One hundred and fifty laps of green flag racing around the ¼-mile Mahoning Valley Speedway (PA) came down to a four-lap duel between two Mud Lane residents from nearby Northampton, Pennsylvania during Saturday night’s seventh annual Octoberfast event.
The familiar Matt Hirschman carried a busy yet successful stretch into Saturday night, winning at five different tracks in five races since Labor Day weekend. The new kid on the block was teenager Austin Beers, who aside from a championship season rookie in a Sportsman Modified, had only select starts in the headlining division on used tires and a couple disappointing outings elsewhere.
Beers remained calm and collected, winning his heat race and comfortably leading numerous laps late in the going in true veteran fashion. The breakthrough win looked to be entirely his, until four laps remained. Toward the rear of the lead lap cars, another local teenage sensation, Joey Jarowicz, spun on the frontstretch, requiring the need for the yellow flag to be flown.
A single-file restart, based on speedway rules toward the conclusion of a race, kept Beers in command, but as has been seen on many occasions over the years, Hirschman was able to set him up to make the pass during the final dash to the finish. One major factor perhaps was that Beers had run the entire set of distance on the same set of tires in which he took the green flag.
“When I had gotten second, (Austin Beers) was running a great line, and if the caution didn’t come out we were going to finish second,” Hirschman, now a three-time Octoberfast winner, told Speed51.com. “I would have been super excited for him. I had thought on that run when I was in second, I remembered my first big win was at King of the Green at Evergreen (Raceway in nearby St. Johns, PA) and his dad (Eric Beers) finished second to me. That was such a big deal because at that time he was the top guy on the local circuit, and I thought about how this is going to be so cool if he wins this big race and I finish second to him.
“That last restart, I wasn’t going to give up or give it to him. I was going to try for it and that was key. I had pitted for tires and that last restart was where it showed up, and it did. We just had that one move to make, made it a good one, and I was able to get by him. Otherwise, I know he’s going to be hating that caution because he had it, but he’ll learn that’s how the racing game goes.”
Despite getting passed, Beers gave it his all to fight back in a final challenge for the win, but was all smiles upon climbing out to the cheering crowd as the runner-up.
“I’m pretty proud with second,” Beers noted. “I didn’t know if I was going to run this race a week ago and to run here and get second to Matt, you can’t lose to anybody better here tonight. I congratulated him and he gave me a little pep talk about how I did great and stuff, so it was cool.”
Before victory lane proceedings began, Beers and third-place finisher, 2016 Octoberfast winner and leader of laps on this night Kyle Strohl, walked over to Hirschman’s car in which the veteran driver gave each a complimentary message on their performance while still in the driver seat of his own Modified.
“I truly thought both of those kids had a great chance to win this race tonight, and I probably had more confidence in them than they had in themselves,” Hirschman commended. “A run like that will surely give you some confidence. I’ve watched them race more than I’ve raced with them, but they race the right way. It’s really cool to run with those two kids. They are the future; there’s no doubt about it. There’s going to be one-twos coming and I’ll be on the other end of them. It almost was tonight.”
Hirschman’s method of getting to the front was not in the most conventional of ways due to an incident racing for the lead only 30 laps into the feature. Austin Kochenash, racing in his family team’s home-built chassis, was out front during much of the early going. Hirschman was coming on strong and so were quite a few other competitors, such as local favorites Kevin Rex Jr. and Gene Bowers. Contact ensued, sending Kochenash for a spin in front of the field, slight damage to Hirschman’s ride, and the end of the night for Rex.
Both Kochenash and Hirschman primarily viewed it as a racing deal and had a discussion at length in the pits after the checkered flag, but have a prior history of altercations at area facilities.
“(Hirschman) thinks he was in far enough and if the left rear is far enough then I guess he is, but I’m most mad at the fact that if I did this to him, he would be getting his crew of people together like he did at Evergreen to get me thrown out of there,” a frustrated Kochenash commented post-race. “He preaches that he’s the cleanest driver here and he’s just as big a hack as we all are.”
While both drivers continued on, and Kochenash rallied to second position at one point, the strategy and story in the end were different for the Danielsville, Pennsylvania driver.
“We had to put a tire on after that spin, so we could only put one more on (after that),” Kochenash indicated. “With these tires you can’t come through the field like with the Hoosiers with just one tire, so it made no sense coming in anymore and just rode out with what we had. Beers gave me all the room that I needed to try and make the pass, but my tires were just too far gone at that point.”
Kochenash finished fifth behind an impressive run for a relative newcomer to Modified racing, Josh Scherer. Hirschman added his vantage-point of the incident as well.
“His pace was backing up the field and slowing me up, and I was plenty content to be there, but then (Kevin Rex Jr.) came up next to me and looked like he was going to drive by both of us,” Hirschman explained. “I did a crossover, surged up underneath, and it’s tight quarters here and by the time you get to the other end of the straightaway, which there really is none, he was coming back down and I was already there. It didn’t work out so now, in hindsight, you can say it was too early. Had the pass worked, it wouldn’t even be a discussion, because I thought it was a good attempt to pass.
“They’re going to view it differently, and we both kind of came out on the short end of it, but there was still a long race ahead of us.”
Hirschman was able to continue for the time being on the rubber in which he started the race. Teams were allotted to exchange for up to two fresh tires during the distance, in which he did around halfway.
“I had some damage to my car, had to come in and adjust on that, pit for tires, and I didn’t give up,” Hirschman said. “It actually probably hurt my chances at winning and if it wasn’t for a couple late cautions and restarts, we weren’t going to win. The cautions played out right. In the end, you have to take them for what it’s worth.”
Last year’s Octoberfast featured a thrilling three-wide finish to the line, but 2018 was not the best for any of those racers this time around. 2017 winner Bobby Jones and 2013 winner Zane Zeiner were sidelined early with mechanical issues, while the aforementioned Bowers inherited the lead after the turning point on lap 30 but faded to seventh in the final running order.
Hirschman was not in the field on that particular night, and as a matter of fact, this was his first appearance on track at one of his home facilities in two and a half years. It was also his first start on the American Racer compound utilized and first for his team’s No. 60 in victory lane at Mahoning Valley. He hopes that another win under differing conditions can carry over to a few more victories before the year ends, including the upcoming weekend’s inaugural Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway (VA).
“I’d like to think that there’s still maybe a few out there for us,” Hirschman added. “Last year we put together two real long ones like this. This year, we couldn’t string together wins until recently, but we’ve done it in four different cars at six different race tracks, and all kinds of different tires. It’s really incredible, the success and the win ratio. It truly is something not to take for granted. This is a time in your career to try and do this because it’s just not going to last forever.”
Next up for Hirschman will be the inaugural Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway next Saturday. Race fans will be able to watch that event via a live pay-per-view broadcast on Speed51.com.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com National Correspondent – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
Octoberfast 2018 Results
1 60 Matt Hirschman 150
2 19 Austin Beers 150
3 44 Kyle Strohl 150
4 03 Josh Scherer 150
5 66 Austin Kochenash 150
6 88 Lou Strohl 150
7 28 Gene Bowers 150
8 24 DJ Wagner 150
9 85 Ron Haring Jr. 150
10 95 John Markovic 150
11 41 Todd Baer 150
12 22 Don Wagner 150
13 02 Joey Jarowicz 150
14 92 Terry Markovic 149
15 77 Kristy Arthofer 148
16 18 Cody Geist 73
17 51 Jesse Strohl 48
18 48 Kevin Rex Jr. 30
19 76 Zane Zeiner 30
20 29 Tyler Haydt 30
21 53 Brian Defebo 10
22 1 Bobby Jones 8