“Wise beyond his years” is one phrase used to describe Teen Mazda Challenge competitor Matthew Dirks, and it fits – there are times during the phone call that it’s easy to forget the voice on the other end of the line is just a 15-year-old young man who recently completed his freshman year at Roosevelt High School in Johnstown, Colorado.
It’s not so much what Dirks says, but how he says it – with a confidence, a matter of factness, that is confident and certain. Like he knows what is going to happen next, and, for better or worse, is comfortable with it.
Dirks grew up at the race track – his father, David, is a longtime club racer, and his mother, Michelle, has spent her time behind the wheel as well – and started racing a go kart at 10 years old. That didn’t last long.
“I turned 13, and my dad and I went out and bought a car,” Dirks said of his introduction to Spec Miata. “We took it to a go kart track, and that was the first time I drove it. I got my comp license in 2016, and got into the racing part of it.”
With a NASA Rocky Mountain Region Spec Miata championship in 2017, his first full season of racing at 14 years old, and a second place in the Teen Mazda Challenge championship, the talent is undeniable.
A title prior to turning 16 years old – if you’re following the “young racer” script, this is where the next declaration is that the end goal is Formula One. Remember that whole ‘wise’ thing?
“I want to go to college, which compromises any professional career right off the bat,” he says. “I do want to do the Road To 24 Shootout, but right now I’m focusing more on the Regional stuff.”
Don’t be fooled, though – this youngster is driven. He readily admits that his only hobbies are racing and the related activities.
“I like to work on my car,” he says. “I know the car really well. That’s about it. I don’t have very many other interests. I like working with technical stuff, and getting things to work. That’s kind of my thing.”
And right now, that focus is on the Teen Mazda Challenge. That competition has made him a better driver.
“The competitors are really good,” Dirks says of the program. “You’re racing with a bunch of people your age, who are also pretty good at racing. That’s a fun experience. We get good support from Mazda and Toyo, and it gives me a pretty good shot at the Mazda Shootout.”
Yes, the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout. While college is the ultimate goal, he’s still a racer at heart – and like many Shootout winners in the past, it is possible to do both.
“I think that I would probably make that work,” he says of the hypothetical offer to run the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup season after winning the Shootout. “School would be out, I’d have no distractions, and besides, it would be a lot of fun. I would take that opportunity. “
The focus now, however, is on the 2018 Teen Mazda Challenge season and the Spec Miata that he and his father are currently building so that the elder Dirks can race with his son.
Thanks to Mazda support, Matthew can even contribute financially to David’s build.
“The contingencies help a lot,” Matthew said of the Mazda support. “They help for building the new car and engines. Everything helps in this sport.”
Until then, he’ll be using an old trick to prep himself for the NASA Nationals to end the season.
“In between go karting and cars, I took about a half year and did a lot of iRacing,” Dirks said. “That helped me learn to drive a manual and get the braking down. I still use it. I plan to practice for Nationals at COTA a lot on iRacing. Track days there are really expensive, so I’ll learn the track that way. The only real time on track I will have there is the day before the actual race.”
And if his racing strategy is as well thought out as his life strategy, look for Matthew Dirks toward the front of that National race at Circuit of the Americas.