John Blakely/Performance Tech Motorsports

The doctor who became a driver takes racing lessons from his son

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dr. Robert Masson annually performs more than 500 spinal surgeries, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro seven years ago and once was on a career path to become a space shuttle astronaut.

But behind the wheel of an LMP2 car this weekend at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the 56-year-old overachiever will be a relative novice with an unusual teacher: Kyle Masson, his 22-year-old son and a pro driver.

“The hardest balance is sometimes (Kyle) forgets where I’m alpha,” said Dr. Masson, a trained neurosurgeon from Windermere, Florida, who specializes in microsurgical spine reconstruction. “But when it comes to racing, he is clearly alpha. He’s my mentor. He’s my coach, and I think one of the really phenomenally cool things for me has been that role reversal.”

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The father-son duo will be racing the No. 38 ORECA for Performance Tech Motorsports. Kyle Masson will be making his fourth start at Daytona (including a class win in the 2017 Prototype Challenge) while his father, who began pro racing only three years ago, will be making his second consecutive start at Daytona in LMP2.

Dr. Masson’s sports car career began as a direct offshoot of his son, who began showing an interest in racing while playing video games as a child. Kyle soon progressed into go-karting and then into training for full-bodied cars.

It was while chaperoning his son to Skip Barber Racing School that Dr. Masson discovered his own passion for motorsports. After suffering a spinal cord injury and herniated disk from a wakeboarding accident in 2011, Dr. Masson underwent a neck reconstruction. As part of his recovery, he climbed Kilimanjaro in February 2014.

Six months later, he was inspired to enroll in Skip Barber by his son.

“I love recovery goals, and racing kind of became my next level of recovery goal,” said Dr. Masson, who rekindled a childhood dream that was born out of watching “Speed Racer” reruns on early morning TV. “The way I justify this racing journey is my ability to inspire people towards general physical wellness and health. I think too often after age 40, people at large throw in the towel on their physical performance. So I’ve brought a healthcare mind set, a wellness and preventative health mindset to racing.”

Dr. Masson entered the IMSA Prototype Challenge Series in 2017 (the same year Kyle won the championship in the MPC division), earning seven podiums and a win at Road Atlanta. Last year, he made his debut in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship LMP2 class with tutoring from his son, who is running his second full season in LMP2.

“It’s kind of different to balance all of them being the “coach” at the same time as the son, it’s a tough balancing point, but we definitely have a lot of fun,” Kyle said of working with his father. “He’s definitely become my best friend over the last four years, so it’s definitely a unique situation, and I’m thankful for it and I will be for the rest of my life.”

The No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports ORECA LMP2 during the Roar before the Rolex test (courtesy of IMSA).

His father might be labeled as a “gentleman driver” (the catch-all term for the affluent executives and professionals from all walks of life who moonlight as sportscar pilots), but he might be better classified as a renaissance man of the Rolex 24.

The foray into auto racing is just the latest detour of a life that also included planning to become a NASA mission specialist. He was a senior in medical school and training in the Navy when the Challenger disaster of 1986 occurred, causing him to focus on neurosurgery.

“I love to compete, and I love to push,” said Dr. Robert Masson, who has performed more than 13,000 microsurgical spine procedures and founded the Masson Spine Institute in Ocoee, Florida. “I study performance, and I’m involved in a lot of innovation and technology development, design and ultimately implementation. So the whole racing paradigm fits well into the way I practice neurosurgery of pushing limits and testing boundaries.”

He and his son found the boundary of the podium in the 2019 Rolex 24, finishing second in LMP2.

“I want to be on the top step of the podium,” Dr. Masson said. “To be on the podium with Kyle last year was unbelievable. Emotionally, I don’t think I can match that, but competitively we sure as hell want to try.”

Kyle said his father has improved his lap speeds in the past year by focusing on a racing simulator. That also is where the coaching can get even more intense, leading to some “heated moments” of instruction from his son.

“He’s an amazing coach, amazing performer and intuitive about racing,” Dr. Masson said of Kyle. “He gets it at a very internal four-dimensional level. I love that and I’ve learned so much from him and I feed off of his enthusiasm for this sport.

“He’s my coach in this space. He just needs to remember that it’s this space.”

Todd LeDuc advances two positions in Monster Jam Power Rankings

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Neil Elliott held onto the top spot in the Monster Jam Power Rankings, but he has a new driver sniffing his exhaust as Todd Leduc advanced two positions to second this week.

The Stadium Series Green continues to hold the advantage in the Power Rankings with Elliott topping the chart, Morgan Kane in fourth, and Ryan Anderson eighth, but there is an equitable distribution among the other series throughout the field.

Notably, Leduc and his Monster Energy truck in the Stadium Series Red closed the gap with a 38-point overall victory at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN. Leduc achieved his win through consistency, pocketing the overall without winning a single individual event. Leduc’s best session was a second-place finish to Mike Vaters II in Overkill Evolution by .001 points.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, Elliott rambled on. Elliott won his sixth skills challenge in seven contests so far. That contributed to his 35 points for the event at PETCO Park in San Diego and allowed him to hold onto the No. 1 slot in the Monster Jam Power Rankings.

Colton Eichelberger also held station. Third last week, he entered the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on a mission in the Triple Threat Series Central. He topped the event points in all four events with timed race wins in each session, ATV race wins in three of the four, three wins in the speedster obstacle course, two freestyle wins and one win in the donut competitions.

MORE: Ryan Anderson and the anatomy of a Monster Jam freestyle run

Morgan Kane and Grave Digger had a rough night. He was ousted from the racing event in Round 2 by Max-D and Elliott. He failed to win either of the other two competitions of the night and ended with 29 points, which was a distant third to Ryan Anderson’s Son-Uva Digger (37) and Max-D (35).

Brandon Vinson moved up to the fifth position with three wins in the Triple Threat Series West. During the weekend he earned seven session wins, including a sweep of the speedster obstacle course and two victories in the two-wheel skills challenge.

Tom Meents debuted on the Monster Jam Power Rankings in 10th by winning the overall in back to back nights of the Stadium Series Yellow. The Saturday show can be seen Feb. 22 at 11:30 p.m. on NBCSN (click here for streaming). The highlight of Meents’ weekend were race wins on Saturday and Sunday, defeating Coty Saucier in a Monster Energy truck on Night 1 and Eric Swanson in Obsessed on Night 2.

Power Rankings

1. Neil Elliott–same
2. Todd LeDuc–up 2
3. Colton Eichelberger-same
4. Morgan Kane–down 2
5. Brandon Vinson–up 1
6. Tyler Menninga–up 1
7. Coty Saucier–down 2
8. Ryan Anderson–same
9. Linsey Read–up 1
10. Tom Meents-new for 2020

Upcoming TV Schedule (All showings on Eastern time on NBCSN)

Oakland: February 22 (Saturday); 11:30 p.m.
Miami: March 1 (Sunday); 12 a.m.
Jacksonville: March 9 (Monday); 6 p.m.
Detroit: March 21 (Saturday); 11 p.m.
Las Vegas: March 28 (Saturday); 7 p.m.
Santa Clara: April 11 (Saturday); 7 p.m.
Philadelphia: April 17 (Friday); 2:30 p.m.
Denver: April 25 (Saturday); 6:30 p.m.
Monster Jam World Finals Racing: May 9 (Saturday); 5 p.m.
Monster Jam World Finals: May 19 (Tuesday); 4 p.m.
Monster Jam World Freestyle: May 20 (Wednesday); 12 a.m.
Monster Jam World Finals: June 20 (Saturday); 2:30 p.m.