In Mid-Michigan Dirt Late Model racing it is hard to miss a hot-pink infused no.115. For two years the car has garnered a lot of attention, and although the number and scheme may be new, the driver behind the wheel has the experience and talent to make the car even more noticeable.
Matt Pickard breathes dirt track racing; his father Mike still competes at Winston Motor Speedway in the no.3 Bomber and there is no doubt that Matt inherited his father’s love for the sport. “My dad is the one that got me started in racing” exclaimed Matt before adding, “We moved over to Twin Lakes, Michigan when I was still a kid and at age 12 I started helping out Matt Sprague on his car.” Matt competed in the no.10 Late Model throughout the state of Michigan with great success. “I pretty much lived with Matt and Michelle through my teen years” laughed Matt, “I did everything with them and got to be on Matt’s team when he won the Great Lakes Nationals as well as a few winged outlaw Late Model shows”.
Although he loved being part of the no.10 team, Pickard knew there was something more and in 2000 he began competing in his own no.33 machine. That same year he met his now wife Dawn (The two wed in 2006) and his life was never the same. “Dawns parents Mike & Carol Tanis owned a Limited Late Model team which had Don Sage piloting their no.55 at Mid-Michigan Raceway Park. By 2003 Don was ready to retire and they asked me to run the car for them” Explained Matt before adding with a laugh, “Actually Dawn knew what was happening and pretty much signed on the dotted line for me and told them that I was their driver before I even knew anything about it!”
The fit was a perfect one for all involved as Matt claimed Rookie of the Year honors at Mid-Michigan along with the points title in his first year as driver. That season 10-years-ago was a great indicator of the teams chemistry. In 2004 they moved up into the Late Model ranks and the no.55 was no stranger to victory lane at the teams home tracks of Crystal Motor Speedway and Winston Motor Speedway.
Although the no.55 machine had seen its fair share of success, by the conclusion of the 2011 season Mike Tanis was ready for a bit of a change and approached Matt with the idea of changing the number. Matt’s career had started in a no.33, and as he had no personal connection with the number he was open to any ideas, but as he said with a chuckle, “He started talking about changing the number when we bought this new car; Of course, I just let it go and didn’t believe he would actually do it! Then all of the sudden he said, ‘I want to go with no.115!’ Dawn designed the color scheme and picked the hot pink as the primary color for 2012 and we came out with a whole new look!”
After finishing a close 2nd in the 2011 Crystal Motor Speedway points race, getting beat out by Roger Wing in the no.55w by a mere 10-points; the Tanis Motorsports/RPM Automotive team came out hungry in 2012. The change in the cars outward appearance also seemed to give the no.115 team a big boost as they came out stronger than they had ever been. As the 2012 season progressed, Matt was turning more heads because of his smooth and consistent driving style than the neon paint scheme; and as the season neared its conclusion there was no doubt that Pickard was in contention for the CMS title. With three feature wins, three top-tens, and a multitude of top-five finishes, Matt was certainly tagged as the one to beat, and with Crystals IMCA-Formatted feature line-ups, running up front at CMS on a regular basis is a much bigger challenge than at most speedways. The A-Main is aligned with the top 12 drivers based on average points being inverted, which equates to the points leader being guaranteed a starting spot on the outside of row 6. The inversion levels the playing field and ups the ante for title contenders. “It’s definitely tougher to win at Crystal because of the line-ups!” Exclaimed Matt before adding, “But we have a really good foundation. The biggest thing here is the amount of respect that all of us have for one another. We don’t go to the junk yard to get parts anymore and the $20 bills going out are now $100 bills. The racing is aggressive, but we all know and respect the fact that the fast guys are going to be moving up from the rear!”
The added challenge of having to work his way up from the rear week after week has made the thrill of victory even sweeter for Matt, “Last year winning the points title was the highlight of my career, we were so driven to win after getting beat out in 2011 and we had an all-around great season!”
2013 didn’t start out quite as nice for the Grant, Michigan driver. Early engine failures took the RPM Strpko Engineering team out of contention for a championship repeat, but as Matt said with a bit of a smile, “This year has definitely been one of the roughest years. Engine failures happen regardless of how good of a builder you have, but it did set us back in points. We have a great group of guys though that bust their butts on the car every week and we really rebounded and even picked up two feature wins at Winston [Motor Speedway]!” Matt also battled back to place 6th in the CMS points chase, which is very impressive given the talented field of drivers that call Crystal home.
Matt also had great 2013 runs at both Merritt Speedway and Crystal Motor Speedway’s Outlaw Late Model shows. The run-what-you-brung winged shows always draw a crowd and provide an adrenaline rush that Matt simply can’t resist, “Racing the outlaw shows is totally different!” Proclaimed Matt before adding, “You lock it in gear and put the hammer down. You don’t race like that and wouldn’t even think of trying it on a regular night. It’s hard on equipment for sure but it is fast and just plain wild!”
When it comes to the 2014 season and beyond Pickards goals are simple, “I just want to win as much as I can until racing interrupts what is best for the family and our daughter Bresley (Who turned 4 on August 12th). Right now I am just happy to be here and I feel fortunate to have such a good group of people helping me do what I want to do!”
Matt, who works as the shop leader at Carhart Products is often forced to work 2nd and 3rd shift which leaves him very little time to wrench on the car, having a supportive family and a great crew has made it possible for Pickards’ racing career to continue, and for that he is incredibly grateful, “We have such a great group of crew guys and I am now harder on myself when I screw up because I want to win and I know they are giving me a car that is capable of winning. I have the best deal. My mother and father-in-law [Mike and Carol Tanis] have a good program and its all family. We work on the car as a family and go racing as a family and when we are not at the track then we are doing family stuff!” grinned Matt, “My wife Dawn is so supportive of me and Bresley will always tell me ‘Good job Daddy!’ after the race, even when I have had a bad night she brings a smile to my face. I am just proud of the guys that help me on the car, and I am so grateful to have a family that supports me!”
With the financial support of RPM Automotive, Strpko Engineering, Moe’s Hardware, North Western Auto Machine, Afco Race Products, Port City Race Cars, and Orange Fatkat Art & Digital Design. As well as the help and support of Chris, Justin, Brandon, Mike (Pickard), Bill Workman Jr., Mike and Carol Tanis, and Dawn & Bresley the hot pink no.115 is destined for many more trips to victory lane, and Matt Pickard will continue to be turning heads for a long time to come.