The stock on Mud Lane in Northampton took a spike Saturday evening thanks to neighbors Eric Beers and Matt Hirschman who each picked up $3000 from winning Hands Three and Four of the Modified 100 Poker Series at Mahoning Valley Speedway.
For Beers, who drives for DeLange Racing, it was his second 100 lap win this season and the sixth such time that he has scored a Mahoning century mark run as well as the 26th Modified win at the Lehighton ¼-mile which he still calls his ‘home track.’
Hirschman meanwhile has been trying for years to get a win at the close-to-home speedway. Victory here has always eluded the talented Modified star which is one of the very few tracks that he had yet to conquer.
Hand Three of the Poker Series was a continuation from July 25 when after 37 laps the event was postponed due to rain. When the remaining 63 circuits got back underway track point leader John Bennett was the leader over Chip Santee, Beers, Rick Reichenbach and Earl Paulus.
Beers moved right behind Bennett and immediately went to work on trying to pass him. Bennett, however, was proving why he is the current Kingpin of Mahoning as would not give Beers any chance to overtake him.
The two waged a classic battle as lap after lap Beers would try every type of maneuver to get by but Bennett continued to hold his ground.
With 20 laps to go Beers started to look to the inside of Bennett and three laps later he finally had enough power to drive by for the lead. Once in front he stayed smooth and steady.
“I’ll tell you what, he (Bennett) was fast. I was just riding him from the get-go and had a tough time getting him. We put on a heck of a show running side-by-side. He kind of slipped up a little bit in (turn) two and I saw my opening there. I got down in the corner and we never touched. It was just a fun race,” said Beers.
“I never want to settle for second in any race I’m in. I was just trying to set him up so I could get a good groove to pass him, try to find his weaknesses, pick a spot and get by quick.”
Over the final laps Bennett began to slip back as Lonnie Behler, Hirschman and Santee finished ahead of him at the checkered flag.
Time trials were held in setting the grid for the second 100-lapper with Hirschman setting fast time at 9.786 seconds. A redraw of the top 12 was then held and Hirschman had some luck go his way when he pulled the pole.
Getting the pole was one thing but leading was a whole other issue as Hirschman had a race long bumper full of cars in pursuant of him.
While he defended his line there was the likes of Beers and John Markovic on his tail. The two past Mahoning champs went back and forth with one another while making repeated tries at the leader.
That was the tone for most of the race too. Hirschman leading while intense side-by-side action was going on behind him.
When Beers and Markovic weren’t on his trail it was Zane Zeiner and Bennett who were putting the pressure on. Zeiner looked as though he was about to make a pass several times but somehow Hirschman found the needed muscle to stay ahead.
With ten laps to go Markovic and Beers returned to their runner-up battle but could not make the needed effort to advance any further as Hirschman piloted his J & J Motorsports #59 to the long awaited Mahoning win.
“It’s about time. It feels great to get that monkey off my back here. It shouldn’t have taken this long and I don’t know why it did. When I had a great car something always seem to happen and there where nights I didn’t have such a good car and left here disappointed,” said Hirschman.
“We had some of the best to deal with. Eric (Beers) has been really dominant here and Johnny (Markovic) has won here so many times and Zane (Zeiner) was coming on real strong at the end and I knew we just had to pick it up to keep them behind me.
“I really have to thank my niece Amelia. She drew the pole for me and tomorrow is her second birthday.”
This marked the first time that a Hirschman was back in Victory Lane at Mahoning in a regular division race since Matt’s dad, multiple NASCAR Modified champion Tony, won in a Late Model back in 1976.
“I’ve definitely taken my ribbing from lack of success here from everybody so I’m glad to finally get a win here. It’s a relief to get one so close to home,” said Hirschman.
“Finally. I bust on him all the time that he can’t win here at Mahoning but can everywhere else and he finally got one here,” added dad Tony Hirschman.
Markovic was second after an outstanding run. Beers came home a close third with Zeiner and Santee rounding out the top five.
In the 40-lap Late Model main Lehighton’s Frankie Althouse may have won the race but it was seasoned veteran Todd Stehle, of Jim Thorpe that won the coveted title.
Althouse passed Stehle for the lead with nine laps to go and then held off Joe Mooney for his fourth win of the season. Late into the race Joe Mooney worked his way around Stehle and scored second.
This has been a breakout year for Althouse, having won and more times in any one season he has raced a stock car in and keeping pace most of the year with Stehle for the title.
Stehle came into the night needing only to take the green in claiming the crown but he had his sights set on feature victory. He snagged the top spot from early leader Austin Kochenash on lap eight and then had his work cut out for him in dealing with Althouse and then Mooney before settling for third. This was his third straight championship and fourth overall at Mahoning.
Kristy Morone Arthofer of Bath raced to her overdue first win of the season with the Street Stocks. Arthofer was able to work into the lead after going to the high side and pass Jamie Smith at the start of lap nine.
Once in front she made it a race for second as no one was able to make an attempt on her. Brian Labar garnered second with Randy Ahner, Jr. third.
With just one point race to go Ahner and Shawn Sitarchyk are deadlocked at the top of the standings.
In the make-up Dirt Mod feature Chad Jones of Perkasie used late race lapped traffic to steal the lead away from Bret Ballard with three laps to go and went on to score his fifth win of the season.
The event was very exciting as a season high 16 cars took the green with Steve Folk grabbing the early lead and holding it until lap 15 when Ballard took over. All the while an intense four car battle was being waged between Folk, Randy Thomas, Ballard and Jones.
In the regular feature, which was the season finale for the class, Bill Briggs of Pine Hill, NJ, in just his fourth Mahoning start, led every lap and picked up his career first asphalt win.
With his fourth place tally, Thomas, of Palmerton, enters the history books as the first ever champion of the Dirt Modifieds.
In the Pro4 Late Models, Kevin Graver, Jr., of Lehighton closed out his remarkable season on a high note as he not only won for an unparalleled 11th time, but he also secured the championship as well.
Graver started seventh and moved past early leader Mike Stringer on lap eight and then held off rival Jeremy Miller the rest of the way. This marked Graver’s second class title and fourth overall at the track.
Roger Snyder of Kempton won a wild Micro Stock feature by inches over Bob and DJ Wagner.
Modified Feature Finish, 100 Laps: 1.Matt Hirschman 2.John Markovic 3.Eric Beers 4.Zane Zeiner 5.Chip Santee 6.John Bennett 7.James Pritchard 8.Brian DeFebo 9.Lou Strohl 10.Matt Wentz 11.Anthony Sesely 12.Earl Paulus 13.Jarred Nace 14.Mike Sweeney 15.Lonnie Behler 16.Andy Szapacs 17.Stacey Brown 18.Matt Higgins 19.Rick Reichenbach 20.Don Wagner 21.Austin Kochenash 22.Ryan Russo Did not qualify: Todd Baer, Billy Swartz, Bill Teel
Modified Feature Finish, (7/25) 100 Laps: 1.Beers 2.Behler 3.Hirschman 4.Santee 5.Bennett 6.DeFebo 7.Reichenbach 8.Baer 9.Pritchard 10.Wagner 11.Szapacs 12.Paulus 13.Higgins 14.Strohl 15.Russo 16.Tom Flanagan