Another Step Up The Ladder – Matt McMurry

There are many factors needed to have a successful career in motorsport. A level head, determination and commitment to continually improve are within everyone’s reach. At the age of 15 Matt McMurry is using these qualities to develop a career in motorsport.

Mecca of Speed: As a young driver how much experience do you bring with you to Road America?

Matt McMurry: I’ve been here once before in a Skip Barber summer season race in which I finished second.

Mecca of Speed: Racing the IMSA Lites is a change for you, what open wheel experience do you bring with you this weekend?

Matt McMurry: I raced in the Skip Barber series for two years and am currently competing in USF2000. This is my first prototype race.

Mecca of Speed: Having run some practice sessions what is your impression of the IMSA Lites car compared to a USF2000 car?

Matt McMurry: The IMSA Lites car has a lot more grip and a ton more downforce. It’s a heavier car making it more physical to drive. Having a bigger engine then other cars I’ve raced, it’s a lot faster which is a lot of fun.

Mecca of Speed: One of your career goals is to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Is your focus shifting from open wheel to sports cars or the best opportunities you can develop?

Matt McMurry: I would like to move up to USCR next year and race prototypes at Le Mans. We are planning on going to Le Mans next year if I have enough experience and believe I’m ready to go.

I’m hoping to do the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring as preparation for Le Mans.

Mecca of Speed: Do you have rides lined up for those events or are they a work in progress?

Matt McMurry: We are currently working on some opportunities for those races.

Mecca of Speed: Do you find yourself gravitating more towards the Daytona Prototype or the ALMS P2 prototype car?

Matt McMurry: Defiantly the ALMS P2 prototype. I think they are a lot nicer looking car and they are the faster of the two.

Mecca of Speed: Physically the IMSA Lites car is larger then the open wheel cars you have been racing, has this presented any challenges?

Matt McMurry: It was a little weird when I was first sitting in the car and made me a little nervous thinking, can I see enough around me? Once you get on track and going fast enough you naturally adjust. Turning into a corner you are able to tell if you are hitting the apex or need to adjust your line after the first few corners.

Visibility wise it’s not that big of a deal once you adjust to the car.

Mecca of Speed: With a self-proclaimed interest in racing since age 2, what were the first steps that got you into motorsport?

Matt McMurry: When I was born my Dad won a gift certificate to the three day Bob Bondurant racing school which is 30 minutes from our house. After the school he started racing a Star Mazda for a couple of years. Then he moved to prototypes, which he is racing this weekend with Dyson Racing.

When I was four he had me start in go-karts at the local kart tracks, which I raced until I was 12. From there I went to the Bob Bondurant School and then started racing in the Skip Barber series. After two years in Skip Barber I moved to USF2000 and now IMSA Lites.

Mecca of Speed: How was the transition from go-karts to an open wheel formula car?

Matt McMurry: At first it was intimidating because I was 12. I learned how to drive a stick shift the week before I got in the car so that took a little to get use to. It was a little scary at first, but after you get use to it, it’s fun.

Mecca of Speed: So when other kids were in little league you were mastering the art of heel and toe.

Matt McMurry: Yes.

Mecca of Speed: Are you currently working with a driver coach in IMSA Lites?

Matt McMurry: Yes, Gerardo Bonilla He raced in the Star Mazda series, the first season of IMSA Lites and LMP2.

Mecca of Speed: Is the coaching process incorporated into your debriefing session for each time you are on track?

Matt McMurry: Yes, we do it at the same time. After the session we usually go into the trailer and on a track map I write my notes on what I felt the car was doing. While I’m working on the notes, he is reviewing the entire in car video footage. Then he compares what he sees in the video to what I wrote down about the session.

After that we sit down he gives me feedback and recommendations to work on in the next session. For example if I enter a corner a bit different it could remove the push I was experiencing in that particular turn. After that we usually review the video, stop it at key sections or corners and he gives me feedback such as you could brake later here or adjust your turn-in there.

We also have a lot of data in areas like speed, throttle position, brake pressure and driver inputs. We review all of that covering how the car is performing on each lap. We’ll compare that to other drivers like Tristan Nunez who raced in this series last year. We look at what he did and see where I can potentially improve.

Mecca of Speed: At Road America where is Gerardo having you focus for the most gains in performance?

Matt McMurry: It really depends on what is happening in each session and if we find something new. A lot of time we find a pattern in the data, like I may be able to brake later in all the hard braking turns.

Yesterday he told me to get off the brakes a little sooner, which helps to rotate the car at the apex of the corner. That is what we were working on yesterday and today will depend on what the car is doing

Mecca of Speed: Working from session to session, do you work incrementally, after one area has improved move on to the next?

Matt McMurry: Yes, sometimes when you fix one parameter something else may then change making the car potentially different after each session.

Other times if there is one turn that I am a lot slower in we may focus on improving that turn. For example, if I’m slow in the Carousel he many have me working on turning in more or lifting later.

Usually the advice is brake later in most of the turns, or where not to lift off the throttle to carry more speed through the lap.

With the IMSA Lites car I thought it would be a lot harder to get used to the down force because there is so much less in the USF2000 car. In USF2000 you really only feel down force in high speed turns, like Turn One at Mid-Ohio. It’s hard to trust that the car is going to generate enough down force.

The IMSA Lites have so much down force it’s easier to trust the car.

Mecca of Speed: Are there any corners in practice that you feel are going to have the potential to present some good passing opportunities during the race?

Matt McMurry: I would say Canada Corner. You can get a pretty good run in the Carousel; go flat through the Kink and down the long straightaway. Then in the draft you draw up close to the car ahead, pop out on the inside to take a position entering Canada Corner.

Mecca of Speed: Have you started exploring the technical side of car set-up or do you focus on the feel of the car and relay that to the crew?

Matt McMurry: Not being an engineer I don’t know exactly what is happening with the car, but I do know in a general sense. I tell them what I feel is happening with the car after each session. Then they take it and recommend changes to the setup.

I like to know what the changes actually do. I find it interesting. Going into a turn understanding how the changes the engineer makes affect each area of the car.

Mecca of Speed: From your perspective, is your day-to-day life as just another kid in school effected much being a racing driver?

Matt McMurry: I don’t think a lot of kids at my school even know I race. Last year the school posted an article about my racing and kids think it’s pretty cool but it’s not something that is always talked about.

Mecca of Speed: School is in session at the start and end of the racing season, do you work with your teachers to get work in advance, like other athletes who are away from school for competitions?

Matt McMurry: I go to a really good school in Arizona and there are a lot of projects and homework. Group projects can be hard if I’m not there. If it’s something like a video I may make the script or find another way to contribute. If it’s straight homework during a race weekend, when I’m back at the hotel I’m working on it.

School hasn’t started for me yet, but the last couple of weeks I’ve been reading and doing homework to get ahead for the time I’ll be gone when school starts and the racing season is still active.

Mecca of Speed: What are your aspirations outside of motorsports?

Matt McMurry: I want to go to college, but I don’t know where yet. Most likely I will do something in engineering, but I’m not sure which area. My interest is in science, but there is some time for me to explore before I have to decide.

Mecca of Speed: You are part of the first generation to grow up with social media, which you have a strong presence in. Who was the catalyst to start your social media activity?

Matt McMurry: I got an invite from someone to join LinkedIn a couple of months ago. We started a page on Facebook as soon I was racing in Skip Barber. It was my Dad’s idea to start the Facebook page and use it like a lot of drivers do, but they don’t post much.

Part of my Dad’s business is making content and building websites. He showed me how it’s important to post material every day, even if it’s not directly related to racing to keep people coming back.

After Facebook we went on Twitter and Instagram.

Mecca of Speed: Have you found social media to be a good resource for awareness of your career and making contact at events?

Matt McMurry: Sometimes. A couple of weeks ago I had a journalism student from Romania message me asking if they could send me some questions.

USF2000 is part of the ladder series to Indy Car and they have people help you and give seminars on social media. Often they have events and opportunities for drivers to do self-promotion and create awareness of who they are.

A lot of the feeder series have their own PR people who set up autograph sessions and different opportunities for the drivers in the series.

Mecca of Speed: Are you planning on racing the remainder of the IMSA Lites season?

Matt McMurry: We aren’t going to do the entire remainder of the IMSA Lites season, especially with school starting but we will do a couple more races. We are going to complete the USF2000 series and probably race it again next year.

Mecca of Speed: What is your impression of the racing world, experiencing first hand what it takes to race a full season?

Matt McMurry: I’ve been around racing for so long that it all seems normal to me. My Dad worked with ALMS rebuilding their website and I got to see how much work goes into making a race happen.

Live streaming a race over the Internet takes a whole team of people, so if anything happens they can fix it right away.

Mecca of Speed: Good luck on the rest of the season and a long successful career.

Matt McMurry: Thank you.

9/20/2013

Content credit Matt McMurry and John Vatne. Photo credit Randy Erdman and John Vatne.