|Los Gatos, Calif.|
|Rattlesnake Electric Sports|
|Business major, Santa Clara University|
Favorite TV show:
|“Tune To Win” by Carroll Smith|
At this year’s Western States Championships at Sonoma Raceway, word was swirling around the paddock about the kid who took fourth place in Spec Miata in Saturday’s qualifying race and fourth again in the Championship event on Sunday.
It’s even more impressive that he was driving a 1.6-liter car among a field of stronger 1.8-liter cars, and had run a fast lap within .600 seconds of race winner Kyle Loustaunau. Oh, and he had driven the car to the track from his home in Los Gatos, Calif.
Matt Cresci ostensibly came out of nowhere. At 21 years old, he wasn’t even involved with the West Coast Teen Mazda Challenge last season, yet he came within a hare’s breath of getting a podium at a Championships event. So where did he come from?
Cresci had done a few track days in his BMW street car and caught the bug, but on a college student’s budget, racing was not financially within reach. So he went online and began honing his driving skills on Gran Turismo. When Gran Turismo 5 came out, he learned of the GT Academy program. At the time in 2011, he was too young to compete, but the next year he signed up. It was the year after another NASA competitor Bryan Heitkotter won the competition (see Speed News Nov. 2012, Page 68).
“I was not 18 yet, and then the next year they did it again and I bought myself a steering wheel and had to qualify in the middle of my finals week at school, and I ended up tying for first out of 400,000 people,” Cresci said. “So that was pretty awesome and good little statistic for me to start my racing career.”
Cresci went from playing video games at home to sitting on a flight to England to compete for a shot at becoming a professional racing driver. During his week in England, Cresci drove rally trucks, open-wheel cars and even got a ride in a stunt plane to see if he could handle the g forces involved in racing. He didn’t win GT Academy, but he came close, which is impressive considering he had zero actual racing experience and was thrown into 500-horsepower Nissan GTRS and race-prepped 370Z’s.
“The judges weren’t allowed to give us any tips,” Cresci said. “I just had to learn everything as quickly as I could, and unfortunately I wasn’t quite fast enough to keep up with the guys who did have experience.”
When he arrived home, his father became convinced that his son did, in fact, have the skills to go racing, so the two went in together and bought a Spec Miata. Cresci points out that they bought a street legal car so they could drive it to and from the track to avoid the added expense of a tow vehicle and trailer. Look closely at the rear bumper of his racecar and you’ll see current license plates and a small trailer hitch for towing a tire trailer.
For the 2015 season, Cresci is signed up to compete in the Teen Mazda Challenge to see if he can win his way to the Club Racer Shootout. Of course, he’ll also be at the Western States Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. At 21 years old, this will be his first year in the Teen Mazda Challenge and his last year of eligibility. He’s even secured a sponsorship through one of his internships.
“When I was working at Zero Motorcycles, it went around that I was involved with GT Academy and that I was a good driver,” Cresci said. “The CEO of the company put me in touch with Rattlesnake Electric Sports and he ended up sponsoring me for the whole season last year, and it’s continuing this season.”
Zero Motorcycles manufactures the electric motors for Rattlesnake Electric Sports, an FIA Category V, Group 2, Class 1 EKart racing and development team.
Cresci will finish his business degree at Santa Clara University and then pursue a career in racing. As Cresci puts it, racing is his passion, but a degree in business will give him something to fall back on if a racing career proves to be elusive.
“Basically I’m working on a good plan B if racing doesn’t work out, and having a good knowledge of the business world through these internships and school is a standout feature for me because not many people in my shoes have business experience,” he said. “And, you know, I think racing is more a business than a sport nowadays.
“I’m pretty ambitious. I want to get to the top tier,” he added. “I’m looking at Formula 1, World Rally Car over in Europe, but likely the most plausible path is the endurance racing that’s taking off in the U.S. right now with Pirelli World Challenge. It just seems like the most tried and true path to get there, but I’m so flexible and so comfortable in every situation, if it’s rallying or drifting even, then I really don’t mind as long as I can try to make a career out of it.”