Throughout 2016, Matt Hirschman reminded everyone how he earned the nickname “Big Money.” The driver from Northampton, Pennsylvania won a majority of the big money races he entered, and on Saturday at Wall Stadium Speedway (NJ) he did it again.
Hirschman collected a combined $9,000 by sweeping the 150-lap Tour-type Modified feature and 100-lap SK Modified feature at Turkey Derby XLIII. It is a day that even he is willing to admit, goes at the top of his resume.
“It’s a career day, it’s the only way to put it. I’ve been doing it for probably, I’m going to guess and say about 5 or 6 years. I’ve won each race on different years, but never in the same day,” Hirschman told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “It’s incredible, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I know Jimmy (Blewett) has done it before; I don’t know if anybody else has. I’m not the first to do it but it’s something I’ve wanted.”
It is something that Hirschman has wanted to do because of the sheer size and difficulty of the accomplishment of sweeping two of the hardest events on the Modified calendar.
“So much effort goes into preparing one car, let alone two, and to bring two cars together from different places, park them next to each other for two days and have everybody work as one big team is special,” Hirschman commented. “It’s such a tough race track that for things to go in your favor for one race is a lot, to have it go work out in two races is almost impossible, but it happened today.”
Things seemed to go his way instantly in the Tour Modified race when he was promoted to the inside of row one as a result of polesitter Steven Reed failing to make the grid with a broken transmission. Hirschman dominated the majority of the event but nearly got tripped up late when defending Turkey Derby winner Eric Mauriello got a restart that was a bit too good to be true, at least from Hirschman’s standpoint.
“I got jumped, that’s the bottom line there,” Hirschman stated. “He jumped the start. I expected them to give it back there because he had a half-car length there going into the corner, so I was surprised by that. The next restart, I wasn’t going to be blatant and jump it, I knew they’d call it back, but I was certainly going to try and return the favor and I timed it well that I was able to return it and once I got back out front I kept it. Everything worked well in that race except that moment, because if the race goes green to end, you’re not getting back around him. But it’s so far behind me it doesn’t matter.”
Things were not as rosy for Hirschman during the SK/Wall Modified feature, after losing a lap in time trials for being late to the scales in tech, Hirschman started right in the middle of the hornet’s nest in 13th. With a swarm around him, Hirschman made what would turn into a race-winning move.
“We didn’t start up where I would’ve liked to and we were in a position that I didn’t like,” he explained after the race. “I thought something was going to happen. I thought it might not be the winning strategy, but let’s bail out of here, put our tires on, and hope it cycles through. The very next restart is when they all wrecked in three and four, so I went from last to eighth. It worked out, definitely the right thing to do, I don’t know why I felt like doing it, but it was a good feeling. From there I ran the car hard and it stayed with me, some guys faded late and I got to second.”
With Hirschman closing on leader Jimmy Blewett, Blewett made what could’ve been a race-winning move as well when he went down pit road with just over 10 laps to go.
“Jimmy had a pretty good lead, but when the caution came out and there was more than 10 to go, I did think that Jimmy was going to pit. I know it surprised a lot of people, but I thought he was going to pit,” said Hirschman. “When we went back green, I knew if there was one caution, Jimmy was going to win the race and I was going to accept it. I already had my tires on, there was nothing I could do, he would’ve blown me away. That’s the nature of the game. But when he got to second, I knew I had enough of a lead that he wasn’t going to catch me without a caution.”
It had already been a great weekend for Blewett, winning the Sportsman Modified and Dirt Modified races and racing up to third in the Tour race. Despite pitting with just 11 laps to go and with nine cars in front of him, Blewett stood by his decision.
“I hate losing races getting passed at the end. Matt knows how to play his cards right, they don’t call him ‘Big Money’ Matt for nothing,” Blewett stated. “That said, the last caution I knew where we were sitting we weren’t going to have much tire left because the pace was hard in the beginning. I radioed my crew chief Rob Ormsby, said it was his call, he said, ‘Let’s fire some tires on it’ and I said ‘Let’s do it.’ I came here to race and my deal is go as fast as I can all the time and put on a good show for the fans. You can’t win everything, would’ve been nice to get it. But at the end I’m happy finishing second knowing that I gave my all out there.”
After the race Hirschman and Blewett discussed what happened and what could’ve been. In the end, the two drivers who had pulled off the impossible left that conversation with respect and desire to come back stronger in 2017.
For an on-demand replay of Saturday’s Turkey Derby event, visit Speed51.com’s Trackside Now coverage presented by Stanley Tools and PFC Brakes.
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com/Rick Ibsen
Turkey Derby XLIII Tour-Type Modified Unofficial Results
Turkey Derby XLIII SK/Wall Modified Unofficial Results