The South African finds a new home

 

For Mathew Scholtz, 2024 began with much uncertainty and a measure of disillusionment. “I contemplated returning home” to his native South Africa, he confided. The acclaimed Superbike superstar was without a racing team, without a job, and due to timing, wasn’t certain any team in the American motorcycle road racing series known as MotoAmerica would be able to bring him onboard.

From the top tiers of North American motorcycle racing, to “moto-homeless”, the new year was off to a rocky start for one of the most beloved riders in the paddock.

A young Mathew Scholtz leading the Red Bull Rookies Cup Jerez round, 2010. Photo by Gold & Goose/Red Bull Content Pool

Mathew grew up loving and riding motorcycles. In his homeland, Mathew took to motorcycle racing from the young age of five on a Yamaha PW50 dirt bike, then later on road bikes by his early teen years. In short order, Mat was winning races and championships and by 2008, at the age of 16, was selected for the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup Championship. He raced in that series for three years, alongside a few Americans he would soon become better acquainted with- Jake Gagne, JD Beach, and Hayden Gillim among others. Mat would traverse Europe racing in the Spanish CEV, German IDM, and the FIM World Supersport series from 2011-13.

Mathew returned to South Africa to compete in the Super600 series in 2014, notching a runner-up place in the title chase. He hopped on a Yamaha YZF-R1 for their 2015 SuperGP season and snagged another runner-up place by year end. In 2016, Mathew came to the U.S. to compete in the MotoAmerica Superstock 1000 series, where he caught the eye of Westby Racing team owner and principle John Westby. Mat immediately notched 5 podiums in the closing weekends of the season for Westby, finishing 7th in his first American season. Scholtz then went home to capture the South African SuperGP National Championship.

2016 was a good year for the racer.

Mathew Scholtz with the Westby Racing Yamaha R1. Photo by Nickless Photos

With his country’s title under his belt, Mat Scholtz returned to the U.S. MotoAmerica 2017 series with Westby Racing, competing in the Superstock 1000 series again. Mathew scored his first career MotoAmerica victory at Road Atlanta, and then went on to notch a total of 10 race wins and 19 podiums out of 20 starts to capture that championship in dominant fashion. At the season finale in Alabama, in the rain, Mathew held off 2017 MotoAmerica Superbike Champion Toni Elias and snagged the win on his Superstock 1000-spec YZF-R1. It was the first time any rider had ever won a MotoAmerica Superbike race aboard a Superstock 1000 machine.

Mat was a force to be reckoned with.

Westby Racing bumped up to the premier MotoAmerica Superbike class for 2018, and Mat went on to run up an impressive tally of wins, podiums, and top three-five finishes in the years that followed, making Mat and team among the most elite in the series. Mathew was a top contender, a consistent rider, finisher and podium winner. And due to his humble, friendly, soft-spoken mannerism, he was beloved in the paddock and among race fans.

Mathew with Westby team owner John “Tryg” Westby, late 2020. Photo by MotoAmerica/Brian J. Nelson

Then 2023 ended on a shocking note. John Westby, reportedly due to health reasons, decided to scuttle the team near the holidays, and closed the doors of Westby Racing. The American motorcycle road racing world was shocked, not the least of which Mat and his crew members. “We were all totally caught off-guard,” he confided. “We were making preparations for the 2024 season, working on the bike, looking to make more improvements, when we got the call. It knocked the wind out of me.” Newly married, newly moved into a home in north Atlanta, and suddenly Mat was without a team, without a ride, without a job. “I was stressed,” Mat put it mildly.

Shopping himself around, contacting other teams he had good relations with (Westby had been a Yamaha factory-supported team), Mathew set out to find a new racing home. Problem was, by year-end 2023, most teams had already signed or re-signed all their racers, so no one in Superbike offered him an open seat. No prospects opened in the now Stock 1000 class either. 2023 ended with Mathew wondering if he should uproot his new bride again and go home to South Africa. The holidays were full of disillusionment and uncertainty.

He decided to stay, thankfully.

Strack Racing’s promo of newly signed Matty Scholtz. Image by Strack Racing

Once into the new year, Peter Strack of the newly reorganized Strack Racing (formerly Squid Hunter Racing) called Mat, asking if he’d be open to discussing riding in Supersport for them in the 2024 season. They had incredible success with 4X AMA Superbike champ Josh Hayes riding their Yamaha R6 for a couple of seasons, but going into the new year, upon reorganization, the Stracks were looking for a new rider. “I’d not ridden a 600 bike in over ten years,” Mat quipped. Asking if he could bring his Westby crew chief Ed Sullivan, the Stracks agreed, and Mathew had a team and a ride for the 2024 racing season.

We caught up with Mathew at the Daytona 200, which he did not race in, but he was able to announce his new opportunity with the Stracks. We were excited for him, as was everyone associated or familiar with MotoAmerica. If anyone deserved a ride for the 2024 racing season, it was Mathew Scholtz.

Mathew in the wet at Road Atlanta. Photos by Highside Photo

The MotoAmerica Supersport season got off to a rocky start for Mat and Strack Racing. The bike had not been ready in the intervening months prior to the first race, so Mathew still had not even turned any laps on the all-new Yamaha R6 by the opening Road Atlanta round. Walking pit lane on Friday, I found the Strack Racing trackside pit tent and their paddock setup near the end of the long team paddock. From camping and pitting up front with all the big factory teams, to the back of the paddock and pit lane, Mat and his new team were starting over.

Mathew and his wife were sitting in their small pit lane tent, watching a race monitor and looking rather downcast when I approached. He shared that his first ride out on the R6 had been terrible, as the bike didn’t even complete a lap before “crapping out” on him. The crew had the bike back in their paddock to diagnose and repair it, but Mat looked fairly dejected, as if he was wondering, “When will things turn around for me?”

Turn around it would.

Matty and crew after their podium finish at Road Atlanta. Photo by Strack Racing

By Saturday’s race 1, the bike was ready, Mat was hopeful and eager, and with a scant 8 laps under his belt in morning practice and qualifying, he was able to grid up, albeit further back in the pack. Hey, he was on the track and ready to race again, finally. And race he did, running a near flawless pace, on a still mostly unfamiliar bike, working his way up through the field until he was contending with the front runners. By race 1 end, Mathew stood on the podium holding aloft his 3rd place trophy, a wide smile gracing his face. The race mojo was back.

We chatted briefly after the race back at the Strack paddock tent. His countenance had lifted, and a weight seemed to have been lifted from his shoulders. “Scholtzy” felt confident, hopeful, and the spark was back in his eyes. From 11th place at the start, after dropping a few more spots to 15th during the race, he battled up through the traffic and firmly planted himself back on the podium and back in the public MotoAmerica consciousness. Sunday’s race 2 resulted in a solid 4th place for Matty, barely off the podium.

“I like this 600,” Mathew quipped, “but I feel in my heart that I’m a superbike rider. I’m taller and just fit better on a 1000. I really am thankful for the guys here at Strack for giving me this chance, however.” By the Barber Motorsports round a month later, Mat was feeling much more comfortable on the smaller Yamaha R6, enough to not only qualify 2nd on the grid for the races, but to battle for the lead with early class favorite and points leader PJ Jacobsen, ultimately snatching a thrilling win in the closing laps of race 1 then running away from the pack in race 2 with a second win.

Mathew is clearly adapting well to the Supersport class and bike.

Calling down the power at Barber Motorsports; Applying it to the tarmac; Savoring it on the top podium with Jessica Strack. Photos by Phil G.

“You’re obviously feeling more confident on that 600 bike, the more you ride it,” I noted after his dramatic win in race 1. “Yeah, it’s got a lot less rider aids than the 1000s I’m used to,” Mat replied, “but the more I ride it, the more comfortable I’m getting. The Westby R1 we had wasn’t as up-to-date as the factory machines we raced against, so that kind of prepared me for this. On the R6, I’m pretty aggressive about pushing and moving the bike, which I like. We’re continuing to make little improvements and adjustments, and we still need to get a new update for it’s mapping, but I’m pretty confident we can contend for the title this year.”

That’s a far cry from the dejected young man I found at the end of pit lane back on practice/qualifying day at Road Atlanta. Not only is the fire back in Mathew’s eyes and heart, his winning ways have followed suit. It’s going to be an exciting season, and we look forward to following Mat as he battles for the 2024 Supersport Championship. We certainly wish him and Strack Racing all the best.

Rob & Phil G.

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1 Comment

  1. Lisa

    Great story! Wishing him all the best this season.

    Reply

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