Youngster Dominates Practice, Pole and Race at Concord
For the first three runnings of the North-South Shootout at Concord Motorsport Park (NC), John Blewett, III has been the king.  A record of two victories and one runner-up finish entering this year’s race has proven that.  Donny Lia has also tasted royalty with a victory and one runner-up finish to his credit, but for the most part everyone else had been regulated to the servant’s table instead of feasting on success in the late-season open Modified show.

This year though, a new ruler has been crowned – a prince who has grown up observing how to win big in Modifieds.

Hirschman in victory lane.  (Jim Dupont Photos)
Matt Hirschman dominated the Shootout’s Hoosier 100 for Tour-type Modifieds this year.  The son of five-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion Tony Hirschman was quick from the time that practice began.  In qualifying, he set fast time and earned the pole.  In the race, he led from the start until lap 26, when he used some slick pit strategy to make his mandatory pit stop.  While other teams changed tires, the #60 team followed the letter of the rulebook by only jacking up their car and moving along.  That moved helped gain track position and amazingly, Hirschman wasn’t a sitting duck against newer rubber.  He was back out front on lap 51 and once he got back to the lead, he was never seriously challenged again - cruising to victory lane and becoming only the third driver to win the race in its young history.

“Pretty much Blewett and Lia [were the guys to beat coming into the race].  They’ve won all the races,” said Hirschman.  “I looked at those two as the guys to beat.  They were the two guys who I gave the most attention to.  I knew in practice that we were good.  I felt that we were a little bit faster than they were.  So I was really, really happy with it.  We timed great and we raced great.”

Blewett’s car was a tick off in the handling department and he finished fifth.  There was no doubt in his mind that the winner this time was exactly who it should have been.  

“The best car won the race today,” said Blewett.  “The kid did a good job in the shop, at the racetrack and on the track.  He made some good calls and they deserved to win.  When you come in, make a pit stop and don’t take tires, and still come back to beat the guys that he beat today, he definitely deserved to win.”

Is Hirschman a worthy successor to Blewett?  While Blewett has defined the Shootout as its king, he hardly feels like Hirschman needs his blessing to now sit on the winner’s throne.

“The only person that he needs to be worthy of is his father,” said Blewett.  “You’re looking at a five-time champion there.  Nobody needs to look up to me except my son.

“Matt is following in his Dad’s footsteps, just like anyone whose father races.  He paid attention growing up – in the shop and at the track.  He knows what it takes to make a racecar fast and what it takes to win.  You can do that as you’re growing up, but until you get on the racetrack it’s another thing.  That doesn’t just happen overnight.  He’s got four or five years under his belt now and he’s maturing as a driver.  He’s well on his way.  He did a good job and he deserves it.”
Blewett (#66) was  fast but he wasn't able to claim his third NSS crown.
The victory is the biggest of Hirschman’s career to date.  He has put up some impressive stats already in Modified racing with two RoC championships and a strong rookie campaign on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, but nothing has been quite like this.

“This is a big win,” said Hirschman.  “It’s an all-star event.  It’s one of the biggest races for recognition all year and it’s down south, so you never know what doors it will open in the future.

“It’s a big race for my career.  I’ve won some RoC races and some local shows.  It’s my first big win.  I came so close to the Race of Champions and ended up finishing second.  I was basically on my way to winning that with a pass, but a caution came out and I got blocked the last few laps.  That was very disappointing and very frustrating.”
Although Hirschman dominated the race, it also showed a surprising amount of parity.  Cars from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour, RoC Tour and True Value Modified Racing Series were all competitive.  All four tours were represented among the top three qualifiers.

Hirschman splits his time between the Whelen Tour and RoC Mods.  Southern Modified standout Burt Myers started on the outside pole and ran near the front until he was taken out under caution when Donny Lia attempted to turn around after spinning on the frontstretch and
tagged the #1 of innocent victim Myers instead [Lia was very apologetic, but Myers was hardly amused…We’ll have more on that in our leftovers coming up].  Junior Miller ran in the top 10, but was black flagged for a leak that ended up not being there.  Brian King finished seventh to represent the Southern tour at the finish.

True Value Mod regular Bobby Grigas, III time trialed third, but had a fuel leak from the start of the race that sent him to the pit area.  Fellow TVMRS regulars also did well.  Andy Seuss paced opening practice, but got caught in an early wreck.  Les Hinckley got as high as second place in the feature, but a flat tire did him in. 

Ted Christopher was in some different colors but in a familiar top finishing spot.
had the fastest car of the field near the end.  But choosing to pit later than most of his competition left him with too much ground to make up.  Hossfeld finished seventh.

So there was no clear-cut group that defined the race.

“This isn’t a Whelen Tour event, but you [usually] know that the guys who you contend with there are guys you’ll have to contend with here,” said Hirschman.  “The usual guys were good and some other guys went well too.  Earl Paules was awesome.  All year, we’ve had some great races between this #60 car and his car.  He’s been my toughest competition this year [in RoC] and he’d probably say the same.  So it’s no surprise that he was right there.” will have more from the 2006 running of the North-South Shootout, including our leftovers, coming soon.

RoC driver Earl Paules was running as high as second and closed to Hirschman’s rear bumper before fading to fourth at the finish.   Rick Kluth also gave the RoC guys a good name by finishing 10th and receiving an invitation to accept a guaranteed starting spot for the Thanksgiving weekend Mason-Dixon Meltdown at South Boston Speedway.  

And then of course, there are the Whelen Modified Tour drivers who had their expected good finishes.  Ted Christopher finished second aboard Joe Brady’s #00, Eric Beers was third despite running the second half of the race on seven cylinders and Chuck Hossfeld might have
Matt Hirschman (#60)