|Driver Spotlight Ė Matt Lee, Syosset, NY
|Article by: Rhonda Mims-Brown with Matt Lee
| Matt Lee|
It didnít take long watching Matt Lee at Daytona last December to recognize heís just around the corner from professional success. In fact it only took a few laps to tell heís calculating and smooth on track. Off track, heís pretty much the same. Itís not often that a driver comes along in their early teens thatís as focused on where they want to be 10 years down the road. Sure, many kids want to be a race car driver but most donít have clear cut plans, focus, or collateral to back things up at such an early age. Although heís not the big bucks in racing yet, the Syosset, N.Y. driver is picking up on how to be a pro very quickly and smart enough already to figure out what he needs to do to get there.
Matt started racing six years ago at the sandy road course in Westhamption, N.Y. What all started as something for he and his father Francis to do together has turned into colossal adventure over the past two years. In 1998, he was named Rookie of the Year for the Long Island Karting Association and each year since, heís progressed in the Yamaha classes. In 2001, he took his show to the national WKA sprint scene, earning eighth in points and by 2002 and never finishing out of the top ten. Matt wanted to be a national champion Ė ďI want it. Itís very simple,Ē he said. And so in 2003, he became just that in the George Kugler WKA Manufacturerís Cup Series for the HPV Junior title, a feat that many wait years to achieve and a feat that many never reach.
In WKA, you donít become a national champion without all the hard work and dedication involved Ė Matt knows this as well. In reality, itís not that simple; itís a brutal series with some of the hottest junior talent in the country whereís he been up against Nevosoís cream of the crop drivers . Matt also rose to the occasion joining in on Snap-on ChampCar Stars of Tomorrow series action taking the podium at Road America in Junior Superbox and earning fast lap at BeaveRun. If not for two mechanical DNFís Matt never finished out of the top five last season where he also joined in the 80cc Junior Shifter classes in addition to his Yamaha and HPV piston port runs.
So far this year, heís blossomed in both his shifter and junior Yamaha programs earning five poles, three feature wins and a several pre-final and race fast lap honors. Contesting with a package of champions this year with MRP, Birel, SwedeTech and High-Rev, heís quickly earning recognition under his new team banner, Twin Tooth Racing, under the management of his dad. The teamís primary sponsor is Twin Tooth Apparel, a new line of track wear with a number of inspirations borrowed from the Ď50s and Ď60s. Like many, we are anxious to see the future unveiling of what they feel is a unique line of crew shirts and custom race wear.
The business tie-in with Twin Tooth is a smart marketing package for both Matt and the Twin Tooth Apparel concept with a new and sleek European style web site (www.twintooth.com) that will showcase the new line and that of their lead driver. Itís only part of a package and focus for Matt in the coming years as he plans to progress on with an ultimate goal of Formula 1 and a scheduled series of tests in Formula Renault this summer.
| Matt Lee|
This weekend, he will contest in Pennsylvania at BeaveRun and has added JICA to his Starsí program with a TM-Birel package. The following weekend, itís on to Trane Motor Speedway for round three of the Manufacturerís Cup series and a full season of races to conquer.
In many respects heís a normal teen who likes rap music, Brittney Spears, Playstation and anything that goes fast. Heís a B-student at school and while he realizes the importance of an education, he feels itís impractical to get carried away with a complete focus on academics. Instead, he takes his studies outside of the classroom and applies them to his life in racing and focuses on what he needs to know in order to make a clearer path. He studies the tuning and mechanical aspects of racing in addition to following the paths of many drivers contesting in numerous pro-level series where he knows and understands the game. He also enjoys mountain biking that keeps him in top physical shape for kart racing. It wouldnít be a surprise to learn that heís already gathered stats on formula car teams, estimated his costs to run with at top team and established a formula car budget and game plan!
Another positive side weíve noticed about Matt is that he loves his own racing because it brings his family together. His passion and love for racing is fed from strategizing and working together as a team for a shared win and appreciates all his family and crew does in their support roles. Heís still working to make his Mom Patricia and brothers race fans but they are in support of Matt and his goals and make many races. You can tell he loves his brothers and hopes that eventually theyíll put down the controls on the Playstation and give the real thing a try. He finds a mental zone on the track that took hold the first time he drove and wants his brothers to share the experience heís having. Matt recognizes that racing is just a sport and other things in life hold greater meaning and importance. He knows heís privileged but doesnít take that for granted; he has a good sense of whatís real and whatís not.
In the following section, Matt talks directly in relation to a list of questions weíve asked him. Youíll see too that heís quite articulate and calculating for his age.
Hereís an inside look at Matt and what makes him tick.
Matt Lee, Born November 27, 1989, Age 14
Resides: Syosset, New York
Team: Twin Tooth Racing
Height/Weight: 5í6Ē Ė 110 lbs.
Grade: 9th Grade
Parents: Patricia and Francis Lee
Crew Members: Crew Chief, Mike Stallone, Support Crew Dave Cronin and Mike Palma.
Kart # 44
Chassis: Birel Q31, R-32, R-31
Engine(s): TM JICA, SwedeTech Honda, High- Rev Yamaha and HPV
Series: WKA Manufacturerís Cup and Snap-on Stars of Karting
Tell us about your siblings and how they fit in:
My brothers hate racing. Not sure why but they sure have no problems with racing video games. I think they may feel that itís not for them because of the focus on racing as it relates to me. Iím so focused on the opportunities and where I hope to go in racing, they may feel that the focus wouldnít be on them. Maybe they just really donít like it. It is a bit of a shame because racing is such a family activity and it would be nice to have them participate.
Tell us a bit about school and your grades and other school activities you like:
School for me seems to be a necessary evil. I recognize the real importance of going to school but the time in school is time away from my passions. I am a B student so I do take it seriously but I also donít take it so seriously that it becomes my only focus. Today it seems that school is a showcase for kids to be kids. Itís for the most part a kaleidoscope of people jockeying for attention. For me itís a place I have to be but Iíd much rather focus my attention on other activities like mountain biking. I belong to the Mountain Bike Club at school.
How do you feel about the importance of education in your life?
It is very important for success. I see that I have to have a solid education to be able to compete. With respect to racing, I know that some guys out there seem to be all about the wheel and can barely hold a conversation. I know that the well-spoken guys who can get up on the wheel are going to be the most successful. Education for me is so much more than the arithmetic and the course curriculum; it really is about individual growth. The guys who appreciate the opportunity to become better people are the ones who I think are going to be more successful whether itís racing or some other professional career. So education for me is not just specific to the school. I thrive on getting more knowledge, especially as it relates to my racing. For me I am being educated every time I step into the seat. If I didnít look at it this way, I really think I would stagnate and never get better.
Whatís your favorite web site?
How old were you when you started and how did you get your start?
I was eight years old when my dad and I first bought our Cadet Kart. We started really on a whim. We both wanted something to do together and we heard about karting, so I thought weíd give it a try. We took our first Cadet Kart out to the sandy and quite remote Westhampton Speedway. This track is really in need of some attention but it was our first run. From the moment I sat in the kart I really had a good feeling. I think Karting is really a sport that either clicks or it doesnít. For me I think I really knew this was something I wanted to do.
Who would you most want to clean your visor during a pit stop?
When it comes to cleaning my visor, there are a number of people I would love to see bending over the kart to wipe my glass. Jessica Simpson would be one that comes to mind. That would be tough to choose but Jessica would be just fine.
Favorite Tracks: Daytona and Jacksonville, Florida
Favorite Kart Driver youíve raced with: Thomas Hartensveld, Jr.
Favorite Pro Kart Driver you admire: Gianni Beggio
How would you describe your driving and sportsmanship style?
Clean and aggressive. Clean because Iím young and I want the respect of my competitors. Talent rings a lot louder when you race clean. Itís also a ton more satisfying knowing that you waxed the field with out any dirty tactics. Aggressive because thatís all I know. I go as hard as the kart is capable. Iím lucky that I have good equipment but my style I think gets the most out of it. For me driving is like a danceÖIím in total control and I rarely am out of rhythm.
What are your favorite aspects about the sport of Karting?
Teamwork, like I mentioned earlier, the aspect of being able to work with a team of individuals and my dad to orchestrate the necessary elements to be able to compete is really very special.
Concentration. Concentration is where I take over from the team. Once we have put all the elements in place and we know we are competitive, the necessity to have focus is key. I thrive on the opportunity to talk with myself. When the green flag drops itís all about me and what I do for me to get to the checkers. That takes concentration. This is a very cerebral sport. You have to be lucky sometimes but I believe you have to be smart. That starts with being able to concentrate.
Favorite movie and or TV Show: Bad Boyís Two. I like the cars and the carnage.
Favorite music: Rap. I think this is because Rap is very expressive. They tell it how it is.
Favorite vacation or activity sport? Snowmobiling and Jet Skis. If it goes fast Iím in.
Do you like or participate in any other sports? Mountain Biking and skiing.
Do you have any heroes?
Michael Schumacher. Not because Michael has won so much but because of his focus. I guess one wouldnít happen without the other but I really am impressed with his longevity. He no doubt is one of the greatest drivers ever and the Ferrari equipment speaks for itself. But for me, itís really impressive he has been able to sustain the run. Thatís what is amazing to me. The man is always focused and has such an innate sense of the environment he is within - just impressive. A lot of people say boo to Michael because heís that good. Kind of like when Jeff Gordon was at the top of his game but I think thatís just is the way it is. Americans love their heroes and when it gets to be a bit pervasive at how good they are, we need a new hero and want some drama. But Michael, stone cold focus.
What would you consider a high point in your life and why?
Winning a National Title in WKA. Weíve been at this for six years now. I know that we have put a ton of time and energy into getting to the top. I want it. Itís very simple. I want to be a national champion.
Are you a ChampCar, IRL, NASCAR, F1 fan? ChampCar and F1.
Whatís your favorite gaming system and game to play?
Play Station 2 Ė Grand Tourismo 3, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2.
What do you like best about racing with your family?
My family is a great support system. We started this together and we are growing together. The success we have seen has been a team effort. I drive but without the support I wouldnít have the drive. I recognize that I am fortunate to have the opportunity. I donít take that for granted. So when we succeed, itís a shared success. Sport is really only sport. For me there is this wonderful balance with racing. We prepare together and strategize together and then there is the show. The show allows me to demonstrate what weíve done together. Thatís great. To come off and be holding the checker, thatís what we're all here for. When it happens itís an affirmation of our ability to work together. On the flip side, when we are out of the points and things just plain went south, itís about regrouping and we do that together. Racing is a great balance. Thereís the team and then thereís the drive. I thrive on the opportunity to show.
What do you like least about racing with your family? My momís impatience.
Favorite junk food? Rice Krispy Treats.
Do you have a race you consider to be your favorite raceThe Starsí finale at Beaumont, California.
Do you have any pet peeves or things that particularly irritate you? Cheap people and complainers.
What do you think could be done to improve our sport?
More coverage in magazines and on TV. It really is amazing that our sport is so big and we have so little media support. I mean mainstream media. Karting is an exciting sport and even the Speed Channel doesnít support the sport. More corporate involvement would be great also. Think about thisÖKarting is all about families getting together wrenching with what theyíve got and we all go at it. Some guys are pulling the karts out of their station wagons. Thatís commitment. Now if Tide Detergent can run on Ricky Cravens Chevy, why not become part of the real fabric of America? Sponsor the grass roots activities of people out there sweating to get to victory lane every weekend in the Karting communities. That to me would be really smart.
Do you have any goals in life? To become a professional driver.
If you plan to progress as a profession race car driver, what will be your next step?
I will be driving a Formula Renault this summer.