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Westfall leads a pack of cars off the fourth turn during a heat race at Terre Haute. - DAVE NEARPASS PHOTO

Matt Westfall

Some racing drivers garner the headlines, while others find modest success on the fringes of the central storyline.

These drivers can be counted on all summer long and they often form the backbone of a racing series. This is the group that survives not because they have an abundance of resources at their disposal, but because of their innate drive and healthy work ethic. Rarely does this group get the accolades it deserves.

However, when one is viewed as an honest racer and success comes, no one begrudges it. Matt Westfall might land in this category. Yes, there have been wins and championships along the way, but nothing has come easy. What he has earned is the respect of his peers — and few things matter more than that.

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Westfall guiding the family owned No. 54 sprint car at Terre Haute. – DAVE NEARPASS PHOTO

Born during our nation’s bicentennial year, Westfall once resided two miles from living legend Jack Hewitt, who delighted in messing with him a bit when he was just a boy. Like Hewitt, Westfall has been around racing his entire life.

His maternal grandfather, Carl Trost, owned sprint cars often handled by Bob Greer at Ohio tracks, while his son, Doug, fell right in line. Doug Trost was sporadically active with USAC and provided cars for the likes of Roger Rager, Rocky Fisher, Clark Templeman, Steve Chassey and Karl Busson.

Westfall’s dad, Phil, married the former Cindi Trost, and he helped his brother-in-law work on Duke Cook’s dirt champ car, and later they maintained equipment owned by Johnny Vance.

“I remember as a kid Richie Vogler would fly into Piqua and they would go and pick him up,” Matt Westfall recalled. “They would work on the car at a gas station my uncle ran in Pleasant Hill, Ohio, and then Rich would fly back home.”

Phil Westfall raced go-karts and was plenty serious about it. Given the family history, when his son expressed a desire to race, there was no hesitation. By the time Matt Westfall turned six he was already behind the wheel.

Westfall’s career began at Willowdell Raceway, a place he fondly remembers.

“It was a little 10th-mile high-banked track,” Westfall said. “They raced two-cylinder outlaw karts there and it really was a mini-Eldora. When you came in there was an old schoolhouse that was right up against the race track, and they turned it into a bar and a restaurant. Upstairs there was a little balcony where you could look out over the pit area. It was neat and they packed that place.”

Perhaps we can credit Westfall’s early performances to the natural attention span of a youngster. It was also true that his dad was not solely focused on launching his son’s career. These factors, or the combination of the two, conspired to make his early days behind the wheel a bit forgettable.

While it was fun to hang out with his pals in the pits, the on-track results were wearing thin. Once in the middle of his third year he told his father he was sick of finishing last.

Phil Westfall knew the source of some of his son’s issues and took steps to rectify what he could.

“We didn’t have a very good motor, so we got a new one for my kart,” Matt Westfall said. “The first race after I got the new engine my dad was in Charlotte to race. Because of that my uncle Dave, who owns the midget I still race indoors at Ft. Wayne, was the one who took me.”

The result was nearly predictable.

“I won my first race ever,” Westfall said with a laugh, “and my mom and dad weren’t even there to see it.”

As he improved, Westfall’s father got more involved with the operation. “The cool thing is that when I raced karts my dad built everything,” Westfall said. “He built the frame and he built the motor. He did it all. He got me to where I am today.”

After he turned 16, Westfall turned his attention to 250cc micro sprints. Phil Westfall realized his son had talent noting that “he was real smooth, and kept it straight,” then he added with a laugh, “When we got into the micros, he tore some stuff up.”

By the time Matt Westfall graduated from Newton High School, he was ready to take on midget racing.

Another family member, Jack Hammonds went 50-50 on the car with Phil Westfall, with the latter handling the mechanical chores.

The team elected to follow the NAMARS circuit under the watchful eye of fiery former racer Jack Calabrese, who ran NAMARS and developed a healthy slate of dirt and pavement races staged primarily in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.

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