racetrack. The guys help me. Frank, Matt and Tony are in the garage every night, but I give the final say when it’s right. We don’t leave for the racetrack until it’s prepared right.”
“This feels good because I know that I’m a part of it,” said Matt Hirschman. “Frank and myself spent a lot of time and it takes a lot of dedication through the year. My Dad works even harder than us and the Kehleys are great. Last year, I felt good for them because it was their first championship and together this year, we won a second one. Everybody does their part and everyone stayed together.”
Tony and Matt Hirschman spent time racing against each other as well, since Matt started a limited schedule of Modified Tour racing as the driver of the Ed Bennett-owned #59 car this season. He had several strong runs to compliment the championship that he won in the Race of Championships Modifieds in 2005. That’s right, two Hirschman and two championships. But Matt is much more in awe of his father’s five titles.
“Five championships,” said Matt Hirschman. “What more can you say?”
HIRSCHMAN SCORES ANOTHER ONE FOR THE LITTLE GUYS by Mike Twist
Mod Tour Championship Tally is Up to Five Now
The #48 Troyer-chassised Modified that Tony Hirschman drives on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour has proven itself to be a pretty good little racecar. In a time when the majority of top touring series teams bring a back-up car to the racetrack every week, Hirschman won his second consecutive championship, and fifth of his career, without a back-up at the track, shop or anywhere else.
Hirschman cruised along to slay the giants. He finished the race in the 12th-postion, good enough to claim the championship by 18 points.
“We worked hard this year to get where we were,” said Hirschman. “We had to going up against a big team like that. Everyone knows the resources that they’ve got. The cars, the manpower and everything else.”
The battle against Christopher’s #13 team was personal for Hirschman.
It’s just been Hirschman, a team of volunteers, a simple trailer towed behind a large SUV, that one racecar and a whole lot of heart. That is what took this year to win the Tour championship.
“Little teams shouldn’t just give up because there is more money being spent [by other teams],” said Hirschman. “You can do it. We proved it with one car and two motors. It just takes a lot of work.”
Hirschman went up against Ted Christopher’s Mystique Motorsports team this season for the title. By comparison, the black cars that TC runs are always waxed up and covered with chrome. They have the best of everything that is needed to go fast. Christopher and Hirschman battled all year with TC winning seven races and Hirschman settling for five victories. It was a tight battle that ended when Christopher made contact with another car and hit the wall on lap 10 of Sunday’s season finale at Thompson Speedway (CT).
“You’ve got to remember, this wasn’t just about this year,” said Hirschman. “We had to beat Ted Christopher, but I had to beat that team and its leader. I remembered what happened to me five years ago [When Hirschman drove for the #25 Gary Cretty-owned ATC team]. I got sent down the road without a ride. He was the leader on that and had something to do with what happened. Barry Kuhnel was my crew chief and we had an awesome year in ’99 when he came on. In 2000, he was a big part of me getting fired. That’s why this means a lot to me. It proved something. I won him his last championship and I took this one away from him too.”
After winning last year’s championship, Hirschman intended to build a second car. But that didn’t happen.
The little team that could stands in victory lane at Thompson. (Howie Hodge Photo)
Tony Hirschman and his latest championship hardware. (Howie Hodge Photo)
Mike Ewanitsko was all smiles at Stafford. (Mary Hodge Photo)
Both Hirschmans run side-by-side at the start of the 150-lap Thompson feature. Tony is in the #48, while Matt is driving the #59. (Howie Hodge Photo)
I have a frame sitting there, but I never got around to building it,” said Hirschman. “There’s no time. Once you get going racing, you spend all your time just keeping that one car maintained.”
“This has been an awesome racecar. It’s the same car from last year. It’s the same one that we’ve run for 3 ½ years. It’s tough, we do it with one car and the schedule gets tight. Sometimes we only have three days to turn it around and get back to the track.”
The car hasn’t been the only constant for Hirschman. His #48 team, owned by the Kehley family from Brooklyn, New York and centered around Hirschman, his two sons Matt and Tony, Jr. and Frank Gasper, is a secret weapon of hard-working underdogs who overachieve.
“We’re doing it with one car and nobody gets paid,” said Hirschman. “The only guy on this team that gets paid is me. I get paid to drive the car and that’s it. Everyone else pays out of their pockets to come to these races and I thank them for getting me to this point.”
Hirschman might get paid, but he’s not really a full-time crew member either. He’s busy during much of the day running Hirschman Garage and Speed, which is a Troyer dealer in Pennsylvania.
“I’ve got customers stuff, but I consider myself full-time,” said Hirschman. “It’s my car and my responsibility. I’ve got to make sure it’s right when it comes to the
The chance for father and son to share the track this year has been something that both men have valued.
“It’s really been neat,” said Tony Hirschman, who was quick to point out that Matt was still very active with the #48 team. “He knew what we were up against today and he’s a big part of this team. He does set-ups and works on this car.
“I’m off racing, but I still do my best to make sure they were still on the right track with the set-ups,” said Matt. “When I wasn’t racing, I was on top of the pit box helping them. It feels good to me to be a part of it.”
Sunday’s 12th-place finish wasn’t spectacular for Hirschman, but it was what he needed to do. He led early, but gave up the lead to pit. Instead of rocketing through the pack after his stop, Hirschman played it safe as cars wrecked around him. Less than 20 of the 32 cars that started the race finished it and a DNF would have likely handed the title to Christopher.
Hirschman (C) is joined by Phil Kurze from Whelen (L) and Don Hawk (R) with his trophy. (Jim DuPont Photo)
“We were leading the race when we deciding on pitting,” said Tony Hirschman. “It would have been tough to go the whole way on the tires. We knew that we couldn’t do it and everyone needed to pit. I figured that we could go 125 laps, but the track wasn’t there. We pitted when we did while leading. Maybe we should have waited a little bit more. I was playing it safe. Luckily, we dodged a bullet.
“Those guys were running hard. Guys were bunching up and all over me. I wanted to give them a lane and not get run over. You do what have to do. That’s what got us here. Today, we had to be cautious. This was for the big picture. If Teddy was in the race, I would have had to run and beat him. But after he was done, I just had to finish the race. It worked out. I have more patience than anybody. I love to win, but I don’t mind finishing second if that’s what I got. Today, we had to finish well to win the championship and that’s what we did.”
Looking at the big picture is what makes a five-time champion.
“I can win more races down the road, but championships are hard to come by.”
Next up for Hirschman will be the banquet circuit, including a trip to the December NASCAR Nextel Cup banquet week in New York, where NASCAR wines and dines their touring titlists like royalty. Hirschman is a quiet guy and a simple man, but he’s certainly not above one week in the limelight.
“It’s going to be great,” said Hirschman. “It was awesome last year and it’s going to be another big deal. Everyone was great and it was just like watching it on TV. That trip was on NASCAR. They’re paying for me to be there and I’m not going to spend anything all weekend. Finally, we’re getting something back. Every other week, we’re paying our way in to perform. That trip’s on NASCAR.”