Jan Leaty in victory lane

Twenty years ago at Lancaster Speedway, Jan Leaty of Williamson, N.Y., put his mark on the first-ever U.S. Open. A one-off, high paying asphalt modified race promoted by the late Alex Friesen, who owned Lancaster at the time. In that race, Leaty pitted late and drove to the front glued to the bottom of the race track disposing of legendary Modified racers like Mike McLaughlin, Steve Park, Sege Fidanza and others. He ultimately passed Brian Ross, who was wheeling Ed Cloce’s Hemi-Cuda machine with just a few laps remaining to win the 89-lap, $8,900-to-win event. It was quite a race and this past Sunday history definitely repeated itself, twenty years later, as Leaty, who pitted on lap 61 and drove back to the front, passing race leader on the bottom of turn four with just a few laps remaining to win an exciting finale to the DART Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Tour season.
“It was an exciting race and I went back to a trick that I learned at the very first US Open that was run here to win this race,” beamed Leaty from victory lane. “It was a lot of fun out there and I know the fans want to get home because it’s cold out, but they definitely got their monies worth tonight. It was a heck of a show.”

Leaty wasn’t kidding about that. It was one of the most interesting races of the season as several different strategies played out along with the race-within-the-race for the championship. Add to that competitive passing inside and outside, all race long and you had a very compelling event.

“I didn’t plan it this way,” explained Leaty while his modified went through technical inspection. “I usually like to pass on the outside here, but tonight I got stuck in traffic a little, so I went down there and from inside the car it really doesn’t look right, but you’ve got to have some faith in the car that it will stick and tonight it did.”

Leaty’s moves were breathtaking as he worked his way through the field and his final two passes were incredible. First Fidanza, then just a couple of laps later Hirschman.

“It all just came together there at the end and it’s a great way to end the season for us. We had some ups and downs this year, but the car was fast each time we brought it to the track. The guys deserve a lot of credit for their effort and all of our sponsors and partners. Today was just a lot of fun and it feels great to win here again.”

Darren Scherer of Binghamton, N.Y., drew the pole and led until Matt Hirschman took over the top spot when Scherer headed pit side with Leaty and company on lap 61. Several other contenders headed to pit road on a caution around lap 35. The primary contenders who pitted then were Pete Brittain and Sege Fidanza.

Brittain would become involved in a late race altercation with Scherer that not only ended his day, but saw him disqualified from the event. Fidanza went on to pressure Hirschman, but eventually he settled for third.

Billy Putney, who also showed speed early in the event, was a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when the lapped car of Tom Weist broke and caught Putney as he was driving around the outside. The incident ended Putney’s effort.

In the end, when the checkered flags were waving Leaty held off Hirschman by a couple of car lengths with Fidanza coming home third. Scherer wound up fourth with Mike Leaty bringing home his US Army Troyer machine fifth. Matt Hirschman earned the DART Asphalt Modified Tour Race of Champions championship.


Matt Hirschman came to Lancaster, N.Y., on five different occasions to race two different Race of Champions event at Dunn Tire Raceway Park. In the end, it was a good thing he did. On Sunday, Hirschman based his strategy off of wanting to win the first of two championships that he’s chasing. He used a no-pitstop strategy and came home second which was plenty good enough to lock up the 2008 DART Asphalt Race of Champions Modified Tour crown. It was Hirschman’s second overall RoC Tour title as he was also the 2005 champion.

“I wasn’t too worried about winning the race today,” began Hirschman following the event. “Winning the championship meant a great deal to me. I’m awfully proud of this. We had such a good year and we missed running two races, but still entered the day with a slim point lead. With the season we had in the Race of Champions Tour, this was the icing on the cake.”

Hirschman talked about his race, the strategy that played out and Leaty’s pass for the lead.

“Everything really depended,” smiled Hirschman. “I wasn’t set on going either way, pitstop or no pitstop, just wanted to see how it played out. I thought if the car was under me, we could go pretty far on the tires. A lot of the guys pitted early, just past lap 30 and I thought that was too early. The next caution came at lap sixty-something and being a Monday morning quarterback that was the time to pit. That’s when Jan pitted and congratulations to him, it was the right move and the right strategy, but with the championship at stake I knew it was time to play track position.”

Hirschman continued. “We would have liked to win, you always race to win and if we could have hung on for five more laps, then it would have been win number twelve, but the championship was more important then the win. I was definitely going to take the championship over going for win twelve and coming up short. There was only one car that could beat us and with about 20-to-go, I asked where Jan was and I told the guys he was the sleeper and would probably get by us, if he got to us. Sege (Fidanza) was our first big test. He could run with me, but he really couldn’t attempt to pass. I could tell at the point with Sege that nobody else had enough so I was thinking big picture. When Jan (Leaty) got to us, I just ran the same line and speed I had been comfortable running all race where I knew the car was under me and he passed us clean. It’s really as simple as that.”

Hirschman is a near duplicate of his Father. Nothing seems to rattle him and he’s almost earned the ‘Iceman’ moniker that his Father (Tony) bore during several of his championship runs. 2008 has really been his best year-to-date, with 11 victories and a top-five and top-ten run in his debut in the heavier cars of the Camping World East Series where he made his debut for Gillette/Evernham Motorsports.

“We won three Race of Champions races and missed two,” began Hirschman’s reflection of the RoC season. “The only race I didn’t finish inside the top-five was when Jan and I crashed at Chemung. Even when we weren’t winning we wound up in the top-five. It’s really been an incredible season here for us. Mother Nature even chipped in and helped us out. I just felt that we had such a great car all year that our team was very deserving of the championship and with how everything worked out today we had to capitalize on the championship. I felt I had to get it and it turned into a situation of so-be-it on winning race twelve this season. The win would be good today, but that championship will last for a long time to come.”

Hirschman also spoke about his opportunity to claim a second a championship in the weeks to come. If he did so, he’d the first driver to claim both the RoC crown and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship in the same season. He is currently just 55-points behind Ted Christopher in the championship standings.

“Championships are something you always have,” explained Hirschman. “Now we can look back on this and think about what a great season it was, plus the championship. It’s really cool to have the opportunity to compete for the second championship as well. I’d be satisfied with second because it is an improvement over last year, but the ultimate goal is to win it. We got the first one out of the way on Sunday and that’s how I’m looking at it. Now we can go after the second one.”

Not many people can say that, fewer people have the skills capable of turning in that kind of performance and even fewer have won two championships in one season. It will certainly be interesting to see where Hirschman ends up in his quest.


One week ago on Friday night Dunn Tire Raceway Park ran their final point race for modifieds. It was a prelude to the US Open weekend, but for Sege Fidanza it wasn’t the kind of night he wanted. He took a hard shot into the outside wall exiting turn four and his Troyer mount sustained heavy damage. In what was a great turnaround Fidanza’s team with his partner Dennis Petrie took the car to Troyer’s had a clip mounted on it and where back at the track practicing on Saturday afternoon for the 100-lap US Open on Sunday. Fidanza would come home third in the event with a dramatic early race charge from the rear of the field. He ran second to Hirschman early on, but in the end, he didn’t have enough to pass Hirschman and go on to the victory.

“I’ve got to thank Dennis Petrie and all of the guys that worked so hard to get us back here,” grinned Fidanza standing next to his mount during the post-racing interviews. “I gave it all it had and just couldn’t get there. We worked on it and got it real close, but it just wasn’t enough today. That really didn’t matter because Dennis Petrie and all of the guys on the crew proved a lot by just getting us back here to race. Sure, I wanted to win, but today third is a victory for our team.”


Important news regarding Dunn Tire Raceway Park; Ralph Galluzzi, the owner of Bison Auto Glass in Buffalo, N.Y., and what some folks will say is the savior of racing at Lancaster. The truth that sets behind that is that Galluzzi plays a vital role in that, but Lori Overdorf, John Nelson and several others have contributed massive amounts of time and dedication to keep stock car racing as part of the program at the facility. On Saturday, Galluzzi, who also is a drag racing enthusiast, took Dave Russell’s Late Model for a spin and on Sunday announced to the crowd there would be racing in 2009. Great news for the Western New York Stock Car community. In a more candid one-on-one interview later in the day, Galluzzi related that the RoC would be back as part of the schedule, but didn’t get into particulars. Dunn Tire has the naming rights to the ½-mile facility in a three-year deal and that he would try to have the schedule available earlier then in the past. Everything is still in the planning stages for 2009, but it sounds like there will be more Modified shows on the schedule for next season, but it will not be a weekly schedule at the oval. The good news is that it will be there for 2009… If you haven’t been to Lancaster (Dunn Tire Raceway Park) for a Modified show, then you need to do it. The shape of the track, the competitors, the atmosphere, all make it a must see on the list for Modified fans.


Of course there was a bit of controversy during the race. Pete Brittain, who was a championship contender took out his frustration on Darren Scherer after Brittain spun into the turn two foam. The incident was missed by many as the battle for the lead took center stage however, Brittain was disqualified from the event by Race of Champions officials and lost all points and money for the event. Brittain offered his view of the situation.

“I did that because I knew that nothing would be done about it from race control,” explained Brittain. “I knew were going to pit and the stagger closed up, but there was no reason for us to get crashed like that.”

Scherer wound up fourth. Mike Leaty had a good run and came home fifth.

Andy Harpell said that his Sunoco Race of Champions 2009 weekend is going to be around the same weekend, which would tentatively make the race date, Saturday, September 19th.

Modified Finish:

1. Jan Leaty (8th)
2. Matt Hirschman (5th)
3. Sege Fidanza (21st)
4. Daren Scherer (1st)
5. Mike Leaty (14th)
6. J.R. Kent (3rd)
7. Erick Rudolph (11th)
8. Mark Tychoniewicz (17th)
9. John Markovic (13th)
10. Terry Cheetham (10th)
11. Rick Kluth (15th)
12. Jimmy Zacharias (12th)
13. Bobby Holmes (6th)
14. Kris Hillegeer (20th)
15. Billy Putney (4th)
16. Tom McGrath (7th)
17. Dave Wollaber (2nd)
18. Tom Wiest (23rd)
19. Brett Scherrer (16th)
20. Doug Reaume (22nd)
21. Karl Hehr (19th)
22. Billy Ray Pruitt (18th)
23. Matt Clemens (24th)

DQ. Pete Brittain (9th)