Our lives are often shaped by tragedy that forces us to look within for answers. Author John Green wrote, “Grief does not change you. It reveals you.”
Matt Poole’s journey of self awareness began in 2003 when his mother, Peggy Poole, passed away suddenly from a heart attack. “Her death,” he told me, “hit me hard and turned my world upside down. Then the darkness doubled up on me in 2005, when my friend Tonya Schultz was murdered by her husband.”
Disheartened but not defeated, Matt’s childhood dream of racing reawakened, fueled by love and the desire to honor the memory of this mother and friend. It has been 10 years since his journey began. The road traveled has been littered with the debris of broken promises, apathy and deception but his determination is unwavering.
This is his story.
“So here I was,” he begins, “on the outside looking in with no experience and almost 40-years-old. Over the course of the next 10 years, I heard the word ‘No’ not just occasionally, but often. Nobody cared about me. Nobody cared about Mom and Tonya. Nobody cared about my dream. However, if I was able to come up with enough money, they were willing to at least act like they cared.”
Matt was quickly confronted by the stark realities of racing. “One instance that comes to mind,” he remembers, “is walking into the race shop of a well known Nationwide Series owner. As I had done many times before, I went in and introduced myself, sat at the conference table with him and told him about my dream and what my goals were. He asked a few basic questions and his reply was short and sweet. ‘Bring me $2 million and I’ll run you in the K&N East Series.’ Just like that. He had never seen me turn a lap but after a 10 minute meeting he was ready to put me in a car and get me right out on the track, provided I came up with $2 million dollars.”
Amid the frustration, there were also moments of sweet success. After four years of knocking on doors, phone calls, emails and letters, Matt had the opportunity to test at Hickory Motor Speedway and eventually compete in his first race, with a picture of his mother and friend, Tonya, taped to the dash of the car for inspiration.
”I walked in off the street and ran against guys who had been doing it for years. I didn’t burn the world down in my first race; I started 10th and finished 12th.”
He donated his winnings to the American Heart Association in his mother’s memory, “because it was a heart attack that took Mom from us,” and to the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Tonya’s memory, “because her children were her world.” In Matt’s second race, he started ninth and finished seventh, once again donating his earnings to charity.
His biggest disappointment came in 2012 when he entered a nationwide driver search which was advertised as “giving a grass roots racer a shot.” It seemed straightforward with reputable backers so Matt submitted a video and asked his friends to vote.
My mindset when I entered,” he explained, “was whether I win or lose, if I just get in and get on TV then maybe, just maybe, someone will take notice. All I had to do was get chosen. “
He soon rose to the top in fan votes and remained there for most of the competition but was not selected as a finalist.
“For reasons still unknown to this day,” Matt says, “that opportunity was taken away from me. Tens of thousands of votes and the voting server crashing three times wasn’t enough to get me chosen. Sitting in first place for three months wasn’t enough. Yes, I was mad and I was hurt. I had been publically embarrassed. But even as let down as I felt, I felt like I had let down the people who voted for me day in and day out.”
“I turned my back on the dream,” he continued, “but the dream never went away. The desire never went away. I was the one who went away. That was, by far, the lowest point of this 10 year journey.”
But dreams cannot be denied and Matt is once again chasing his dream. This time, he’s doing it on his terms with a specific goal.
When I walked away, I didn’t think a comeback was possible. At that point in time I didn’t want to,” he admitted. “But the feeling kept eating away at me that if I gave up, I was disappointing Mom and Tonya. I felt like I was disappointing all of the fans, who were behind me and kept telling me, ‘Don’t give up on your dreams.’ I knew there was no use trying to find a sponsor again, I had done that. I knew there was no use trying to find an owner willing to give me a shot. I had done that. I knew that the only way to do it was to turn to the fans for help. A fundraiser was literally the only way it was going to happen. It was, quite simply, my only choice.”
Matt has negotiated a deal with a car owner and put together a plan that he feels is not only realistic, but attainable. All that remains is procuring funds to maintain, transport and operate the car. Any winnings will be donated to charity. Matt will also host various promotional events including an auction of his helmet and firesuit with all proceeds going to charity.
“The goal amount of the fundraiser is for the costs involved with running the 11 race ARCA Series package we have put together. Nobody makes any kind of profit from this deal,” he emphasized. “Not me, not the owner, no one. One hundred percent of my winnings are being donated to the American Heart Association in Mom’s memory and to the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Tonya’s memory. The only thing I get out of this is the opportunity to drive the car. That’s all I have ever chased after.
“This is just my way of honoring the memory of two people who were very dear to me. It’s about a childhood dream and it’s about helping others. I can’t do it without help, though. This is literally my only shot. I’m asking the fans for their help in getting there so I can drive it like I stole it. That’s all I want, that’s all I ever wanted, to drive it like I stole it. And I won’t give up until I do.”
For as little as $1, you can not only help Matt achieve his dream but also make a difference in someone’s life through the charities that he supports. Everyone who contributes will be recognized on the “Contribution Wall of Fame” at Matt Poole Racing and businesses can share their link on the page as well. Matt’s progress will be documented so that you can follow along and be a part of the journey.
“It’s about a childhood dream, and it’s about helping others. I can’t do it without your help.”
Please visit the Matt Poole’s Fundraiser page to contribute and help Matt realize his dream.