however as he has even more opportunity for achievements. Matthews enters this weekend as the Southern National points leader. A hefty 50 point advantage over Ricky Jones. With national points concluded Matthews merely just needs to start the races and he will also be able to add “Track Champion” to his resume of things he has accomplished in young career as a Late Model Stock Car driver. Gates will open tomorrow at SNMP at 5 PM with racing getting underway around 7 PM.