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“Pedal to the Metal” is a euphemism embraced by many but truly lived by few. For Matthew Sisson, it’s more than a motto. It’s an instruction shouted through an earpiece by a familiar voice, urging him to keep pushing while his speedo climbs well into the triple digits.
“I want to be a racing driver.”
Most parents of children of a certain age will hear this phrase at least once, sandwiched between declared aspirations to become an astronaut or a firefighter. And like most, Matthew Sisson’s parents thought the idea was a fleeting wish that would shortly be superseded by another equally great career plan. But much to his mother’s despair, he meant everyone
“The moment I first saw a sports car calendar at the first class Scholastic Book Fair, I knew I had a lifelong addiction to it. I was immediately convinced that even though I could barely ride a bike, if I just saved my pocket money until I was 16, I would drive a Dodge Viper,” Sisson says. “But eventually, when I got my older brother’s car for borrowed my driving test, I realized I needed a much more solid path to professional success to make this dream a reality.”
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“There’s an incredible amount of talent rising up the junior ranks of racing right now in the United States,” explains Sisson, “but these kids usually have a lot of money behind them, which gives them an opportunity to prove themselves and climb the ranks while my family does has been incredibly supportive in every aspect of life, the financial realities of racing are staggering so I knew I had to go it alone.
Start your engines
Sisson is now 28 and well on his way. After attending Oxford University and the University of Colorado, he returned to his mother’s home in New York to take an entry-level position in investment banking. Though he was admittedly jealous of his friends who were moving into dodgy East Village apartments with countless roommates, he stayed at home and saved every penny he could to pursue his dream. A few years later he realized this dream.
“Becoming a successful racer isn’t as easy as in other disciplines,” he reminds me, “it’s not like basketball, where you go to the gym every day and train until you’ve outperformed the competition for hours on a homemade simulator.” , but every day on the track costs thousands of dollars, and a single mistake can cost you more than money.
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The resources required for racing propelled Sisson to pursue professional success, and four years after graduating from college he spends more time in a suit and tie as VP of sales for a Manhattan investment data firm than in fireproof racing gear on the track . After reaching a budget for a year of racing, he raised the money to rent a Mark Gregory race car from RosMar Racing and it was clear he was right at home. With the encouragement and support of Gregory at the track, he gave up the thought of a 401k, put his life savings into a truck, trailer and race car and set out to make a name for himself on the amateur circuit.
The Road to Mastery
While confident in his abilities, Sisson knew he was operating on a tight budget compared to the big teams and knew he had to jump right in at the deep end and learn to swim fast. On his first weekend in his (for him) new car and competing in the North East Divisional Championship with only a novice race licence, he celebrated a podium finish alongside far more experienced drivers. Then he did it again. And again. And again. Podiums turned into victories, and when the points were tallied at the end of his rookie season, the moment he’d been working towards for two decades had arrived: he was crowned champion.
While he attributes this hunger for career advancement to his unrelenting desire to race, he found the two to be more closely aligned than he expected. “The mentality and sacrifice required to succeed in racing mirrors that of any success story. I slept in the back of my truck the entire first season,” he says. “The idea that you can plan for every eventuality is also the same; one plans as best one can, but must learn and adapt when one encounters the unexpected. Most importantly, you have to surround yourself with an incredible team, invested in mutual success and knowing in the back of your mind that individual effort will ultimately make you stand out from the crowd.”
Stay tuned: Sisson is currently planning to field a GT4 car in next year’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, which will be broadcast on NBC Sports.