Mod Champ IS Just One of Several Shining Stars Under a Mohegan Sun
Being honored at a racing banquet is nothing new for Tony Hirschman.  This year, he is on his fifth NASCAR Modified Tour championship.  Before anyone set foot on the grounds of the Mohegan Sun Resort in Connecticut, where this weekend’s NASCAR Modified Tour banquet was held, Hirschman had already been feted at Champions Week in New York City and the New Hampshire International Speedway banquet one week ago thanks to his 2005 accomplishments.
But the biggest gathering of all for Hirschman was the Tour banquet, which is second in attendance of all NASCAR banquets to only Nextel Cup.  That’s right, there were more people toasting Hirschman at Mohegan Sun than Martin Truex, Jr. at the Busch Series banquet, Ted Musgrave at the Craftsman Truck Series banquet or in any of the formal events for NASCAR’s other divisions.  Guests at Friday night’s banquet also proved that once you are a Mod fan, you are always a Mod fan.  Former Modified aces Jerry Cook, Geoff Bodine and Steve Park were in attendance.
This year’s Tour banquet was especially sweet for Hirschman for several reasons.

Hirschman showed that he could be fast and consistent by winning the Bud Pole award for being the fastest qualifier the most times this season. 

Hirschman showed that family matters.  His wife Brenda was by his side at all three banquets this winter and his two sons shared in the glory at Mohegan Sun thanks to their important jobs on the #48 team.  Matt [who also raced against his father in seven Tour races this year] is the team’s co-crew chief and Tony, Jr. is the spotter. 

The Mohegan Sun Resort was the setting for this year's banquet.  (Howie Hodge Photo)
And possibly most important, Hirschman showed that being nice to the fans matters.  For the first time in his career, he received the Modified Tour Most Popular Driver award.  It was the first time that fans were able to vote online to determine the winner.  When’s Bob Dillner introduced Hirschman as the winner, the normally buttoned-down and low-key racing veteran turned downright giddy.

“This is one award that I’ve watched so many people get, but it’s the first time that I’ve ever gotten it myself,” said Hirschman.  “It’s probably the best part of tonight for me.  I’ve always wanted this.  I guess when you get older, they start liking you a little bit more.”
His family was honored as well.

“He’s the star player of this team, one of the greatest Modified drivers ever and now the Most Popular Driver,” said a proud Matt Hirschman.

In winning his five titles, Hirschman has driven for three teams – the legendary Boehler Racing Enterprises, the now-defunct #25 team that was owned by Gary Cretty and the #48 team owned by the Kehley family of New York that has taken him to the last two consecutive championships.
“I’ve driven for a lot of car owners and these guys are the best,” said Hirschman.  “They are the most understanding people that I know.  If I mess up on the track, it’s no big deal to them.  I appreciate them sticking with me and bringing me back for next year.”

Hirschman was the big winner, but not the only person who was honored during the evening.  The theme of the night might have been the fact that even though it was a formal event, it wasn’t a scripted one.  Every winner showed their true colors instead of merely reading a prepared speech and sounding like a robot.

And for some, just getting through the speech was a challenge.
Championship runner-up Ted Christopher was spied earlier in the day reaching into his pocket to practice his speech before realizing that he brought with him the one that he recited in 2004 by mistake.

Rookie of the Year Tyler Haydt, who told that he had never been to a race banquet at a venue larger than a local firehouse before, accidentally left out a paragraph of his speech and didn’t even realize it until sitting back down.  He did manage to remember the biggest thing and thank his Mom though.

At least they did better than Steve Whitt.  The New Jersey driver had a breakthrough season in 2005 and winning the Driver Achievement Award came as a complete surprise to him.  When the award was announced, Whitt was nowhere to be found.  He attended the banquet, but had made his way to the restroom when his name was called.
Tony Hirschman gives a big thumbs up.  (Mary Hodge Photo)
51's Bob Dillner congratulates Tony Hirschman.  (51 Photo)
Old friends were remembered during the evening.  The late Tom Baldwin might be gone, but he is not forgotten.  Longtime friend Walter Newcomb won the Smiley Waterman Award presented by the Modified Tour Auxiliary and he remembered back to one of Baldwin’s biggest banquet prizes.

“I’m shocked,” said Newcomb.  “I’m just speechless.  It’s kind of like when the old man won his first Most Popular Driver Award.”

Baldwin was also remembered with the presentation of the Tom Baldwin Award that went to hard charger Ted Christopher.  Even though TC has been in just about every situation at a racetrack throughout the years and rarely shows emotion, he was visibly moved when accepting the award.
NASCAR’s Don Hawk thought that it was especially fitting for Christopher to win.

“Whenever I would see Tom Baldwin, he would always do two things,” said Hawk.  “I’d walk up to him and get an earful.  Then I would get another earful from him.  Teddy fits those shows perfectly.  Every time that I see him, he busts my chops and just like Tom, he goes out and puts his foot in the throttle every time out.”

Like Baldwin, the Ferrante family is a big part of Modified history on Long Island.  After decades of competition, the family is planning to scale back or stop racing altogether in 2006.  Team owner Tony Ferrante and driver Tony Ferrante, Jr. was honored at the banquet with both the NASCAR Dedication Award and the Len Boehler Car Owner Award.

Mike Boehler presented the car owner award in the name of his late father.
Ted Christopher (L) accepts the Tom Baldwin Award from NASCAR's Don Hawk.  (Mary Hodge Photo)
”He’s been a car owner for 40 years and he made the #3 famous on Long Island,” said Boehler of Ferrante, Sr..

The award was even more special to Ferrante, who received a standing ovation.

“I’d really like to thank the Boehler family [for this award],” said Ferrante.  “Lenny [Boehler] always proved that you didn’t need to spend big bucks to be a winner.”

The night had a little bit of business thrown in also.  NASCAR’s Don Hawk addressed the guests to bring them up to speed on developments with the Tour. 

Hawk said that the 2005 season, the first with Whelen
as a title sponsor, was a successful one with 75 teams attempting to qualify for at least one event, which was the second highest tally of all NASCAR Touring divisions.  He told teams that Brett Bodine and the staff of the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina is hard at work working on changes to cut costs in the division, he said the a schedule was not quite ready yet but would be released soon and he confirmed that NASCAR is trying to get television coverage of the Modified Tour as part of the 2007 television contracts.  Hawk also looked forward to the future.

“We had a great 2005,” said Hawk.  “But I think that we can have an even better 2006 season.”

That season is likely to start in April with the Icebreaker at Thompson International Speedway. will bring you all of the news from the Modified Tour throughout the off-season.

NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour 2005 Award Winners:

Whelen Modified Tour Champion – Tony Hirschman
Whelen Modified Tour Championship Car Owners – Tom and Bob Kehley
Whelen Modified Tour Champions Co-Crew Chiefs – Matt Hirschman and Frank Gasper Most Popular Driver – Tony Hirschman
Sunoco Rookie of the Year - Tyler Haydt
Bud Pole Award - Tony Hirschman
Len Boehler Car Owner Award - Tony Ferrante Sr.
NASCAR Dedication Award - Tony Ferrante Sr. and Jr.
Tom Baldwin Award - Ted Christopher
Smiley Waterman Award - Walt Newcomb
Donna Parks Award - Jeri Duefrene
Featherlite Most Improved Driver - John Blewett III
Powerade Move of the Race Annual Award - Dave Etheridge
Sportsmanship Award - Jake Marosz
Driver Achievement Award - Steve Whitt

Mike Boehler presents the Car Owner Award to Tony Ferrante, Sr.  (Howie Hodge Photo)