Through The Esses - Matt Connolly - From Bikes To Buildings To Building A GT Team
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© Andrew S. Hartwell

Matt Connolly is an owner/driver of a GT class team running in the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series. His BMW M3 recently got plenty of air time when professional driver Joey Hand went off course (with some help) at Mid-Ohio and vaulted over - way over - an earthen embankment. The car sailed along, spinning repeatedly, making for one heck of a highlight clip for television. Fortunately, Hand walked away with everything intact, but the M3 was destroyed and had to be given last rites.

But Matt Connolly Motorsports is not ready to meet the big racer in the sky any time soon. Adversity is something Matt Connolly has met time and again, but has never let stand in his way. Perseverance is what got him into the Rolex series, and he intends to stay.

We had a conversation with Connolly this week, to learn about his background in racing, his transition from Grand Am Cup to the Rolex series, and what he sees as his future in sportscar racing. So hold up on the priest please, for this former A-level Racquetball Champion, motorcycle rider, race car importer, mechanic and racing team go-fer isn't dying, he is thriving.

Connolly's story is an interesting look back at how a determined mind can apply itself to attaining a heart's desire. We are going to let him tell the story from here.

I grew up in a suburb of Washington, DC. I started racing motorcycles in 1979 when I was 13. All I could afford was a dirt bike so I would put it on a rack on the back of my dad's Chevy Vega and he would drive to the track. Dad is a documentary film producer and has no idea of mechanical things or why people would want to drive fast. But I always wanted to race cars so motorcycles were definitely a second choice. I never got into karts because there was no place to do it. But there were plenty of trails I could ride the bike on in some nearby areas.

After high school I spent a few years in college trying to find a way to make some money to go racing but that never really happened. One day after getting laid off from a job I decided that was it. I just had to get into a race car, or at least be somewhere near them working in the industry. I was a member of the SCCA and I went to the back of Sports Car Magazine and I called every phone number there that was some sort of vendor or whatever and I asked about a job. I finally found a guy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who had a race program where you worked for him and, in exchange for money; he let you drive the race car once in a while.

At the same time I enrolled in the Elf Winfield program. That is an SCCA accredited driver's school run in France. They have an incentive program where if you are good enough, you will get invited back for the finals and from the finals they will pick a winner who gets a full season in the Formula Renault series, eventually leading up to Formula One. Alain Prost is their poster child - he went through this program. The initial entry is paid for like you would for any school, but once you get in your continued participation is based on merit.

I advanced into the top 20 out of the 150 or so entrants and that is when they put the French kids and everyone else together. Their parents made you very aware that you were going to lose! Whenever you got out of the car the French kid's father would always demand the instructors translate what they told the American kids to them in French. They would bump into you on purpose, things like that. Simply put, they were just rude. (Laughing)

The good part about it was we went to Monaco for the Grand Prix.

Anyway, I went to work for the guy in Harrisburg named John Gearhart. I worked on cars, cleaned the transporter, washed his wife's car, cut his grass and basically was his slave for 18 hours a day. I earned credits and after so many credits you earned a test day in a Formula 2000 car, or a Formula Ford, or something like that. Sometimes the light at the end of the<