Hirschman, and his closest five pursuers from 2004, were all veteran drivers with at least 15 career victories each and/or at least one championship of their own. Those guys – Eddie Flemke, Marquis, Ted Christopher, Rick Fuller and Jamie Tomaino are who Hirschman expects to be battling again this year.
“The same guys that we battled last year are going to be tough every week,” said Hirschman. “It’s pretty much the veteran guys who will be the ones to look out for.”
And a few new combinations might be up in the points this year as well.
HIRSCHMAN ALL SET FOR MODIFIED TITLE DEFENSE by Mike Twist
Rumors of Cutting Back Schedule Prove Untrue as Four Time Champ Builds a Second Car
Late last year, on his way to an eventual championship in the NASCAR Featherlite Modified Series (now known as the Whelen Modified Tour) rumors started to fly that Tony Hirschman might not be back for a full season in 2005. The rumors even turned into newsprint when the possibility of a Hirschman semi-retirement was published in a Connecticut newspaper.
“I’ll be back again this year,” Hirschman says without any doubt in his voice.
And in an interesting turnabout, the popular consensus is that Hirschman will be back with a vengeance. The same members of the media that whispered about his exit from Modified racing last year voted him this week as their favorite to win the 2005 championship in NASCAR’s annual Pre-Season Media Poll.
The rumors can be traced back to the fact that Hirschman’s 2004 title campaign was a grinding one. He competed throughout the entire season with only one racecar – a fete practically unheard of for top teams in modern day NASCAR Touring competition.
Hirschman downplayed the rumors at the time, but told Speed51.com in October that he would be thinking things over in the off-season.
“I’m going to take care of this stuff (the championship) and then talk about what’s going on for next year,” said Hirschman, about an hour after clinching the championship at Thompson. “They (Hirschman’s team) will probably leave it up to me what I want to do again. This is a lot of work. You spend a lot of time at home in the garage every night. I think if we do it again, there are a few things that we can do to make it a little easier next year.”
Now the new season is less than a month away and Hirschman is back home in the garage every night.
“We were lucky last year,” said Hirschman. “We had no major problems and one car served us well. It just got rough at a couple of races where you knew that if you had a major problem then it would get tight to make the next one.”
In typical low-key Hirschman fashion, he is quick to point out that if push came to shove, he had other options last year, including borrowing his son Matt’s RoC Modified, so he doesn’t take too much credit for completing the entire season with one mount.
“I always had an old back-up car,” said Hirschman. “It was a ’98 car that I just sold. I didn’t run it for two or three years. That was sitting in the shop, but it was much different than
Having just one car made for some hectic times at the track, like when a heat race wreck damaged the #48 heavily the day before the Thompson 300.
what we were running. I didn’t want to get into trying to run that car unless I absolutely had to. I even had Matt’s car as an absolute back-up if I needed it, so we weren’t going to be without a car at all.”
But in a move that could spell trouble for the rest of the Modified field, Hirschman is planning on having a proper back-up car for at least part of 2005.
“I’m going to build a new car as soon as I get all of the work done on my customer’s cars,” said Hirschman. “You probably won’t see it for awhile. Hopefully, I’ll have it out in mid-summer or maybe even before that. It depends on how much time I get to work on it.”
“Hopefully, once I get that done it will make the season a little bit easier. It will be easier to have that instead of getting that one car prepared for every race. It can be hard when it gets tight and you only have a couple of days in between some races. That will free time up a little bit.”
Hirschman thinks having a second car might make things easier, but he’s not sure if it will translate to increased success on the track.
“I don’t know if the performance is going to be any better,” said Hirschman. “I like to concentrate working on one car. Then you know what you’ve got every week. If you’ve got two cars, then you might forget something on one of the other.”
Throughout the past two decades, Hirschman has been a force to contend with in Northeastern racing. 1989 was his breakthrough season. Entering the year, he was winless in 21 career starts. After the season was over, he had won six Tour races and finished third in the point standings. He backed that
Making the most of a bad day, like this spin at Riverhead, is what makes a champion.
This moment of celebration, after clinching the championship at Thompson's World Series, pretty much defines Hirschman's 2004 season.
The #48 team doesn't have a showcar either. Here is the battle proven car on display in the lobby of the Mohegan Sun Casino while the NASCAR Modified Banquet was being held.
up with four victories in 1990, but took a career detour into Busch North competition for the next few seasons. He was the 1991 Busch North Rookie of the Year and won a 1992 event at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME), but he didn’t have the success that he was used to in the Modifieds.
So when he returned to that world full-time, he did it in style. Hirschman was crowned the champion in his first two seasons back [1995 and 1996] as well as in 1999. Since his return ten years ago, he has only been beat for the championship by three drivers – Mike Stefanik, Jerry Marquis and Todd Szegedy.
The 2004 season was a perfect balance for Hirschman. He was aggressive at times, like at Stafford when he got together with Donny Lia in a battle up front late in the race, or in the controversial Thompson 300 when he won the final 100-lap segment after his car was heavily damaged in a heat race wreck. But more often than not, he raced his own race and quietly took the best result that circumstances allowed him on a given week. On four occasions, that turned into a victory, but on most nights, that meant a second, third or fifth place finish.
Hirschman’s consistency was noticed by his competitors and if his challengers can learn how to duplicate his balance, it could make for a tough title defense.
“We’re going to try to repeat,” Hirschman said. “But the competition is going to be tough. At the banquet everyone said that they are gunning for us. They say they are going to race like I’ve raced. I don’t know. I guess that everyone’s been learning off me over the years, so we’ll see if they can do what I can do or not.”
“We’ve got a couple guys ride-hopping off season,” said Hirschman. “Hossfeld went to the #50 and he’ll be tough. Jerry [Marquis] went to the #4 car; he’ll be tough. Eric Beers in the #3 car; he’ll be tough. That car is always good. We really haven’t lost anyone but [Todd] Szegedy and that ride’s been filled [by Chuck Hossfeld], so who knows? They might even come with two cars, so you’ll have to worry about two of them.”
So even though Hirschman is watching his back – he doesn’t quite know who to be most worried about yet.
“There are eight or ten guys at least who can win the championship,” said Hirschman. “It’s going to be hard to tell
who is tough right away. Once you get to mid season and through that first bunch of short track races, it separates the guys a little bit. Then you get to the last stretch of short tracks and that really separates things. You see who is in the top five and who will be there in the end.”
So as the tour winds down in the fall, the complexion of that top five might vary. It could have a few young chargers in it such as Doug Coby, Nevin George, Chuck Hossfeld or Donny Lia. It could have a former champ or two like Rick Fuller, Jerry Marquis or Jamie Tomaino. Wily veterans Ted Christopher and Eddie Flemke should be there.
But one thing is a pretty safe bet –Hirschman should be right in the thick of things as he seeks his fifth NASCAR Modified title.
Hirschman knows that there are plenty of guys to look out for in 2005.