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How Success Happened to Race Car Driver Matthew Sisson

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“Pedal to the metal” is a euphemism embraced by many, but really experienced by few. For Matthew Sisson it is more than a motto to live by. It’s an instruction, yelled through an earpiece by a familiar voice, urging him to keep going as his speedometer climbs well into the triple digits.


Kathleen Barry/Happy Dog Motorsports

“I want to be a racing driver.”

Most parents of children of a certain age will hear this phrase at least once, sandwiched between purported aspirations to become an astronaut or firefighter. And like most, Matthew Sisson’s parents saw the idea as a fleeting desire that would soon be replaced by another equally grand career plan. But much to his mother’s despair, he believed every…
word.

“The moment I first saw a sports car calendar at the first grade Scholastic Book Fair, I knew I was hooked for life. Viper would drive if I only saved my pocket money until I was 16,” says Sisson. “But sometime around the time I borrowed my older brother’s car to take my driving test, I realized I needed a much firmer path to professional success to make that dream a reality.”

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“There is an incredible amount of talent rising through the junior ranks of racing in the United States right now,” Sisson explains, “but these kids usually have a lot of money behind them, giving them a chance to prove themselves and climb the top. my family is incredibly supportive in every aspect of life, the financial realities of racing are staggering, so I knew I had to make it happen on my own.

Start your engines

Now 28, Sisson is well on that path. After attending Oxford University and the University of Colorado, he returned to his mother’s New York home to take up a fledgling investment banking position. Although he was jealous of his friends who moved into dubious apartments in the East Village with countless roommates, he stayed at home and saved every penny he could to chase the dream. A few years later, he made that dream a reality.

“It’s not as easy as other disciplines to become a successful driver,” he reminds me, “it’s not like basketball, where you can go to the gym every day and practice until you beat the competition. I have hundreds of hours on a home-built 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 needed to take up racing fueled 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 an investment data firm in Manhattan than he does with the putting on fireproof racing gear at the track. After reaching a place where he could budget for a year of racing, he collected the money to rent a race car from Mark Gregory at RosMar Racing, and it was obvious he was right at home. With Gregory’s encouragement and support, he abandoned the thought of a 401k, put his savings into a truck, trailer and race car, and began making a name for himself on the amateur racing circuit.

The road to a championship

While Sisson was confident in his abilities, he knew he was working on a shoestring budget compared to the big teams and was well aware that he would jump straight into the deep end and learn to swim fast. The first weekend in his new (to him) car, and competing in the North East Divisional Championship with only a novice race permit, he found himself celebrating a podium finish alongside vastly more experienced drivers. Then he did it again. And again. And again. Podiums turned into victories, and as the points added up at the end of his rookie season, the moment he’d been working toward for two decades arrived: he was crowned champion.

While he attributes this appetite for career advancement to his unyielding desire to take up racing, he found that the two were more closely aligned than he expected. “The mindset and sacrifices needed to be successful in racing mirror that of any success story. I slept in the back of my truck all first season,” he says. “The idea that you can plan for any eventuality is also the same: you plan as best you can, but have to learn and adapt when you meet unexpectedly. Most importantly, surround yourself with an incredible team that is invested in your mutual success, knowing in the back of your mind that your individual effort will ultimately separate you from the rest.”

Stay tuned: Sisson currently plans to launch a GT4 car in next year’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, broadcast on NBC Sports.

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