Last weekend at Dover, Kyle Busch recorded wins in both the Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series events. He also won Nationwide races this season at Phoenix and Bristol. At Fontana it was a victory in the Sprint Cup Series.
The list of racetracks where he has yet to win in any of NASCAR’s top three divisions – Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck – is not long. In fact here are only two left on that list – Martinsville Speedway and Pocono Raceway, the site of Sunday’s Pocono 400 Sprint Cup Series race.
While a win at Pocono would be a big check-off, it also means something special to a team member who serves a vital role in guiding Busch around the track.
Northampton’s Anthony Hirschman is the spotter for Busch. And, he’s right at home when the Sprint Cup Series comes to Long Pond, just a 35 mile ride from door to door.
During a race while Busch is conversing back and forth with his crew chief, he is just as much in communication with Hirschman, who must relay information as to what is happening at all times on the track.
It’s up to Hirschman to convey when and where a wreck may be taking place, is another driver making passes and coming from behind or what drivers are slow ahead of him. He even reports on incoming weather.
Hirschman spots for Busch on all three teams, Cup, Nationwide and Truck. By doing so it has been very effective in their line of passing on information. They have a great working relationship and understanding of each other.
“The spotters and the drivers work so close together and it’s nice for the driver to have the same voice on the radio all the time. That way you know when that person is saying something you know what they mean. Everyone spots a little different just like drivers all drive a little different, there are no two that are the same,” said Hirschman.
“For the spotters, even though they’re given the same information from a driver, it’s just their wording or how they say things. The timing of it is a lot different so that’s why the drivers try to have the same spotters as often as they possibly can,” he continued.
“It’s the same for me. I know what Kyle (Busch) is looking for and what he wants to hear and the information that he’s looking for. Familiarity gives you better results.”
Those results speak volumes as Busch is threat no matter what vehicle he straps into and thanks in part to the steering eyes of Hirschman.
For any driver, Pocono is a bit more of a challenge and according to Hirschman the same goes for spotter. While he admits Daytona and Talladega present some intense decision making as cars run three wide and ten rows deep, Pocono is just as tough to making the right call.
“Pocono is one of the tougher tracks to spot at just because how spread out it is and where we are positioned on top of the grandstands. When the cars go off into turn one they are so far away from you and we’re looking at the tail of the car,” he explained.
“When they have restarts and everyone fans out you can’t tell if your clear or five wide just because of the angle you have. I always tell the driver that our angle into turn one is not that good. If I’m telling him inside and he’s know he’s clear, that’s one of the times he really has to use the mirror in the car because it’s tough for us to call it.”
The Hirschman name should come as no surprise to area and regional race fans. Tony Hirschman, Anthony’s father, is a five-time NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion and has also won the coveted Sunoco Modified Race of Champions (RoC) four times including here at Pocono. Tony was named one of Modified racing’s top-50 all-time greats.
Anthony’s brother, Matt Hirschman, has continued the family racing legacy. He competes on the NASCAR Mod Tour, rules the RoC Tour, where he rarely finishes out of first place and has added his name to the Modified Race of Champions trophy the last two years. Locally if he runs at Mahoning Valley or Evergreen he’s usually a sure bet to win.
It was 1994 when Anthony started spotting on his dad’s Modified team. He got the chance to become a professional spotter in 1998. The NASCAR Modified Tour was running at New Hampshire with IndyCar and being in the right place at the right time was his ticket to the big leagues. In a stroke of luck he was picked to help out on Dick Simon’s IndyCar team as they were in need of a spotter and NASCAR officials recommended him for the job.
“When the spotter role started to become more used on the (NASCAR) Modified Tour that was the role I kind of fell into. I was the talkative one of the family so I guess that’s how I got it. I began spotting for my dad in 1994,” recalled Hirschman.
His career was officially off and running. He went to Dover the following race and then got to fly to Charlotte.
“It was a big step for me. I had never even been on a plane before. We always drove with the family to all the Modified races. I remember the first trip I took by plane which was to Charlotte and I thought, ‘Wow, who would have thought that I’d get to go on an airplane and travel around to see some different places for racing?’ I felt I had really made it,” said Hirschman.
From there it was on to Colorado, Atlanta, Texas and Las Vegas. Not bad for a kid who started going to the races watching his dad at the tiny 1/5-mile Dorney Park Speedway in Allentown and was now working at the top circuits in the country.
“I never even thought back then where it would lead to but the door just opened up and I just ran with it from there.”
While Hirschman has enjoyed a rewarding career and has visited every major track from coast to coast, he admits that nothing can compare to being a part of the Indy 500.
“That is one of my all-time favorite events. Everyone needs to go to the Indy 500 at least one time just to see. There is something to be said about tradition and you have it all there. It’s been around for so long and to me it’s great that they’ve tried to keep the tradition that whole time. It’s so impressive to see 400,000 people at that race,” he said.
By building on a good reputation as an IndyCar spotter, Hirschman was able to get himself a chance to work for some NASCAR Nationwide and Truck Series teams starting in 2004. By 2006 he went fulltime working for Chance 2 Motorsports, owned by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., with driver Martin Truex, Jr.
And, just like drivers going from team to team, the same goes for crew members. Hirschman bounced around and eventually found himself with a Cup operation, which was in 2007 at Roush Racing and driver David Ragan. The past three years he has been working for Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Busch.
“I love working with Kyle. Everybody seems to have an opinion of him whether you love him or hate him but he’s a proven winner. I get to talk to him and see him behind the scenes. We’ll get to talking about Modified racing or what have you. He’ll send me random messages and things during the week and we have a great rapport,” said Hirschman.
Pocono is a homecoming although prior to this it was Nazareth Speedway, now ten years closed.
“That (Nazareth) was our home track. It was always the weekend that we looked forward to. It was 15 minutes from home. All our family and friends would come over whether it was when my dad raced there or when I was with the IndyCar team, they all came out to support us,” said Hirschman, who relishes this weekend just as much.
“It’s little but further of a drive than Nazareth was but it’s a place I get to go to where I can go back and forth all weekend and sleep in my own bed. We’ll be home in time for dinner and on Saturday we’ll take in the races at Mahoning Valley.”
His position takes up 42 weekends a year. It starts with Daytona in February and his only off week until the end of the season is on Easter but it’s something he enjoys and appreciates.
“I love it. I’ve been in racing my whole life. If I wasn’t going to NASCAR races I’d be with my brother. I’m just really fortunate do go and do this every weekend and call it my main occupation and I can make a living out of it,” said Hirschman.
“I’ve been pretty fortunate that I still live here in Pennsylvania while about 95% of the crowd that goes to the races every weekend is all from the Charlotte or Concord (NC) areas. I’m sort of lucky that they don’t ask me to come down to the shop and work there or work on the cars at the racetrack.”
- By Dino Oberto, "Keeping Track." Photo credit: Anthony Hirschman III Facebook