After two years of coming oh-so-close, the Pirelli GT4 America Pro-Am pair of Matt Travis and Jason Hart may be on the verge of a championship. The drivers of the No. 47 NOLASPORT Porsche Cayman dominated the first half of the season, and while the wins haven’t come in the latter half, they could leave Sebring International Raceway this weekend with an unassailable lead in the championship.
The hood of their Cayman is emblazoned with a picture of a Cougar and the word “ME” – just like the hood of Ricky Bobby’s stock car in the final race of the movie Talladega Nights. Indeed, a conversation with the two Texans featured a few quotes from the movie itself, including Hart’s response to the reason for their success: “I’m the best that ever was. I wake up in the morning and piss excellence.” But the discussion did get more serious after that.
“I think it’s about execution,” says Travis, the Am in the Pro-Am equation. “Good weekend or bad weekend, we take a really organized, albeit fun, approach, try to make fewer missteps, and I think that’s made us really consistent. It’s about pit stops, pit stop execution, it’s about out laps, in laps… it’s about finding every edge we can find, and that seems to pay off more often than not.”
Hart, who has driven everything from Trans-Am TA2 to off-road and makes a big part of his living in coaching and data analysis, credits Travis’s analytical approach as well as his desire to win, and not merely race, as a big part of their achievement as a pair.
“I think there’s a connection between us on multiple levels,” he explains. “He comprehends the data very, very well, given that he does a lot of analysis in his day job, so it makes sense to him. There’s another component where Matt went through the Formula SAE program in college, so he understands how a vehicle works in all aspects – differentials, drivetrains, aerodynamics… I think that is a big piece of why he is able to sit down, look at data, and understand the vehicle dynamics that are in play at certain points of the track where we’re trying to get the car to do something.”
Travis earns his living doing accounting work for oil companies. He built a business, sold it, and continues to work for that business. A passion for cars evolved into a passion for track driving, and eventually led to meeting Hart and to racing. How they met is indeed a story unto itself.
“I was bombing around Harris Hill Raceway [a motorsports club near San Marcos, Texas] in a Lotus Esprit. The manager of the track came up to me after I had some huge off, yard off the track in Turn 1 at like 90… massive. I was picking rocks out of the splitter, he came up to me and said, ‘I’m glad you’re having fun. If you ever want to learn more about racing and driving, you should call that guy,” and pointed to a banner. At the time I was perfectly happy bombing around breaking splitters. But later, when I got to the point that I was ready for the next step, I remembered the conversation,” Travis explains. Unfortunately, he didn’t remember the name, but there was something that stood out…
“I remembered there was this goofy-ass logo with wings and brass knuckles on it, so I started Googling – and I kid you not – ‘goofy race driver logos’; and ‘racer with red hair.’ Eventually ‘Texas race driver logo’ yielded a result. I shot him an e-mail out of the blue, we went out to Texas World Speedway in the Lotus, and we progressed from there. We actually pull up that e-mail every couple of years, laugh about it and remember how we started. It’s been a heck of a journey; I started out from ground zero as a driver. My reflexes are slower than most and I have no special talent, so I’m thankful for the pairing, because any capability I bring, whatever pace I’ve got, is thanks to this guy.”
Travis and Hart have a 63-point lead, with only 100 points left on the table in the final four races at Sebring and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s a solid lead, but not one on which they can totally rest. And they don’t want to, either.
“Matt’s desire is to win races, as is mine,” said Hart. “We will not be laying back for points. We might be smart, or cautious, or leave an extra three inches in some of the passes we make; but winning is the reason we are here. We want to push for everything we can get, and that doesn’t mean we think we can win every race, but we will do everything we can to see if we can win every race.”