Matt Fassnacht made a decision.
In 2016, Fassnacht was splitting his time between Battery Tender Mazda Global MX-5 Cup and Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car A, racing two generations of Mazda MX-5 – the ex-MX-5 Cup third-generation car in PWC and the current car in MX-5 Cup. As the season went on, he discovered the intensity of spec racing wasn’t quite his cup of tea, so he decided to concentrate on World Challenge. He was rewarded with Rookie of the Year in 2016.
In 2017, Fassnacht was faced with another decision. PWC approved the fourth-generation Mazda Global MX-5 Cup car for TCA. He showed up for the first weekend with both cars in the S.A.C. Racing hauler, but after testing decided the newer car was the one to have. He won both races at VIRginia International Raceway in April, and even though that’s where his win streak stopped, he was never challenged in the championship after that – beating teammate and defending champion Elivan Goulart to claim the TCA title.
“I was a man possessed at VIR,” Fassnacht says. “I had never been there before this year … [but before the PWC race] I went there for a regional race and ran a two-hour enduro all by myself. I spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for that race on the simulator.”
The rest of the season was maintenance and survival for Fassnacht. At Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in May, rain in one race and a red flag in the other prevented him from having a chance there. A pair of bad starts at Lime Rock a week later let Goulart break away.
“By the time we got to Utah [in August], I think I was holding onto the championship too tight,” he says. “This was all new to me – I’d never been close to winning a professional championship. We just did not figure the car out there, so that was a struggle. I really worked hard for every point I got there. We got to COTA, and it was better, but it wasn’t perfect. At Mazda Raceway I was really just trying to manage the championship, which was really hard to do because I just wanted to go, go go.”
Fassnacht says he’s hard on himself, but is also proud he beat his more experienced teammate in a similar car half the time. He credits coach Justin Piscitell for much of his success, telling him at the end of 2016, “I want to be as good as [Goulart] is and I want to beat him on the track.” A season later he won the championship.
But he says he looks at some of his performances and thinks, “That was good enough?” At the end of 2017 he told his coach: “It could have been better.”
Fassnacht doesn’t know what his next move is for the 2018 season. TCR is attractive now that it has a place to run in both PWC Touring Car and in IMSA’s Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. The same is true of GT4. But he notes that all his races so far have been in a Mazda, and he would hate to leave the brand.
“It’s a tough year to figure out what to do,” he says. “Teams are moving all over the place. Cars are changing. Rules are unclear, BoP is unclear and car availability is unclear.”
It’s a lot of stress for what is essentially a hobby for Fassnacht, even as he wants to parlay the TCA championship into something bigger. He makes a good living in finance as a portfolio manager and analyst, and his job allows him to get away on a Friday and hit the track at Monticello Motor Club, which is only an hour and a half from his New York home. At the same time, family is a priority for the father of three.
“It’s hard to be away, and I’m wrestling with the pros and cons,” he admitted. “I’m setting an example for my kids that you can pursue your passions and have success at something if you really work hard at it. On the other hand, I am away a lot. I try to spend quality time with the kids. Would I love to go race 52 weekends a year? Yes! Is six to 10 the right amount? Yeah, it’s the right balance.”
Ultimately, racing is all about pleasure for Fassnacht. One of the lessons he learned this season with Piscitell is that if he’s not having fun and goofing around, he doesn’t race well, so he’d better enjoy it.
“I love being in the car and being at the track,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what I do or if I win a championship. I aim for championships because I like to push myself and have goals. But it’s not why I do it. It’s about having fun.”