Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Matt Cosner's Best Has Yet To Come

Cosner Managed 5 Straight Wins At Bedford Speedway To End 2016

Sometimes people get the things they need to succeed, when they’re most prepared to have success. Such is the case for Ridgley, WV Super Late Model driver Matt Cosner.  The 26 year old pilot has been enjoying the fruits of newer equipment in the last two seasons and has made the most of it while remembering the lessons he’s learned coming up through the ranks, racing with cars that were just a bit behind the latest technology.   Cosner has used those lessons to become a consistent winner at the weekly and regional level, and is still at the beginning of a career arc that might see him become a major force in the Mid-Atlantic Super Late Model scene for years to come.

"I never dreamed of being of where I'm at right now in racing, being a Super Late Model racer,” Cosner said. “I never once expected to make it to where I am. I've got a lot of good people behind me to make it to where I am too. "

Cosner caught the racing bug in the rich Super Late Model hotbed of the Hagerstown, MD area. Starting out in the Quarter Midget ranks, he found himself racing and watching some of the best in the business in regards to both drivers and builders.

"My parents got me into racing obviously. I grew up watching races at Cumberland watching people like Gary Sthuler and sometimes when Jackie Boggs would come to town and different people like that. I started racing when I was seven years old at the Quarter Midget track at Hagerstown and we would go over to the big track and watch races there as well. I don't remember what age I was, but we would always go over and help Chuck Clise with his race cars and I learned a lot with those guys. So I grew up racing on Friday night at the Quarter Midget track and going with Chuck on Saturday nights.

Cosner acclimated quickly to the Quarter Midgets and would find victory lane 39 times in his career and had top five finishes at national events in Terre Haute, IN and Hagerstown. But his interest began to lean towards full size cars in 2005 as he found himself in an EMod and began to discover a wider variety of tracks further from home.

"Driving a Quarter Midget is very good experience because they have full suspensions, kind of like a big car. Whereas like a Go-Kart has no suspension. So whether that's good or bad I don't know. Anyhow, my dad surprised me for my birthday when I was 13 with an Emod and we slowly put it together and in the summer we started racing it a little bit and for that summer I raced both. I would race the Emod on Saturday nights and the Quarter Midget on Friday nights. It actually got to the point that I was driving my Quarter Midget with one hand because it was so easy to drive, so it was time to move up. It wasn't like I was winning every race but it was becoming boring. So when I was 14 I started racing Emods full time and in my second year I won a couple of races. We raced at Roaring Knob Motorsports Complex in the Emod for a couple of years and we went to places like West Virginia Motor Speedway when it was still huge. That was a very interesting experience. I wish it was still as big as it was then for everyone to experience. I had to put duct tape around my shield on my helmet because of the air coming around. I've never experienced anything like it. We went to Lernerville with it, Tyler County Speedway several times, it was really fun to bounce around and do some of that AMRA stuff. It was a great experience running against great drivers. People like Andy Bond, Kenny Johnson, Jared and Jake Hawkins and all those guys. I got a chance to race and travel against those guys and it was a blast."

Cosner won his first Emod main event when he was 15 at Hill Valley Speedway and followed it up with a win at Roaring Knob and appeared to be off and running. But equipment wear caught up to him as time went along, and although he wasn’t able to be a consistent winner in the regional Emod circuit his experience was paying off as he climbed to near the top of the point standings in 2006 and 2007.  His performances began attracting attention which brought him to the Late Model level as towards the latter part of 2007 he was given an opportunity in the Bullitt House Car, a car which he bought outright in 2008.  It brought about an era of learning without a good deal of help as he traveled to Hesston Speedway, Cumberland and Bedford Speedway as well. Then in 2009, the team purchased a new Rocket Chassis forging a relationship that exists today.

"We had a lot of struggles and we never won a race in that time period. We won a lot of heat races. My dad and I would joke around and say that we're going as fast as we can afford to go.  I didn't really have a lot of sponsors behind me and I never really have to this day. We've always been a family owned team. At the time we felt like we were a good bit behind technology wise. We were on old stuff. My dad always built my motors. And of course, I was inexperienced in running Late Models. As a driver, I'm not sure i was capable of winning, but at the same time we were always just a year or two behind technology wise. We never really had anybody to setup the car, so we would occasionally call Rocket and find out things out, but there were definitely some ups and downs there in those years.”

Those ups and downs eventually made Cosner and team question some things for a brief period, but they kept on working towards improving, a trait that he still values to this day, a certain willingness to keep learning even when the results can be discouraging.

"Eventually we thought 'hey, maybe we weren't supposed to be doing this’; maybe we weren't supposed to win a feature. In 2010 we ran the Steel Block Bandit series and traveled with them and I learned a lot driving and learned a lot about our car.  We had good equipment and some good people behind us but we still couldn't win a race. It was very fun traveling but we did not win a race in a limited late model. An opportunity came along and we put a motor together, an aluminum motor. I think it was old parts of one of Chuck (Clise’s) motors honestly. It was better for us to be running average and earning more money in winnings to keep it going. “

And so the struggles went for Cosner over the course of the next four seasons in terms of winning results, until a night in 2015 when Cosner was able to snag his first Super Late Model victory at Bedford.  Confidence breeds confidence, and Cosner’s experiences over the years were starting to catch up with the equipment and his realization of his natural ability. It was a storm waiting to happen, and it played out to near perfection for him in 2016.

"I think what made the difference was the new XR-1 that we got at the start of 2016. The car was fast right out of the box. Rocket gave us a lot of information and we got new shocks too. It was the total package.  We even went to Ford motors too, just like the house car ran because that car was kind of built around that motor. We had the whole package. It just all kind of fell into place it seems like. We hit the ground running right off the bat and we barely had to make any changes to the car from the get go.  Josh, Mark and Steve, all the guys at Rocket were great, anytime you needed anything they were there for you and they're honest with you. "

Cosner took victories at Williams Grove Speedway, Hagerstown Speedway and then went on a tear to end the season, earning a remarkable five victories in a row in August and September, including a career best $5,055 payday at Bedford.  He’s also proved that it was no fluke, carrying his momentum from last year into  a 2017 that has seen wins keep coming and even some Cosner type resiliency as he came back from a night where he totaled his XR-1 in a wild ride at Bedford, to take a $3,500 victory there less than two months later while posting top five finishes more often than not.  Cosner has learned to rebound over the years and for a driver still in his mid 20’s, it speaks volumes of what might be expected in the future.

"At the beginning of the year, we didn't plan on running Bedford every week. If there's a big show around that we want to run then we probably will.  And bouncing around on Saturday nights will be the goal. Last season we got stuck to Bedford and Hagerstown trying to win both of those points championships. I'd love to do some National touring stuff but we're just a family owned team, we have only one car and there's no way we could do it here. But if the opportunity came along and someone needed a driver, I would love to have that opportunity. I still have a lot of learning to do as a driver, and I know you learn a lot doing that. You never know when that opportunity might come to you."

But perhaps is most refreshing about Cosner, is the fact that he is truly appreciative of what he has earned, and has a certain reverence for the hard luck days behind him, and still seeks to learn what will make him better in the future.  A future that looks as bright as any young Super Late Model driver in the Mid Atlantic area and beyond perhaps. Matt Cosner's best, has still yet to come, and anybody that has seen him race in the last two years knows it and will be watching.

"I kind of struggled getting by on what we could afford and now we kind of have the best of the best. Who knows what would have happened if I would have been afforded the best of the best back when I was 20." "I have a lot of respect for my equipment and I've always been that way. I won't wreck somebody intentionally.  I'm not a hang it off the guardrail kind of racer because I know I have to take care of my stuff to be able to race the next night and I take pride in that. Ever since last year, I really enjoy winning now," Cosner said with a chuckle. "I just enjoy getting out there and learning something every night. I get to go out and race with guys like Jason Covert, Gregg Satterlee and Rick Eckert. You get running around those guys and you learn a lot just being on the race track. It's very interesting to me that I can go out there and learn something new night after night. “

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