Matt Hirschman Breaks Through to Win His First Tour Race by Jim Blacroch
Second Generation Driver Wins New Format Event at Spencer
That all changed this past Saturday night when Hirschman found himself in victory lane after a dominating victory in the Tour's first stop at the Rochester speed plant since Mike Ewanitsko drove Art Barry's machine to victory lane in 1994.

“The tracks in Western and Central New York have been very good to me,” smiled Hirschman from victory lane.

Hirschman joined his Father, Tony, as the third Father and son duo to have won NASCAR Modified Tour races. The other two are John Blewett, Jr., and John Blewett, III, along with Steve and Bob Park.

In the end, Hirschman had to battle back Chuck Hossfeld, Mike Stefanik and ultimately Ronnie Silk, but he was able to drive to victory lane for the first time in his career.

“This is a big night for us,” offered Hirschman as he received the accolades of his victory and congratulatory offerings from his family and teammates. “We had a good car tonight. Ed Bennett and all of the guys worked very hard to make this happen and we're finally here. It's very rewarding.”

Hirschman has won several DART Race of Champions Asphalt Tour events as well as several special events, but the NASCAR victory had eluded him until Saturday night, when he wrestled the lead away from Chuck Hossfeld on the 19th circuit with a bold outside move on a restart and then held off Stefanik, who was credited with leading lap 89. Hossfeld and Hirschman did swap the lead on a couple of mid-race restarts, but Hirschman held the dominant car.
Matt Hirschman celebrates his first Tour victory.  (Fran Lawlor / NASCAR Photos)

Matt Hirschman has a pretty good record in asphalt modified racing. He's a Race of Champions Tour champion and has won just about everywhere in his RoC car, including a couple of big victories the North vs. South Shootout in Concord, N.C.  He's been dominant at Mountain Speedway near his Northampton home in Pennsylvania. But a win on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, considered the premier asphalt modified tour by many, has eluded him.
Most folks did think Hirschman had an advantage at Spencer, but the truth of the matter was, that he had only raced there once prior to Saturday, when he finished third in the RoC event last season, behind Jan Leaty and Eric Beers.

“I knew we had a good car and we did a good job of dialing it in during practice, the guys really hit it,” offered Hirschman. “But with Chuck (Hossfeld) on the pole and his experience there and recent success with that team, I thought it might be an easy night for him. We got a good run on him as soon as the green flag dropped and from that point on those thoughts went away, it was kind of like 'game on'.”

After Hossfeld fade,  Mike Stefanik and Ronnie Silk were able to run second and tried to run down Hirschman's Ed Bennett 59, but it was to no avail, however, Hirschman was inquiring.

“I can't say I was worried about one guy more then the other, but I kept asking the crew who was doing what and if they had anything for us. It really wasn't a factor of who was back there, but how strong their cars were?”

Following the checkered flags, you could sense the relief in the air for Hirschman, he had finally silenced his critics and for the first time in 45 starts pulled into victory lane.

“It was good, I felt good and super excited and I was honestly pretty relieved too,” Hirschman smiled and reflected. “The fact that I hadn't won a Tour race weighed in my mind, it bothered me and I was glad to get it over with. They say winning the first one is the hardest and I believe that now. I didn't think it would take this long because we've run good and qualified at the front and been very competitive. The relief part is good and it will silence those critics who say I haven't won a Tour race and remember, this is just the first one, there is plenty more that I want to do and plenty more that I want to win.”

One of the first folks to victory lane was Matt's Mother, Brenda and his Father, Tony, wasn't too far behind. For Matt, that helped to make things that much more worthwhile.

“My Mother and Father support me in everything I do,” related Hirschman. “And having them here for tonight made things pretty special. My Mother is very excited and I am proud to join my Dad as a winner on this series, even though I've got a long way to go if I want to catch up to him.”

Tony Hirschman is five-time series champion and currently sits third on the all-time victory list with 35. The eldest Hirschman, currently has not run a Tour race this season. In fact, his last race was last year in the season ender at Thompson for the Kehleys. Currently they still have one car and recently Tony Hirschman took it to a Key Materials location for an appearance, but as of right now there is no racing in sight for him.
“Everyone has asked me when I'm going to win a Tour race and I finally don't have to answer that question anymore and that feels very good,” Hirschman added. “It's been a long time coming and I would have liked to win sooner, but winning here at Spencer suits me just fine and I hope we don't have as a long of a spell for the next one.”

The fireworks began early in the 100-lap grind, in fact before one lap was completed. Jan Leaty, who won the Coors Light Pole Award earlier in the day, and started the race, fifth slammed the outside retaining wall in turn four in a scary fashion. Leaty was okay, but his night was over and it set the tone for the event as the yellow flag was displayed on nine occasions placing the field at a reduced pace for 40 laps of the event.

Probably the most controversial incident of the night came on lap 89 when Ronnie Silk got up under second place running and hard charging Mike Stefanik and the two made contact. Stefanik spun around and caused several cars to be collected, while Silk motored on to second. Stefanik recovered without damage and finished fifth.
Over the last couple of laps Hirschman drew away from Silk in the short green flag run to the checkers, while Chuck Hossfeld came home third. Jimmy Blewett and Stefanik rounded out the top-five. Hossfeld and Hirschman split the 25-lap qualifying races, while Jan Leaty set fast time.

The next event for the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour is the Miller Lite 140 at the Riverhead Raceway in Riverhead, Long Island, New York on August 2nd.

LITTLE HIRSCHY STANDS TALL AGAINST BIG PRESSURE

Matt Hirschman is a pretty cool customer. He's grown up around Modified racing, so many of us take him for granted, but he truly knows how to get the job done. He served as a co-crew chief for his Father in championship seasons, he spotted for races before he was old enough to get in the pits, he has been an observant preserver of the sport since birth and Saturday night his talent was obvious.
SILK AND STEFANIK MEET ON THE TRACK

At the Tour's last visit to the Stafford Motor Speedway seven-time series champion Mike Stefanik got into the back of Ronnie Silk, who drives the Hill Enterprises entry. At Spencer, the roles were reversed, when Silk turned Stefanik on a late race restart. Stefanik recovered to finish fifth while Silk ran to second.

“I kind of got pushed in down there,” stated Silk regarding his contact with Stefanik in his post race interview. “We had a good car tonight and this finish shows it, because I've never been here before.”

Stefanik obviously had a different view of it and was visibly upset during the cool down lap when he pulled up next to Silk in turn four, but after cooling down he had this to say.

“We had a good car tonight. I think I got the right rear a little hot chasing Matty down. But it's the racing game and we got a fifth,” related Stefanik without saying as much of a word about the incident.

You could however sense that Stefanik wasn't very happy and race fans should probably keep an eye on this battle. It could get interesting.

NEW FORMATS ARE FOR COMPUTER DISKS NOT RACES…

The Spencer Speedway race was a version of the not well received 'Flash' races of 2007, with a purse reduction. Teams were put through a multi-car time trial format as well as 25-lap heat races in addition to the 100-lap feature, in which only 60 laps were run under green flag
conditions. There are several ways to look at the race, in both a positive light and a negative light, but perhaps, the race winner put it into a great perspective. In the coming weeks, much will be said about the facility, the purse, etc., but Matt Hirschman had this to say.

“I think people get spoiled by Thompson and Stafford,” stated Hirschman. “Those racetracks are first class facilities, that this series has helped build up, but I wouldn't say I feel more privileged racing at those tracks as opposed to Spencer. A race track is a race track and the Modifieds are able to put on a good show whether racing on a quarter mile or a mile and everything in between, so I wouldn't put one track in front of the other, plus looking at the win, I still beat everyone that runs this series on a regular basis and that makes the win so gratifying.”

Hirschman followed up with some thoughts on the format and where he thought changes could be made.

“The challenge is that, it's probably what Spencer could afford,” Hirschman said regarding Spencer's purse. “But the thing we need to look at is that with the race, we actually increased our cost, when we should have focused on reducing those costs. There was some added cost to the tire expense for this type of race and then adding additional races and more time on the track with other cars adds risk to damaging your equipment. Most often heat races aren't 25 laps, I know because I run a lot of races that have heat races, plus they don't have 16 or 17 cars, they have 8 or 9 cars. It's just that we need to look at this from the cost perspective and NASCAR needs to look at ways of cutting that expense when it comes to a situation like this.”

Hirschman continued, “I certainly don't take anything away from the speedway or the fact that we won with this format, but the purse was significantly less and the format that was presented actually cost us more. I just feel the entire approach needs to be changed and all of the elements need to be addressed.”

The multiple car time trials (the first ever at a NASCAR oval for the division, it is common in road course events) set the lineups for the two 25-lap qualifying races that established the inside and outside rows of the feature lineup. The show, although it got done, never seemingly was on time and it was a severely condensed scheduled. The teams racing were given only 25 less laps to compete on the night and the cost of traveling to and from the race because of the length from the team base placed a premium on travel plans.

The next event on the schedule at Riverhead Raceway is similar, with a purse that is paying less to win then Spencer, but it is just as challenging for the teams to travel to Long Island as anywhere else and due to the high price of things on Long Island it could cause some strain on several teams.

CAR COUNTS AND LOCALS....

31 teams made the tow to the Rochester oval with Buck Catalano, Wilbur Hebing, Jan
Leaty and Mike Leaty were the local cars making the event. Erik Rudolph raced in the
event, but has run three Tour events prior to Spencer in 2008. Hebing scored the best
finish of the evening for the locals as he came home 20th.

Young Rudolph, who is ultra-talented (he won two features, the SST and Modified at
Lancaster on a recent Saturday night) was penalized during his qualifying race for
jumping the start with a pass through penalty and it essentially ruined his night after
a very strong time trial session.

The most notable absentees were Curt Chase and the Pasteryaks. who did not bring
their cars to compete.

NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour-Mason Farms 100 Results
Saturday
At Spencer Speedway
Williamson, NY
Lap length: 0.5 miles
(Start position in parentheses)

1. (2) Matt Hirschman, Northampton, Pa., Chevrolet, 100 laps, 45.374 mph, $3,700.
2. (8) Ronnie Silk, Norwalk, Conn., Pontiac, 100, $2,200.
3. (1) Chuck Hossfeld, Ransomville, N.Y., Dodge, 100, $1,900.
4. (10) Jimmy Blewett, Howell, N.J., Chevrolet, 100, $1,650.
5. (4) Mike Stefanik, Coventry, R.I., Pontiac, 100, $1,550.
6. (19) Glen Reen, Wilbraham, Mass., Chevrolet, 100, $2,050.
7. (23) Todd Szegedy, Ridgefield, Conn., Ford, 100, $1,350.
8. (29) Wade Cole, Riverton, Conn., Chevrolet, 100, $2,050.
9. (25) Danny Sammons, Hamilton, N.J., Chevrolet, 100, $1,050.
10. (9) Bobby Grigas, III, Marshfield, Mass., Chevrolet, 100, $1,200.
11. (18) Anthony Sesely, Matawan, N.J., Dodge, 100, $1,150.
12. (13) Rowan Pennink, Huntingdon Valley, Pa., Chevrolet, 100, $1,025.
13. (24) Glenn Tyler, Hampton Bays, N.Y., Chevrolet, 100, $925.
14. (22) Joe Hartmann, Calverton, N.Y., Chevrolet, 100, $875.
15. (30) Jake Marosz, Middletown, Conn., Chevrolet, 100, $630.
16. (17) Ed Flemke, Jr., Southington, Conn., Chevrolet, 100, $800.
17. (3) Eric Beers, Northampton, Pa., Chevrolet, 99, $775.
18. (28) Ken Heagy, Calverton, N.Y., Ford, 99, $725.
19. (6) Ted Christopher, Plainville, Conn., Chevrolet, 90, suspension, $700.
20. (27) Bill Hebing, Ontario, N.Y., Chevrolet, 89, accident, $475.
21. (21) Jamie Tomaino, Howell, N.J., Chevrolet, 89, $425.
22. (26) Tom Abele, Jr., Norwich, Conn., Chevrolet, 83, $600.
23. (15) Richard Savary, Canton, Mass., Chevrolet, 67, steering, $575.
24. (31) Erick Rudolph, Ransomville, N.Y., Chevrolet, 63, clutch, $325.
25. (12) Ryan Preece, Kensington, Conn., Chevrolet, 62, accident, $500.
26. (20) James Civali, Meriden, Conn., Chevrolet, 61, $500.
27. (7) Kevin Goodale, Riverhead, N.Y., Chevrolet, 36, accident, $500.
28. (16) Jim Storace, Kingston, N.H., Pontiac, 24, accident, $300.
29. (11) Mike Leaty, Williamson, N.Y., Chevrolet, 14, accident, $300.
30. (14) Buck Catalano, Ontario, N.Y., Chevrolet, 12, accident, $300.
31. (5) Jan Leaty, Williamson, N.Y., Pontiac, 0, accident, $900.

Race Statistics
Time of Race: 1 hour 6 minutes 7 seconds
Margin of Victory: 0.782 seconds
Fastest Qualifier: J.Leaty (94.251 mph, 19.098 seconds)
Caution Flags: 9 for 40 laps.
Lead Changes: 7 among 3 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C.Hossfeld 1-18; M.Hirschman 19-39; C.Hossfeld 40; M.Hirschman 41-59;
C.Hossfeld 60; M.Hirschman 61-88; M.Stefanik 89; M.Hirschman 90-100.
Standings: 1. C.Hossfeld, 1020; 2. T.Christopher, 925; 3. T.Szegedy, 896; 4. M.Hirschman,
823; 5. E.Beers, 797; 6. M.Stefanik, 789; 7. E.Flemke,Jr., 777; 8. R.Pennink, 766; 9.
R.Silk, 751; 10. R.Preece, 692.








Hirschman crosses the finish line.
Mike Stefanik
Jan Leaty