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After spending over two months away from the racetrack recovering from surgery to remove a benign brain tumor, Joe Gibbs Racing and Red Horse Racing driver Matt Tifft made his way to the media center at Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday with good news.
Tifft is in good health and has been cleared to return to a race car after two months of recovery, the Ohio native confirmed. While there’s still no timetable for his return to NASCAR, Tifft will be back in a race car this Sunday.
“This weekend on Sunday at Hickory (Speedway), I’m going to get in a Late Model and start to get back in the seat,” Tifft said. “I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to that.”
In the midst of what he hoped would be a breakout season, Tifft was sidelined in June when medical personnel discovered a glioma, or slowly growing tumor, in his brain. Tifft underwent a craniotomy on July 1, and hadn’t returned to a racetrack until Friday’s appearance at Bristol. In his place, a group including Kyle Busch, Sam Hornish, Jr., Brett Moffitt and others have filled the Ohioan’s XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series rides.
Over the two months since his surgery, Tifft has reported continual improvement, which began in a way few would expect – regaining the ability to smell.
“For a couple weeks, it was just rough getting off the anesthesia and all that stuff, but one of the most shocking things to me was that apparently with a brain tumor one of the biggest symptoms is your loss of smell,” Tifft said. “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. 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.”
In detailing his recovery, Tifft said the biggest challenge has been returning to normal life.
“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,” Tifft said. “Every day I just got stronger and better and to the point that I was able to start driving a street car again and get back to normal life. After that I was able to get back to normal physical activity level and what we did then was after the surgery and after we felt like it had healed enough, we did a five day EEG study – before and after the surgery we wanted to make sure that there was no chance or seizures whatsoever.”
Tifft also found another challenge he didn’t expect: Seeing someone else in his car.
“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. It’s bizarre,” Tifft noted. “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.”
Tifft doesn’t have any races planned yet, but the Ohioan hopes to prove that he’s ready to race in Sunday’s test.
“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,” Tifft said. “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.
“I think that we’ve definitely looked at, if possible, a race before getting back in, but we just have to get through this test on Sunday and I’m really looking forward to it. The big thing is just getting in the heat. Obviously it’s been so hot lately, it’s a great test for that and being fatigued in the car and still seeing what that’s like. I’ve pushed myself in the gym probably harder than I ever did before this happened and just for that time when I do get in the car that I can hopefully be at that level or even better than where I was before.”