Tony Hirschman Comes Back to Win the Race of Champions by JR Kennerup
Sitting Out for Nearly a Year Doesn't Slow This Mod Master Down
Following track cleanup the race resumed on lap 188 and just after the leaders crossed the stripe to complete the lap contact between the front two cars saw Leaty spin and Hirschman go on and into the lead that he would never give back.

Third generation driver Erick Rudolph finished a solid second with Tony Hanbury coming from 27th to end up third with Rusty Smith in fourth and Earl Paules coming home in fifth.

“ Good day for me, the race went pretty quick “ said Tony in the post race tech area. “ Not racing for a while it seemed that 200 laps were going to take two days to run it. It went real good. “

Tony spoke about being fast right off the trailer on this day. “ It showed right away in practice ( that I or the team didn’t lose anything by not racing since last October ) that we were a fast car and in the second practice we were quicker yet.  Time trials proved we had a fast racecar and in the feature we were a little snug there at the end. There wasn’t much on the outside to pass, lap cars were tough, I made a nice pass on the 45 to get him, and we went after the guy up front. “
Tony Hirschman

In his first race since last October Tony Hirschman showed that he didn’t lose his touch behind the wheel of a Modified on Saturday night at the Oswego Speedway for the 58th running of the Sunoco Race of Champions. Hirschman the winner of this event in 1987 and 1989 set quick time earlier in the day and redrew eighth for the start of the 200 lap Race of Champions Dart Asphalt Modified Tour event.

After making his mandatory pit stop on lap 104 Hirschman patiently worked his way toward the front. Along the way Tony just missed being involved in an accident that saw several top running cars spin due to oil on the race track on lap 180. Leader Mike Leaty was involved but was placed back into the lead as RoC officials determined that the yellow came out for liquid on the track and that allowed Leaty to regain his first place position.
Tony spoke about the winning move as he ducked under Mike Leaty going into turn one on lap 188 and the contact that ensued. “ Mike had a good car, but the restarts were his weak point all night long. I saw that he was pretty loose on a restart for a couple of laps and that is when I had to get him. That incident going down the front, he knew I was there ( inside of him ), he hesitated and all of the sudden at the last minute he decided that he was going to come down and I had my nose there already and I tried to back out of it. But he bumped my right front and got turned. “

Defending race winner Jan Leaty and Daren Scherer brought the 39 car field to green with Leaty jumping out to the lead over Scherer, Pete Brittain, Justin Gumley, and Earl Paules. Paules moved into fourth on lap seven while Tony Hirschman moved into fifth on lap eight.

The top five stayed pretty much the same until heavy and slower lap traffic started to cause havoc with the front runners. The first such incident occurred on lap 32 in turn three when the leaders bunched up and after the top five had a brake check Hirschman scooted around Paules to take fourth.

“I could have gotten more cars early in the race “ said Tony. “ But I knew that no one was going to pass Jan for that lap money. So I just rode and waited to the time we were going to pit, everything just worked out for us tonight. “

The strategy of when to pit under yellow started to come into play on lap 51 as only Billy Putney, Mike Leaty, and TJ Potrzebowski pitted. During the next yellow on lap 56 only JR Kent pitted as everyone waited to see when the leading pack of cars were going to pit.

The race stayed green from lap 62 until lap 102 when slower lap traffic came into play once again. This time Potrzebowski trying to work his way to the front had a left front wheel seize up after contact with a slower car entering turn one. Leader Jan Leaty who saw this happening directly in front of him got on the brakes. Pete Brittain now in second reacted slower than Leaty did and plowed into the back of the Leaty car sending him into the outside turn one wall ending his night.

With pit stops now taking place only leader Brittain and second place Lee Sherwood stayed on the track while everyone else pitted for their mandatory stop. The pit stop shuffle placed JR Kent in third, Billy Putney in fourth, and Mike Leaty in fifth.

The top five running order stayed the same until lap 141 when Kent and Putney got their bumpers locked together and both ended up in the back stretch outside wall. After the accident scene was cleared the pits were opened with Brittain and Sherwood finally making their mandatory pit stop.

Second generation driver Mike Leaty now inherited the lead and had his dad, Jan atop the pit box calling the shots as he was out of the race. Third generation driver Erick Rudolph was now in second and had Grandfather Jim and dad Charlie calling the shots for him. Veteran Tony Hirschman was in third with Friday nights SST Modified winner Tony Hanbury in fourth and veteran Rick Zacharias in fifth.

Hirschman made an inside turn two exiting pass of Rudolph to grab second on lap 163. Coming down to complete lap 180 the lap car of Jimmy Zacharias blew the motor entering turn one. The yellow lights came on but Leaty, Rudolph, and Rich Zacharias all spun in the oil that was on the track. Leaty bounced off the outside turn one wall with only minor body damage while Rudolph did a 360 degree spin but unfortunately Zacharias was done for the night after contacting the inside turn one boiler plate.

It appeared that Hirschman was going to inherit the lead. However RoC officials as they have done consistently in the past situations like this one stated that the yellow was already out for fluid on the track and everyone who was involved and didn’t have to pit got their spot back. This placed Leaty back in first and Rudolph back in third until the lap 188 incident.

Hirschman spoke about all of the wacky and weird happenings at the front of the pack during
the final laps on this night. “ We come off of four, I saw the 71 down low and I saw something
spray out. I didn’t know what Mike was looking at or he was looking at me in the mirror to see
where I was. But that split second he was looking at me he drove right through the oil. I saw it
and I just went low and hit the brake and when I went through the oil I let off the brake. Felt my
front tires slide through it and I hit the inside wall and Mike just slid up the track and into the wall.
But there was no caution before I went through the corner and then the caution was out. “

After the field was reset Tony knew he had to challenge Leaty for the lead right away. “ I knew
I had to go right after him when the green came out because he was loose for a few laps and
after a few laps I would get snug. So I pounced right away and we got a good run off of four,
got position as I knew the rule no passing on a restart before the start finish line. I pulled a
slingshot move to get under of him and he pulled down at the last minute to protect his position
and there was only a little contact. Not even enough contact to mark my right front tire, but it
was just enough for him to go around. I know Jan had tough luck and Mike too. But that is how
racing goes as I’ve won a lot of races and lost a lot of races like this too. “

Hirschman then turned his thoughts to the team and how they got ready for their first race of
the year after supposedly retiring from the sport last October. “ I keep the car at my place; they
called me up a couple of weeks ago about doing this. I said no problem and unloaded the car
from the trailer into the garage and started tinkering on it. The cars are kept in immaculate shape
to start with and it didn’t take much to get the car race ready. “

The most important decision concerning the setup on the car took place five days prior in Hirschman’s Garage. As Tony’s son Matt installed the winning setup on Tuesday night before he left to go racing at Dover and Martinsville for the weekend.

“ Matt does the setup on the car “ said Tony. “ We joked with him as he wasn’t going to be here about giving me the whole setup for the car. He’s been so good here the past few years and he put that setup in the car and it was good. I ran three races here last year with this car and tonight that was the best the car was here the last two years, Matt’s setup really worked. “

With the win the racing Hirschman Family swept all four Modified races at Oswego this year. Tony talked about that accomplishment. “ Pretty much we owned Oswego this year “ said the smiling $ 11, 200 winner. “ I know its killing Matt by not being here. Like I said earlier this date has been set for a long time. Martinsville moved their date around and didn’t look. NASCAR doesn’t look; they just make up their mind and do it. NASCAR doesn’t care what race they go against. This race has prestige, it’s been around a long time, plus this race was a part of the NASCAR Tour a ways back. Shame on NASCAR for running against this race. We would have had a few more good cars here tonight as we needed that because the lap cars were tough and slow. That is why I was careful as I was going around the lap cars. “

“ It means a lot to win this race “ said Tony. “ I won it in ’89 and I won it in Jan’s car in ’87 and now it’s 2008 and I won it again, 19 years went by this time. It always nice winning these races, I love Oswego, I love racing here. Oswego is my favorite track and Matt will tell you the same thing. It feels great I just wish some of the other guys would be here to race tonight as that would have made the win more special, that’s the way it goes. “

In closing Tony spoke about this race being his first of the year and what the break did for him personally.

“I had a couple of chances to run a car at New Hampshire earlier in the year. Ryan Newman drove that car to fast time last week up there and run real good with it. I wasn’t ready to run as I wanted time off to do other stuff and I don’t know where the summer went as I didn’t do a lot of stuff. Matt has me busy running and I missed a few races here and there. I’ll have to talk to these guys as we’ll have to do some little updates to the car if we wanted to go to the World Series up at Thompson. That’s always a neat race to go to with all of the open wheel cars and stuff. We’ll see I don’t know if we can talk these guys into it. I never said I retired, the team said they retired; I just needed some time away. “

“ We were tight the whole race, but I thought we needed to be that tight “ said Erick Rudolph who finished second. “ I think we could have afforded to be a little bit looser. “

“ I definitely would have liked to win but we’ll take a second over a fifth or sixth “ said the young driving star. “ I’m pretty sure I’ll have a few more cracks at winning this race in the years to come. “

Third place finisher Tony Hanbury who started 27th, which earned him the Tiger Tom Baldwin and Hoosier Racing Tire Hard Charger award was all smiles afterwards. “ I was riding up through with Jim Storace, a Whelen Tour guy “ recalled Tony. “ He got kind of wild and crazy and I filled the holes he made coming up through the field and then he got caught up in a wreck. “

“ Then I got comfortable racing with Tommy Farrell “ said Tony. “ That is what I like about the RoC is that you can ride with these guys and I hung out with Tommy. Then as the race moved on I got to thinking and talking to my spotter Zack Truesdail about how many laps I had on my tires. Hats off to my crew and my spotter for getting me through the whole race. “

“ I really didn’t have enough to be up there with the guys, but my car was good enough to be where I was at the end “ said Tony. “ What makes this feel so good that this was a great weekend for my team, my family owned, and family supported team. “

Qualifying for the 41 car field saw the National Parts Peddler Fast Time Award go to Hirschman who had a fast lap of 17. 606. Heat races were won by Mike Leaty, John Markovic, and Rick Kluth.

NOTES; Chris Risdale had something break on his car in the final hot lap session entering turn one. Risdale slammed the outside retaining wall ending his day. Tom McGrath was involved in a heat race accident which saw him slam the outside turn one wall ending his day. Jim Storace broke a transmission and clutch in hot laps and his day didn’t get any better after that. Terry Cheetham and John Bennett both received only one lap of time trials due to a carburetor infraction in pre race technical inspection. Billy Ray Pruitt drove the Dick Kluth entry while Kevin Lewis was in the second Rick Kluth entry. Mr. Jim, Jim Zacharias piloted the newly built Zacharias racing entry that was intended to be driven by Zane Zeiner. However the car developed motor woes during Thursday night’s hot lap session. RoC Hall of Fame member Roger Treichler was on hand to induct Lee Sherwood into the RoC Hall of Fame and also gave the field the command to start engines.



FINISH; Tony Hirschman, Erick Rudolph, Tony Hanbury, Rusty Smith, Earl Paules, Daren Scherer, Terry Cheetham, Tommy Farrell, III, Pete Brittain, Lee Sherwood, Dave Wollaber, Mike Leaty, John Markovic, Rick Kluth, Doug Reaume, Andy Szapacs, Dean Rypkema, Sege Fidanza, Rick Zacharias, Jimmy Zacharias, Matt Kurzejewski, JR Kent, Billy Putney, Mark Tychoniewicz, Jim Storace, Jan Leaty, TJ Potrzebowski, Todd Baer, John Bennett, Eddie Hawkins, Tom Weist, Kevin Lewis, Ken Canestrari, Billy Ray Pruitt, Dave Bellis, Tommy Flanagan, Jr., JR Swansbrough, Justin Gumley, Jim Zacharias.

DNS; Tom McGrath, Chris Risdale. Both received 1 free Hoosier Racing Tire.

LAP LEADERS; J. Leaty ( 1 – 102 ) Brittain ( 103 – 147 ), M. Leaty ( 148 – 188 ), Hirschman ( 189 – 200 ).

LAP MONEY WON; J. Leaty $ 8,689, Brittain $ 2,500, M. Leaty $ 2,625, Hirschman $ 700.











Runner-up Erick Rudolph