EAST COAST FACES
Matthew MacKelden is an inspiration for any race fan, the self-confessed couch potato decided to change his lifestyle and give racing a go, now you can see him behind the wheel in the inaugural racing season of the 2018 ECB SuperUtes Series, where Australia’s top sellers, the light commercial – are elevated from transporting tradies’ tools to tearing up racetracks…
EC : Tell us more : Racing Utes - how different are they from what our tradies are getting around in?
MM : Even though I think we’re known tongue in cheek as the ‘Tradie Cup,’ they’re nothing like the (ones the) tradies that get their iced coffee at six o’clock in the morning and head off to work in!
These are full-blown race cars that have been built and designed by a very famous racing family, the Stone Brothers, they’ve got an amazing DNA.
To give you a very brief overview, basically the only thing that remains is the body and the chassis; everything else has been highly modified.
They’ve got a completely new rear end, their engines come out of the factory with about 150 horsepower, we’ve boosted them up to about 330, they’ve got lightweight racing wheels, roll-cage, suspension; they’re a full-blood race car.
The biggest issue I guess that we have at the moment is that we’re developing these race cars on the go – and that’s a very public exercise, so they’re quite contentious, people either love them or they hate them; but realistically from the potential they’ve shown so far, the public will fall in love with them and they’ll go on to have a successful time in the racing annals, but we’ll have to wait and see.
We’re only two rounds into its inaugural year, so we’ll see how we go…
EC : Since they’re so new, what brought you to the Utes?
MM : Very simply, I was part of the V8 Ute family for a very long time, both driving, and in also the background being their Commercial Manager and Sponsorship Manager and commentator on Channel Seven and other bits and pieces. I’ve had a relationship with KUBOTA with their tractors and that part of the company, and every year in Townsville we would bring to the event probably somewhere between 15 and 20 guests who are the top dealers of KUBOTA in that QLD region.
Last year they had the new Super Ute, I guess the ‘original’ versions of the Super Ute, on display for the first time at Townsville, and when we took all the dealers down to the back of the Supercars paddock and showed them these new Super Utes, they all went, “Oh yeah, we’ve gotta get involved in this!”
It was this time last year that we made the decision to go Super Ute racing, and we kicked off in Adelaide so it’s been a long time, but it’s almost been a bit of an anniversary, coming back to Townsville this time, and it’s going to be great.
Instead of sitting in the corporate box it’s going to be great to be out there on the track and having the guys support us from there.
EC : You’re a high performance driving instructor, is that an unfair advantage?
MM : You’d think so – if only I was more talented!
EC : So did you follow the same process of most drivers, starting with Karts and working your way up?
MM : Here’s the funny thing about my racing story – I’m a 45 year-old guy, and I started racing at the age of 30.
I was sitting on the couch, and for as long as I can remember I used to watch the on-board vision of race cars, and I knew exactly what was going on with this car or that car.
At the age of 30 I decided one day to get off the couch, I’d go and buy a racecar, I’d go and jump into a race car and see how I went.
So I bought a little open wheel race car called a Formula V, I’d never driven it before the first race meeting, and I got into the car, and I qualified third and I finished second! So I kind of went, ‘Righto! This is pretty good!’
Very soon after that – you know how they say, ‘Find what your passion is and make a job out of it,’ I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to do that for the last 15 years and am now part of the racing fraternity, including hosting a national motorsport radio program around the country every week.
I’m absolutely full-blood, full-depth into it and it’s my everyday, so yeah, I even teach people how to drive fast these days for various manufacturers around the country…
EC : You’re racing’s ‘inspo’…
MM : It’s actually a part of the story that I really enjoy telling.
I was about 130kg and I was smoking about a packet of cigarettes a day and drinking a litre of Coke a day when I decided to go racing, and bought a race car that I simply couldn’t fit in. I was too fat - I was too big.
So I gave up smoking, I bought the race car, and then all the money that I would have spent on smoking, I went and spent at the gym, and I went to the gym seven days a week. Within three months I was down to about 90kg, which is a whole lot easier when you’re 30, it’s not so easy at 45!
I got into the race car for the first time and we went racing, so I used to sell suitcases and luggage, but for the last 15 years I’ve been running around racetracks and being involved in motorsport, it’s been fantastic, I’ve loved every second of it.
EC : So do you drive a ute in real life?
MM : I do have a ute in real life, I don’t have Toyota Hilux, I’ve been hoping they’d give me one, it’s falling on deaf ears apparently!
I’m very lucky, I’m given a lot of cars by various manufacturers to drive for extended periods of time, so while I do have a ute, it doesn’t get much work because I get to drive really nice cars. I’m given cars by Mercedes, and Audi, and other bits and pieces, I’m very privileged like that; and long may it continue!
EC : From couch potato to motivated – how would people describe you?
MM : I think most people would say that I’m pretty driven, at times I can be a little bit impatient, because I believe that whole, ‘making your own opportunities and creating your own life’ I think before 30 my friends would have said ‘He’s a nice guy but he’s pretty lazy’ now they describe me as ‘a lucky so and so’!
I’m a pretty passionate guy and I throw myself into whatever I do pretty deeply.
I’ve had relationships with sponsors for a very long time, I was recently married and half of the people in the guest list were sponsors or former sponsors that have now become friends, so I’m a loyal guy and I’m also pretty intense, and I like to live life on the edge a little bit…
EC : Are you a daredevil in other areas?
MM : I do try to find adrenalin, on the honeymoon recently I was about to go bungee jumping but unfortunately my wife got ill on the trip so I didn’t end up doing it, but I take calculated risks, there’s no doubt about that. In my work (high performance driving instructor) I sit beside people with very little experience going a couple of hundred kilometres an hour around racetracks, and at the end of the day you are exhausted from the adrenalin going through your body, it’s pretty extreme and a tiring thing to do.
On the road I take no risks, I drive like a Nana!
EC : How fast do you get the Super Utes up to on the track?
MM : Because we’re now a four cylinder turbo diesel, speed isn’t great at the moment. I remember at the turn 8 at Adelaide, it’s a very fast corner, I think the peak speed was about 185km, down the straight from there we would have been about 200, so we’re not the fastest race car in the world but they are a lot of fun!
EC : What’s on your playlist in your car?
MM : I have the most eclectic tastes in music, and it all depends on my mood – if I’ve had a stressful day I’ll listen to classical music on the way home, if I want to get fired up I’ll listen to Aussie rock, and I absolutely love anything unplugged – anything with acoustic guitar, so the MTV Unplugged series, I love all that kind of thing, my sons a musician so I love listening to him. It’s probably the mood I’m in at the moment but I also love the lady that sang all the Frozenstuff, Idina Menzel, particularly a song called Extraordinary, which I just love. When I was younger I was lucky enough to spend time in New York and get to a couple of MTV Unplugged gigs and got to see Pearl Jam, it definitely set the tone for the rest of my life I think!
EC : Is there a motto you live your life by?
MM : The way I live my life, I’m afraid of dying not knowing, so if there’s something you want to do, or say, or achieve, you just do it. I know it’s the whole Nike thing, but it’s a great motto for life.