The Hirschman 275, Ferrante Strong in Return & More

Matt Hirschman did something that no other driver dared do on Modified Mania weekend at Thompson International Speedway.  Hirschman competed in not one, not two, but three open-wheeled Modified events on Sunday afternoon, making him the busiest of the hundreds of drivers in the Thompson pit area. 

Just to race and finish the 50-lap Sunoco Modified, the 75-lap RoC Modified, and the 150-lap NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour features would have been an accomplishment.  The mid-September date at Thompson was traditionally reserved for the prestigious Thompson 300, but this year Hirschman had his own version – we’ll call it the “Hirschman 275.”  The young driver from Pennsylvania completed all 275 laps he competed in and scored top-10 finishes in all three races; a runner-up finish in the RoC car, a seventh in the Sunoco Mod, and an eighth-place run in the Whelen Modified 150-lapper.

“The whole weekend was just fun,” said Hirschman.  “I just kept going from car to car and we qualified good with
all of them and raced good with all of them.  The first goal of the weekend would be to finish all three races, all the laps, and we did it and we also would up with a finish of second, seventh and eighth. 

The SK race (Sunoco Modified) we kinda got bounced into the wall there a little bit, and that cost us a couple spots at the end.  Plus, we had a problem with the transmission, shifting on restarts, which hurt me, so we could have had probably a top-five with that car, and the Tour car, we were up front all day, led some laps, which was fun.  We were the only car not to pit, and maybe that wasn’t the right call for the way the end of the race finished up, we lost some spots, but we were up front all day.  So I had no complaints about the day, everybody did a great job, and I’m really happy with the weekend.”
Matt Hirschman had a strong performance in all three races he entered at Thompson. (51 Photos)

For years, the blue and white #31 car for Tony Ferrante, Jr. was a staple at the Modified events around the Northeast.  Ferrante was always one of the most likable characters in the pit area, so when he decided a few seasons ago to hang up the full-time racing and only run select shows on the Tour, it seemed strange not seeing the Long Islander bopping around the pits and running up front with his #31 car.
Civali (#28) races inside Tom Bolles (#76) during Sunday's race.  (Jim DuPont Photo)
slicing and dicing for position with the drivers like Ruggiero, Stefanik, and Hirschman – just like he was doing years ago.  With a strong run under his belt in his return to the series, may we see Ferrante back behind the wheel again full-time?

“It makes me feel good to have a run like this.  Does it make me want to come back?  Maybe a little bit.  This makes you realize why you did it in the first place.  I’m proud of everybody, what a great day.  All day the car was good.  Yesterday the car was good too in qualifying.”

“But I’d like to be back for the World Series (at Thompson in October) and maybe the Turkey Derby (at New Jersey’s Wall Speedway).


The kind of consistent season that Jerry Marquis has been having in 2006, it seems strange that he has yet to crack into victory lane on the Whelen Modified Tour.  Runs like his sixth-place finish on Sunday only solidify himself as the strongest runner in this year’s Tour to not have won a race yet.  With some momentum on his side, Marquis is headed to New Hampshire Intenrational Speedway this weekend to hopefully end the drought.
It was like the Modified clock was turned back about 10 years on Sunday, though.  Ferrante was at Thompson with that same #31 and he had a spectacular run in the Modified Mania event.  He may  not be playing the Modified game every week these days, so his fifth-place finish in his first race of the 2006 season was even more special.

“We kinda retired or whatever you call it, but to just come here and even qualify well was great.  Then to have the kind of day we had today was just awesome.”

Ferrante qualified 10th and redrew the third starting position.  He settled into the top-five for much of the race,
Tony Ferrante's #31
Stefanik's sleek #16 had a good points day.
“We had a pretty good night overall tonight,” said Marquis.  “To come out of here with a  sixth-place finish I think we did alright.  We had some new guys changing tires tonight which helped us out a lot.  We’ve just got to get some more practice on getting more positions on pit road instead of fighting our way up through the field.  All in all, the car is one piece and we’re off to Loudon and I think we’ll be good up there.”

Marquis’ sixth-place run was done rather quietly, just as most of his races usually do.  He may not be the flashiest driver on the racetrack, but he is smooth.  Of course, inside the cockpit, even on nights like Sunday at Thompson, things aren’t always so smooth.

“My car was the same pretty much all night long.  My car was a little tight in the middle and a little loose off.  The beginning of the race we were just a touch loose off, but it was pretty decent.  Then it got a little worse, so we tried to tighten up the stagger and it didn’t really go where we wanted it to.  We ended up blistering a right rear tire, so tha tdidn’t help us out either.  We had a pretty consistent car and we’re lucky to get a sixth place finish out of it.”

Hirschman’s no-pit strategy worked out quite well in the Whelen Tour race.  As most drivers’ cars were sliding around on old and on new tires, Hirschman’s car stayed strong on the same four tires he started the race on.  While the drivers with new tires eventually worked their way to the front of the field, Hirschman was still able to beat most of them even with his used up rubber.

“It hurt our chances at winning, yeah, but I mean, if we pitted when we thought we were gonna pit, there was that big wreck right away.  We could have been taken out in it.  Or we could have only ended up getting back to where we finished, so it was a good strategy.  In all the races, we had a good strategy just to finish races, and we ended up with good finishes, so we’ll take it.”

Matt Hirschman
Sylvester had a car that was too loose to contend for a victory at Thompson last month in the New England Doge 150, but he was still able to come home third that night.  On Sunday, his car was too tight and left him 12th at the checkered flag.  When the Whelen Modified Tour wraps up the 2006 season at Thompson in the World Series event in October, Sylvester is hoping to be right in the middle.

“We went from one extreme last time to the other this time, so hopefully when we come back next time we’ll be ready,” said Sylvester.  “This is a setup that we changed

Jerry Marquis is always a fan favorite at Thompson
“I knew he was a little better than me and he was catching me pretty quick. Our car was starting to go away at the end it got a little frayed. I tried to get away but I knew that he was coming. I just tried to hold him off. I thought that I could hold him off and make him use his tires up. And I think that I did. “

The two cars weaved through lap traffic as they quickly lapped the field of cars.

“You come up on lap track so fast; they do not know exactly which way to go. I just had to keep going. I could not lift. We got a win and that is what Don King, the car owner, wanted this season.”

Civali was so busy driving his racecar, he didn’t even have time to keep track of his laps.

“I never knew it was the last lap. I saw Reggie spin and I was holding on going by lap cars. I am really tired. That was a long race. After the caution, I was running that rails to get ahead as far as I could.


Thompson Speedway was not kind to two of the three championship contenders on the Whelen Tour.  Stefanik went into Thompson with a slim lead over Ted Christopher and Tony Hirschman but left with a little more breathing room.  Christopher and Hirschman had their problems on the track, so even a frustrating ninth-place finish was enough for Stefanik to extend his points lead.
With Hirschman getting involved in an early altercation and Christopher being involved and receiving a penalty for an incident on the racetrack, Stefanik capitalized by coming home ninth.

“I always race to finish and then I try to finish the best I can,” said Stefanik.  “I never go out there checkers or wreckers.  I gave 100 percent today.  This team works so hard.  They give all of their spare hours into this car.  I try to give as much effort as they give me.  I tried every groove, every inch of the track to try and get a better finish than seventh, and I thought we were going to get a fifth out of it for a while, but we wound up ninth.  I went down swinging, but I went down.”

Ronnie Silk is a former winner in the Sunoco Modified division at Thompson, but that couldn't buy him luck in the Tour race on Sunday.
It was hard for Stefanik’s #16 machine to not finish any better on Sunday.  Stefanik and his Flamingo Motorsports team could not get the handle on the racecar from the time the green flag dropped.

“I was pretty happy with the car but we got loose early in the race.  We tried to tighten it up on the stop and they kept telling me that what I was asking for sounded like too much.  I told them I wanted it anyway, they gave it to me and it still got loose.  I’m a little discouraged with myself for maybe not giving them the right information in practice yesterday.  The car just got loose and I couldn’t do nothing up top so I tried the bottom.  I almost made out alright down there.  It just wasn’t our turn today.  It was a tough day.”


Sunday’s Whelen Modified Tour race was traditionally the Thompson 300.  Three-hundred grueling laps around the 5/8 mile made for some worn out drivers and teams as well as some worn out racecars.  While the change from the 300-lap format over the recent seasons have been met with criticism as well as praise, with the short turn-around that the WMT teams face this week, it is almost a blessing that there weren’t another 150 laps to be run when the checkered flag came out on Sunday. 
By the end of the business day Wednesday, most of the Whelen Modified Tour teams are on their way, if not already at New Hampshire International Speedway for Friday afternoon’s New Hampshire 100.  The Tour teams practice and qualify on Thursday afternoon, meaning there were only a few hours available between Sunday’s race at Thompson and when the racecars had to be loaded up for NHIS.  Sine both Thompson and NHIS are big, high-speed racetracks, many of the teams were using the same cars at both races, which may have led some of the drivers to play it especially careful at Thompson.

“The biggest thing, and we talked about it before the race, tonight wasn’t about points or nothing,” said Stefanik.  “We need this car to go to Loudon and we need to be there in
Kenny Barry could smile after keeping his car in one piece for NHIS this weekend.
three days.  I think everybody on their minds was how they were probably running the same car here that they’re taking to Loudon other than maybe a few teams.  We were going to be cautious no matter what because we need this car at Loudon in three days.”

Kenny Barry, whose #21 Art Barry-owned machines have always fared well at NHIS, was thankful that even though he finished a disappointing 21st with an ill-handling car at Thompson, he still has a car that can be loaded into the trailer for this weekend.

“We’ve got a car in one piece in a short week,” said Barry.  “At least now we can spend the week fluffing and buffing going to Loudon.  Hopefully we can get this monkey off our backs and get a good run at Loudon, which we couldn’t do if we tore it up today.”


Ronnie Silk has turned in some impressive finishes in 2006.  The young driver who for years was a staple in victory lane at the three Connecticut weekly tracks in SK Modified competition, has also had his fair share of bad luck.  Both last week at Martinsville and on Sunday at Thompson, Silk put in a strong qualifying effort, but the end result did not show the kind of run he had.  Mechanical problems under the hood of his #19 machine relegated Silk to a 34th-place finish after starting on the pole after the re-draw.
“A couple times this year we’ve had really good cars,” said Silk.  “The last two Stafford races we’ve been good and a couple races besides that.  We just have to keep digging, man.  Luck’s just not been on my side.  But that’s how it goes.”

As much as he hopes to have a turnaround in luck at New Hampshire, a frustrating season has left Silk wary of his chances of a strong finish there.

“It’s a crapshoot.  I don’t know if our luck will change or not, but I hope so.  We had a good car last time we were there.  We found some things that we definitely want to change to make it better so hopefully we’ll be back on track there.”


Zach Sylvester and his #15 team have done their best Little Red Riding Hood impressions in the last two races at Thompson Speedway.  No, they haven’t been chased by a big bad wolf, but they have been trying to find that one setup that is just right, just as Red did to find the right bed to lay in or the perfect bowl of porridge.
a couple things on yesterday that we ran here last year but we haven’t run this year.  It was kind of a shot in the dark.  We thought we knew what it was going to do but we just went a little far with it.  Last couple times here I’ve been really loose.  We overadjusted today.  I thought the track would get a little freer than it did.  It never did get too free, at least for us. 

“We came in and took tires a little earlier than I wanted to.  I don’t think it really did anything for us.  It didn’t help us or hurt us.  We were just so tight I couldn’t even get on the throttle to turn the car, it would just push.  It doesn’t take much.  You misadjust even a little bit and you’re going to lose five or six spots.”


Perhaps the best story to come out of this year’s Whelen Modified Tour season as a whole has been the emergence of Meriden, Connecticut’s James Civali.  The young driver has done a 180-degree turnaround from his 2005 season and has been lurking around the top-five in points for much of 2006.  With several other championship contenders struggling at Thompson, perhaps this was going to be Civali’s chance to make himself a title threat. 
While a 14th-place finish was still better than some of the other frontrunners like Hirschman and Christopher had, Civali was bummed out after the race by the way his car handled. 

“Around halfway or lap 80 or so, the car was decent but something was going on with it.  The stagger was changing drastically.  With the yellows, the car was getting really really free on the restarts.  It took 10-15 laps for it to even be drivable.  If it went green longer than that, then I’d start to hook up and I’d be fast again, but then the yellow would come out and it’d take another 10-15 laps.”

Civali certainly wasn’t the only driver to have handling issues.  Whether it be loose or tight, tires or weather, not many drivers in the Thompson pit area hit their setups right-on. 

“The track had to be different.  Everybody was loose at the beginning of the race.  Even the guys that were fast, they were just better loose than everyone else.  You don’t want to be that good early.  Everybody wants to be tight at the start of the race.  if your car was good early, that’s why you saw so many people stop so early.  They all knew they were going to get free.  From the first lap to when we pitted, the car was fine.”

Zach Sylvester's #15