Motorsport Memorial is a somber site. Reading through all these drivers` brutal accidents is difficult to do, but it`s a necessity to do so if you want to do an article on them. There are competitors in all sorts of vehicles, ranging from the obvious (cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs, planes, and boats) to the not so obvious (snowmobiles, tractors, jet skis, and trikes). So many talents, taken too soon. We have the lesser known ones such as Mattias Wolff, Mathieu Vidal, Terry Schoonover, Stewart McColl, BJ Swanson, Takashi Yokoyama, Keir Millar, Bertrand Fabi, Jim Hickman, and Tim Williamson, along with some better known ones like Adam Petty, Jules Bianchi, Greg Moore, Shoya Tomizawa, Bryan Clauson, Ayrton Senna, Tom Pryce, Sean Edwards, and Marco Simoncelli. There are also a couple who aren`t known by many, but aren`t known by just a few, either. These include Kara Hendrick, Guido Falaschi, Jeff Krosnoff, Stefan Bellof, Tony Roper, Gonzalo Rodriguez, Neil Shanahan, Blaise Alexander, Rodney Orr, Billy Wade, Marco Campos, Gareth Roberts, Sebastien Enjolras, and Henry Surtees. The youngest competitor on the site is almost definitely five year old Tyler David Santos. I`m not sure about the oldest, though. The oldest I can give a name to was Joe Haag, aged 75. Some well known drivers have relatives that are on the site. Some of these fallen relatives are well known, such as John Nemechek and John Blewett III, and some aren`t, such as Harry Kourafas, Jr. (nephew of Joey) and Billie Joe Pressley (cousin to Robert and father of Caleb Pressley, who played football for UNC for a few years). Some of these competitors died bizarrely, such as Mike Stevens, who somehow strangled himself in his belts while trying to get out of his inverted stock car in 2013, or Laurent Geuguen, whose truck hit an old land mine during the Dakar Rally in 1991. The site mostly refrains from blood and guts. Russell Phillips, for example, is listed as having `died instantly of head injuries`. On the other hand, it`s perfectly okay with talking about fires. I won`t list exactly what`s stated out of decency, but the fiery accidents which claimed drivers such as Turismo Carretera driver Octavio Juarez (who was also the series head) are spoken of extremely graphically. I for one know what fire can do, having lost a mutual sort of `Hi, how are ya, good, okay, well, see you around` acquaintance to it, so this makes me ask the same question that the rest of the racing community with awareness of the site is asking: Is this just death porn or is it actually a tribute site?
Whatever your opinion, there is a section of the site that is definitely the latter. At the top, there is a small section called Lest We Forget. It`s easy to miss, but very powerful, as within it are those who contributed to racing in some way and have sinced passed on, along with the competitors who have died in something not racing related. Many who didn`t die of old age or natural causes died in civilian car crashes, like with Spencer Clark. There are a couple air crash victims as well, mostly private planes like with Ricky Hendrick, though there are some who died aboard commercial planes. For example, C.F. Cunha was an aspiring and quite talented young karter who perished aboard TAM 3054, which ran off the runway due to pilot error on a rainy day in 2007. The crash killed a total of 199 people (187/187 aboard, plus 12 ground). There are also those who died young from illness, with Casey Elliott coming to mind, and those who died partially due to racing crashes, but not entirely, two examples being Christian Elder and Maria De Villota. Then we have the REALLY unfortunate ones. Robbie Dean is an amazing motorcycle racer from New Zealand, and his son, James, looked ready to follow in his dad`s footsteps. James` racing endeavors took him to Britain, where he soon netted the interests of many teams. In mid-November 2003, a team with a presence in every rung of the British motorcycle racing ladder offered him a trial run for a possible ride. A few hours later, James Dean was gone, aged twenty. He`d been in the London Underground when he noticed a woman crossing the rail line to reach another platform. Somehow, she managed to get her foot trapped while crossing one of the rails. James came to her rescue and freed her, to which she expressed her gratitude and turned back around to finish her shortcut. While walking back to his platform, James stumbled and touched a wire.
In this section is where the entry on Matt Hawkins sits. Matt`s life was full of success after success after success, and his talent was undeniable. It`s a shame that it only lasted twenty one years.
Matthew Ryan Hawkins was born on January 12, 1988, somewhere in DeKalb County, Georgia. He was the son of Fred and Cindy Hawkins, and had one sibling, Melissa. Matt quickly fell head over heels in love with racing, and started doing so in dirt karts at a local flat short dirt track in Pickens County. The track closed after a couple years, but Matt kept going in karting, and soon was heading across the world for karting events. He won two classes in the World Karting Championship in 2000. He continued karting until 2003. Matt had done some legends racing at the Atlanta Motor Speedway Thunder Ring that year, winning twice, and had fallen in love with stock cars.
In 2004, it was off to super late models for Matt Hawkins. He did well in many of his races, though he didn`t win any that year. He even ran the Snowball Derby in 2004 in a time where it was quite rare to see a 16 year old racing super late models (though by no means unheard of). Matt finished the 300 lap, 150 mile endurance race five laps down.
2005 was a great year for Hawkins. He won a Southern super late model series` championship in 2005 in his rookie year, and he ran up front in almost every race. In 2006, it was off to the Georgia Asphalt Series, which he won several races in. Matt got a ride in the Snowball Derby at Five Flags that year again. While he finished midfield, he did go home with a trophy: Matt won that year`s running of the Snowflake 100, a 100 lap support race to the Snowball Derby.
Matt continued his rise in 2007. The Hooters Pro Cup was in one of its last `good` years in 2007, and there was still a big talent pool in the series of both veterans and young rookies. Matt brought home his first win in his first start that year at USA International, outdueling 16-year-old Trevor Bayne. Inconsistency marred the rest of his season, but when the car held together, Matt did well, even winning once more later in the season at Cecil. That year`s Snowball Derby, however, is where Matt really showed what he had.
Matt Hawkins started second to Cale Gale, but took the lead on lap one and led frequently throughout the race. In the waning laps of the race, he lost the lead, which eventually shuffled into the hands of Augie Grill. The #22 of Hawkins made many moves to try and pass the #112 of Grill, and Grill, one of the most experienced super late model racers in the country and possibly the most experienced to never really attempt to move up to NASCAR`s top couple series or ARCA, had a hard time blocking all of Hawkins` moves. In the end, Grill was able to hang on and beat the youngster, though it was by no means easy.
Hawkins was able to go ARCA racing in 2008, and made the trip to Iowa for a 250 lap race against several future stars such as Allgaier, Speed, and Stenhouse, along with Frank Kimmel himself. Driving #39, Hawkins made a pass for the lead on Matt Carter (a driver with a lot of talent himself that was done in by the recession) with twelve laps to go and brought home the trophy in his very first start – again.
Unfortunately, bad luck hampered the rest of his season. He again took to the track at Five Flags, where he finished fourth behind Grant Enfinger, Augie Grill, and race winner Brian Ickler. Ickler was disqualified a little while after the race, and Grill was promoted to first. Enfinger moved up to second, and Hawkins to third. The new fourth place driver was Shane Sieg, who made it to the NASCAR Truck Series before violating NASCAR’s drug policy and being suspended. The new fifth place was Bubba Pollard, one of the nation’s super late model short track experts and the 2016 All American 400 winner.
Hawkins was rumored to already be moving up to Nationwide as soon as 2009. Teams loved him for his talent, and fans loved him for his kind and easygoing personality. He always left the Hawkins race shop`s door open to anyone who wanted to stop in and say hello, and he spoke respectfully to everybody around him. He was a little quiet at first, friends recall, but it was less out of shyness and more out of uncertainty that a passerby was up for a conversation, as when someone spoke to him, he always responded with pleasantries. Matt even had a girlfriend, Liz Johnson, whom he was planning on proposing to sometime in the spring. Matt was loved by his community, he had a future in stock cars, he had a girlfriend who was soon to become his fiancee, he was living the dream.
Matt Hawkins was one of the greatest young talents I have ever seen. Battling with a young man who would later win the Daytona 500 and beating him, outdueling an ARCA legend, a former F1 driver, and two future Cup drivers, both in his first starts in the series, and both in cars owned by his father. He himself probably would have soon gotten a Nationwide ride and made the leap to Cup in either late 2009 or early 2010. However, a terrible accident involving a firearm prevented that from ever happening.
Sometime in early 2009, Matt either received or bought a pistol. On Valentine`s Day, 2009, he invited some friends over so they could see what his new firearm looked like. While he was showing them the firearm, Matt removed the clip holding the rounds, possibly not realizing that he`d already inserted a round separately, and that rounds inserted separately from the clip don`t come out with the clip if the clip is removed. How the gun went off was never stated, but the ensuing round struck Matt in the head. Police and EMTs, most of whom knew Matt well (one responding officer later revealed that he`d actually been part of Matt`s pit crew for some time), rushed to the scene like they themselves were in race cars. Unfortunately, Matthew Ryan Hawkins was beyond saving, and died shortly after arrival to the hospital, aged 21.
Matt`s potential is unquestionable. It`s a tragedy he didn`t get to show it.