Matt Jaskol might never admit to being an adrenaline junkie. But he fulfills the definition.
At the age of 5, Jaskol started racing in motocross, chasing the dream of being a competitive racer. Just this past weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he jumped out of a helicopter from 5,000 feet above the track surface to skydive into driver intros for one of the most unique track entrances in NASCAR history.
— Xfinity Racing (@XfinityRacing) September 25, 2021
But it’s everything in between those 31 years that’s molded Jaskol into who he is today.
Here’s the story of Jaskol.
From an early age, Jaskol fell in love with racing. But at 10 years old, a minor concussion ended his days on two wheels. Instead, he began running go karts. And he was fast.
Veteran Cart driver Paul Tracy took a liking to Jaskol, as he competed in go kart races throughout the Las Vegas area. His teammate? None other than AJ Allmendinger, who currently ranks second in the Xfinity Series championship standings.
“At the time, his karting team was a big deal, a lot of publicity and he chose me,” Jaskol recalled to Jayski.com. “He said, ‘I‘m taking this kid, he‘s the best and I‘m going to support him.‘ If it wasn‘t for Paul Tracy, my racing career would have stopped.”
While Jaskol couldn’t come up with the necessary means to compete, Tracy paid for the driver to get experience. Meanwhile, the driver finished runner-up in the Skip Barber Racing School championship — the highest finishing American that year. On the side as a 15-year-old, he’d work at a karting school, coaching the likes of a young Alexander Rossi.
But then as a teenager, off to Formula One Jaskol went.
Red Bull plucked Jaskol as an F1 development driver. By the age 0f 19, he was washed away from that world.
“The way it went down was traumatic for an 18, 19-year-old and it all boils down to money and politics,” Jaskol said. “A lot of people don‘t want to hear that in racing, but it is what it is.”
Following that debacle, Jaskol competed in ASA Speed Trucks, raced some late models and even competed in a handful of Indy Lights races in 2007, earning a best result of seventh (twice).
Despite showing promise, Jaskol couldn’t find a full-time ride. At times, it was devastating. But he recalled what he thought was going to be his big break in 2008, when Cunningham Motorsports — then a Penske development program in the ARCA Menards Series — called. A few months later, the economy collapsed.
“Before I could even do my first test, the economy collapsed in 2008,” Jaskol added. “2008 happens, my parents are losing everything: Shit is getting [repossessed], house is in foreclosure and my racing career came to a screeching halt. I‘m in my early 20s and the world is falling apart.”
Dreaming of Racing
In order to survive, Jaskol needed to pick up odds and ends jobs, though wanting to stay in the motorsports community.
In 2012, he became a driving instructor at Dream Racing, which is a driving experience at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. While he got his need for speed out, Jaskol wasn’t content. In fact, at times, he was depressed.
“I was fucking downright angry that I was withering my life away as a racing instructor,” Jaskol stated. “I wasn‘t ungrateful; I was lucky to have the work and making decent money at a racetrack every day, but it‘s not what I want to be doing.
“I was very upset not to be racing and I was trying. I never gave up; I was constantly making phone calls to anybody I still knew: Old team owners. I would be so close to maybe having a deal. I would try to go rally racing, whatever I could try to raise some money for.”
But it was at Dream Racing that Jaskol found skydiving. And it was, by all means, a happy accident.
One day while at LVMS, one of the owners of Dream Racing asked Jaskol to go skydiving with him. Ultimately, he talked him into going and boy, was that a good decision.
“It filled a void in my life,” Jaskol said. “It was integrate, it was difficult and it was not about adrenaline at all. It gave me something to focus on and I could afford it because it wasn‘t as expensive as racing. It changed my life.”
After getting certified as a skydiver, Jaskol has completed more than 2,000 solo dives. Just recently, he got his tandem license, and he has already completed more than 200 dives. The amount of dives he does in a week can vary: There are some he does zero and other days where he does eight jumps in a single day for GoJump, where he also videos the divers‘ experience.
Since Jaskol began skydiving, he‘s also appeared on ABC’s “Castaways” show. The survival reality show was made up of 12 people, who are scattered and stranded on a collection of remote islands in Indonesia. The goal? Last as long as you can.
Jaskol lasted all 42 days, surviving in the jungle. That was an experience all to itself.
“It was the most emotional, mind-bending, painful and greatest experience of my entire life,” Jaskol said. “I didn‘t know how to quit and I learned a lot about myself and ended up making it 42 days in a jungle without food or shelter.”
At first, Jaskol didn’t want to partake in the show. Multiple times, he turned it down because he was dealing with family trauma. But after discussing it with his family, the decision was to at least consider it.
But it was also a dark place.
“You see the breakdown of human beings when they‘re completely stripped down from everything in the world,” he said. “They filmed my life at home for six weeks and got to know who you are and you go through this experience, and if you so choose to stay and make it to the end, you didn‘t know when rescue day was, it showed how you changed as a human being.
“The person I was when I started was not the same person when I left, and who I thought I was and what I believed in was different when I made it to the end.”
Returning to Racing
One of the thoughts that went through Jaskol’s head was how he wanted to resurrect his racing career. What a perfect time to do so after being on national television.
And he was trying to do so in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.
“I was trying to tell the story of, ‘What if I try to do the Indy 500?‘” he said. “Here‘s a guy who competed against all these guys racing in the Indy 500, I beat most of these guys and I never made it.”
Unfortunately, Jaskol couldn’t come up with the funding to find a team for the Indy 500. But, he did play a role in the 2018 race. Rossi needed a spotter for one of the practice sessions, and Jaskol got a phone call to see if he was available.
“It‘s a cool story: I‘m his old driver coach, spotting for him,” Jaskol said of spotting Rossi. “I was supposed to be done after final practice and I was going to enjoy the race from the pits.”
But then, Marco Andretti fired his Turn 3 spotter after final practice. Bryan Herta, a race strategist at Andretti Autosport called Jaskol and asked if he‘d be willing to spot in the Indy 500.
It turned out Jaskol did a good job, as he’s spotted for Andretti in the last three Indy 500s, including the 2020 rendition, which saw Andretti start from the coveted pole position.
“That was the most stressful shit ever, actually,” Jaskol said. “It‘s like, ‘Oh god, we‘re only on the pole and have a shot to win. Don‘t screw this up no big deal.‘”
Turning to NASCAR
Ahead of the 2021 season, Jaskol got a phone call from Chris Davenport, owner of Auto Parts 4 Less and Lift Kits 4 Less. Ultimately, Davenport wanted his product to cover a NASCAR racecar.
That was good news for Jaskol.
“The NASCAR thing did come out of absolutely nowhere, but it was because a friend of 20 years that I meant in go kart racing in Vegas called me up this February,” Jaskol said. “He said, ‘Matt, I‘ve always believed in you. I always said if I ever had the money, I would help you and I have the money to do it. I want to be in NASCAR; it‘s where I think my brand fits. Do you want to be my driver?‘”
Without hesitation, Jaskol agreed. And in early March at Las Vegas, he sat down with MBM Motorsports team owner Carl Long, coming to terms on an agreement to run a partial Xfinity Series schedule.
“I didn‘t know who Matt Jaskol was, but he did a lot of stuff locally out here driving for driving school, Dream Racing,” Long said. “In this day and age, you run across people that have the most important talent there is in racing, and that‘s having someone that‘s able to write a check to help them race.
“I look at their resume, look at the stuff they‘ve done and try to figure if it‘s something you want to risk your car with.”
But with no prior experience in NASCAR, Jaskol needed to sell officials on his resume. After all, NASCAR could have stopped this plan.
However, Jaskol recalls meeting with Brett Bodine (a NASCAR official) and telling him his racing background.
Jaskol said to Bodine, “‘Hey, I haven‘t ever raced NASCAR, I haven‘t even been racing super late models in the last 10 years, but here‘s who I am, here‘s my background, here‘s my background and here‘s my references if you want to make some phone calls. It‘s like, ‘I know I haven‘t been racing professionally in a long time, but I have a deal to race in Xfinity with a sponsor and I want to go straight to Martinsville.‘ It‘s like, holy shit, that‘s a big ask.”
Bodine and his team made the necessary calls and Jaskol was approved to make his Xfinity Series debut at Martinsville Speedway in early April.
“I‘m not surprised because I‘ve dedicated my entire damn life to motorsports,” Jaskol said about being approved to run in NASCAR. “NASCAR just wants to know you‘re not going to do anything stupid and luckily, because I‘ve dedicated my entire life to this, I have a very good reputation of not being a hothead, never been caught up in any drama in motorsports. Maybe that‘s the downfall and why I haven‘t been in a racecar more full time.”
To prepare for Martinsville, Jaskol watched a lot of YouTube videos. He also leaned on veteran driver Stephen Leicht.
“I told him if he was in Charlotte that I had a simulator set up for Xfinity at Martinsville and I‘ve got a bunch of laps around there and I‘d be more than happy to help [him] out,” Leicht said. “He came over for an hour or two and learned a lot.”
In a new environment, Jaskol wasn’t sure what to expect. He needed to take care of the equipment as best he could at Martinsville.
But he had issues before the green flag ever waved.
“I was a little bit anxious and I was yelling at the kid that was buckling into my car because I needed help,” Jaskol said. “I was like, ‘Dude, buckle me in, I don‘t even know where the [belt clips] are.‘ We‘re slamming in the car under the lights, and I was like radio check, hello, anybody there? What are all of these fans, what do you want me to turn on?‘ It was like, go, go, go.”
Immediately, the No. 13 car had issues, as a plug wire fell off. Fortunately for the team, that race was delayed by rain and the MBM crew was able to replace it when the race resumed over 36 hours later.
For the first time, Jaskol had eight cylinders.
“The awesome thing is, he‘s never seen these racetracks, never been in an Xfinity car and he adapted really quickly and did a really good job,” Long said.
Jaskol went on to finish a respectable 28th.
His next Xfinity Series start came at one of the toughest tracks on the circuit, Darlington Raceway. Towards the end of the second stage, he bounced off the Turn 2 wall, finishing 34th. At Dover International Speedway the following week, he wrecked and landed on top of Jesse Little’s hood. End result: 39th.
But at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Jaskol started at the rear of the field. By the end of the race, the No. 66 car found itself inside the top 20, placing 19th.
“I was really proud,” Jaskol said of his performance at Mid-Ohio. “For what Carl is limited to on his budget and the equipment we have, they gave me a damn good racecar.”
On his first 1.5-mile outing, Jaskol finished 28th at Texas Motor Speedway. But then, he had two heartbreaks at Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, failing to qualify into the show.
That was a bummer on multiple levels.
“Let‘s call it as it is, it was really hard to stomach to be like 20th quick in practice, faster than [Kevin] Harvick, first time at Road America in over a decade, first time in an Xfinity car there and I‘m quick,” Jaskol said. “I show I have more speed than all of my teammates, including Boris Said, who is a legend.
“We‘re limited on budget, we don‘t have the best equipment out there. Our car isn‘t going to be as good for that one flying lap as some of those other cars, but we have a good racecar and I have solid race craft. Give me the opportunity to start the race, I‘m going to drive it halfway through the field. We have the car to do that, we just have to be in the car. So to get bumped out by much slower drivers was hard to stomach.”
This past weekend at his home track, Jaskol finished 27th, just six positions below his teammate, David Starr.
Leicht, who spotted for Jaskol in every race aside from Mid-Ohio, can see the progression of Jaskol. Now, six starts in, he’s beginning to get more comfortable with all involved.
“He‘s done great,” Leicht said. “For the most part, he‘s kept the cars clean with no issues. You can‘t learn anything if you don‘t finish. He‘s gotten up to speed for the most part.
“He‘s been better each time, and that‘s all you can expect from someone that has no experience. Just take what you learned from last time and apply it to the next one and get better.”
The team owner agrees with Leicht, as Long continues to be impressed by Jaskol’s race craft.
“He has racing experience, and I kind of expected it,” Long noted. “It‘s not that he‘s been greater than any racecar driver I‘ve ever put in there, it‘s not that he‘s been worse than any racecar driver I‘ve ever put in there. He‘s very conscious of us having a low-budget team and very conscious of not trying to wreck the car or do anything stupid. He‘s a smart racer.”
As for Jaskol, he’s enjoyed the NASCAR aspect. Potentially, it leads into increased opportunities along the way.
If that should happen, he’ll be ready.
“I‘m hoping to show that I‘m not just a driver, I‘m a professional and that I can help a team,” Jaskol said. “I can jump into a program, and literally, almost blindfolded, go drive halfway through the field. What could I do if you give me a full season? Give me a full season and I‘ll do some good shit. I‘ll pull off some stuff that some other drivers can‘t do.
“Even though I wasn‘t racing, I never gave up, never turned my back on motorsports. I can say motorsports turned its back on me, but I still wanted to be in a car and I always tried to keep my doors open and kept my relationships.”
As of now, Jaskol isn’t scheduled to compete in another race for the remainder of the 2021 season.