This afternoon, Matt Hawkins was laid to rest. Fellow racers, crew members, family and friends said their goodbyes to the young man. Their memories of Matt Hawkins won't fade away after the services though. He will be missed and remembered for much longer than his 21 years on this earth. His absence will be felt at many racetracks this coming season…and for years to come.
“Knowing that he won't be at the track anymore is really sad,” said Michael Pope, who like Hawkins is a young racer from the state of Georgia. “Around the track, he was always a really nice guy. He was always one of the first people to ask you how you were doing and say hello. He'd ask how your car was and he always brought life to the pits at the track. I just really want to let the Hawkins family know that they are all in my prayers.”
Hawkins passed away on Saturday morning after an accidental gun discharge in Cherokee County, Georgia. His tragic death leaves many voids. He'll be missed because of the personable young man that he was. He'll be missed for being a friend to many. He'll be missed for his racing talent and for his role in the community.
It's hard, and maybe even impossible, to measure just how many lives that Hawkins had touched. An example of that could be found by watching the news coverage of the incident. Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison had the task of speaking to the media, just like in too many other cases where a life is lost. But this time, there was no mistaking the fact that the Sheriff was feeling a personal sense of loss. He spoke fondly of Hawkins and was even wearing a Matt Hawkins Racing hat and shirt while being interviewed by an Atlanta television station. It turned out that Sheriff Garrison had volunteered his own time through the years to occasionally help out on Hawkins' pit crew.
Racing was a large part of Hawkins' life starting at the age of four. That is when he first started racing four wheelers competitively. From there, he made a consistent climb up the ladder in racing, and won on every step. He moved into karts, then Late Models and eventually into the heavier “developmental series” cars of the ARCA RE/MAX Series and USAR Pro Cup Series.
Hawkins had enough talent to make his accomplishments look easy. He won in his first ever USAR Pro Cup Series start. He won in his first ever ARCA RE/MAX Series start. Either accomplishment by itself would have been unheard of. To do both was to set one of those records that will probably never been broken…or even matched.
Along his journeys in racing, Hawkins made quite an impression on his competitors.
“Matt and I raced go-karts together and I have known him for probably 10 years,” said Taylor Satterfield, an accomplished Pro Late Model driver from Georgia. “It really is a bad tragedy for the racing world and we're all going to miss him. All my thoughts and prayers go out to his family. He was going places in racing, He was doing real well in his racing career and he was going to make it sooner or later.”
“That kid was a great racer,” said Jason Hogan, of Georgia's most notable young pavement racers. “It's a pretty awful deal. My heart goes out to his family. We're all racers and we all like to race. At the same time we are representing where we are from. We are really proud of our Georgia roots and to lose Matt Hawkins hurts us all. He was a great racer and was potentially going to make it to the big time.”
Hawkins was known for being one of those drivers who everyone seemed to enjoy racing against - although competing against him had its good and bad points. The bad news was that anyone who raced against him stood a pretty good chance of being beat. The good news though was that if he did beat you, he would be doing it with his talent and not his bumper.
“I never got to race with him hard for a win, but I did race with him enough to know that he was a really good and clean driver,” said Pope. “He was really good to race with.”
“I remember nights at Peach State watching and he did things with that racecar that you would never believe,” said Hogan. “He won a bunch of big races in a short amount of time, he definitely had a lot of potential and we're going to miss him.”
“He always ran up front. He was a tough racer, but he was a clean racer,” said Satterfield. “He knew how to bang doors and I enjoyed racing with him through the years. We had a big rivalry in go-kart racing and it carried on to the Late Model ranks. Despite us being tough competitors, we were really good friends.”
Satterfield wasn't alone. You couldn't help but to become fast friends with Hawkins. He was shy and he was quiet, but after a five-minute conversation with him, you realized that why he might not just start up a conversation or quickly offer up his warm smile to new people he met wasn't because he was arrogant or self-involved - it was because he was just that gentle of a soul.
“A lot of people had the wrong idea about Matt,” said Satterfield. “He was shy at first…until you got to know him, he kept to himself and he worked on his own stuff at the track. There was nothing bad about Matt Hawkins, once you got around him and got him to open up you could never get to stop and that's the Matt Hawkins that most of us will remember.
“He had a great attitude,” said Hogan. “Some people thought he was shy, but once you got to talking to him, he just kept talking. He was real personable and real likeable. What a great talent that we have lost. We lost Charlie Bradberry a few years ago and now Matt Hawkins. We just kept our thoughts and prayers with the Hawkins family.”
Once you invested a few minutes to talk to Matt Hawkins, it was obvious that you had yourself a friend for life. Tragically, that life was all too short.
Matt Hawkins was preceded in death by his grandfather, Alfred Hawkins. He leaves behind his parents, Fred and Cindy Hawkins, sister and brother-in-law, Melissa and Nick Roper; devoted girlfriend, Liz Johnson; grandparents, Tommy and Anne Weaver and Margaret Hawkins; great grandmother, Marie Anderson, aunt and uncle, Debra and Stacey Williams; cousins, Blake Bishop and Torie Williams and far too many friends to ever be able to count.
In journalism, you are taught to remain impartial and out of the story. But this is one instance where that is just not possible. We'd like to count ourselves here at Speed51.com among those friends. We enjoyed watching Matt progress through he short track ranks and even more so, we enjoyed our chances to know him. We'll remember our chats with him and seeing Matt and his father Fred interacting with each other at the racetrack.
We all knew that someday, we wouldn't be covering Matt's accomplishments on the short tracks anymore, but we had always figured that would be because of what we expected to be a rapid rise into the major leagues of the sport and not because he would be taken from us all far too soon. We offer our condolences to the entire Hawkins family and to everyone else who he had touched in his life. Godspeed.
Share your memories of Matt Hawkins in his tribute forum on MotorsportsLounge.com by clicking here.