“If I’m going to try to be a professional race car driver, I’ve got to go all in.”
That was the thought that drove Matt Cresci to leave his day job in Silicon Valley and give everything he had to racing. Becoming a professional race driver is not easy. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult and unforgiving career paths anyone could possibly choose. To be successful you need a lot of skill, a little bit of luck and nearly superhuman determination. Cresci has all three, and he’s ready to take on the challenge.
“I got a very late start compared to most young drivers,” Cresci admitted. “Most of them start when they’re 5 or 6 years old in go-karts, so when I started at 19 in Spec Miata, I definitely had a steep learning curve trying to catch up to everyone else.”
As a top student in Santa Clara University’s Business Management program, Cresci had to balance his racing time with maintaining the highest GPA in his class. When he graduated in 2015, he knew he had to try now for a professional racing career or he’d regret it all his life.
“I knew that the Mazda Shootout was my best option to get into professional racing,” he said. “In 2015, I went from 20th place to second place in the NASA National Championship, and after that I knew I needed to win the next year. So in 2016, I dedicated every single resource to that race.”
The Mazda Road to 24 Shootout brings together top amateur racers from NASA, SCCA and other series to compete for a scholarship to move up into professional racing. The competition includes on-track driving as well as a business plan and personal presentation skills necessary for a professional racer. The only thing standing in Cresci’s way of a chance to compete for a pro racing ride was winning the NASA championship..
“I was doing really well,” he recalled, “and then the final race didn’t go as planned and I ended up completely off the podium in fourth place. My one-way ticket to the Mazda Shootout was kind of down the drain.”
But the Mazda Motorsports team had their eyes on Cresci and awarded him an at-large invitation to the shootout on the merit of his performance. That wild card chance was the little bit of luck that he needed.
“My education in business definitely came in handy for the business plan,” he explained. “There were a couple courses that were extremely useful, such as public speaking. I also took a Business Negotiation class that has encouraged me to create mutually beneficial terms with my sponsors and race teams, so that both of us end up happy at the end of the season.”
By the end of the shootout, Cresci had convinced the panel of judges that he has what it takes to succeed in professional racing. He was awarded a $100,000 scholarship to compete in the 2017 Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires.
Now once again, Cresci finds himself with a steep learning curve to climb, and he’s eager to show what he can do.
“In the first race I was the Top Finishing Rookie,” he said, “but then the tables turned in the second round and I had contact with another car, which is very unfortunate. I’ll be back for the next race in Indianapolis!”
Now that he knows the challenge in front of him, Cresci has a new plan to succeed.
“From this point on, it is critical to get consistent finishes for the rest of the season,” Cresci said. “This will involve suppressing my ego, which always proves to be a challenging task in the heat of battle, but I believe I will be able to discipline myself accordingly. I just want the opportunity to race professionally, where my full time job is racing.”