Matt Hirschman normally doesn’t have a whole lot to prove when he shows up to a Tri-Track Open Modified Series event. However, that wasn’t the case Saturday afternoon at Star Speedway.
After a subpar performance by his standards in the season opener at Monadnock Speedway, the Northampton, Pennsylvania driver went to work to get back on top. The driver known as “Big Money Matt” put in the work in the shop, and that effort resulted in his fifth career SBM 121 victory at the Epping, New Hampshire oval.
Hirschman took the lead for the first time when he powered around Craig Lutz, the winner of the season opener at Monadnock, on Lap 25. However, he gave up the lead to Matt Swanson when he visited pit road for a fresh tire during the Lap 83 controlled caution.
With a handful of cars electing to stay out, Hirschman had his work cut out for him restarting ninth with less than 40 laps to go. After making little progress during the first few laps after the caution, Hirschman began picking off positions following an extended caution on Lap 97.
Ultimately, the race-winning move came on a restart with just over 10 laps to go when he powered around Swanson to secure the victory. Swanson had pitted earlier in the race and had roughly 20 more laps on his right-rear tire at the end of the race.
“At the end, pitting later than they did showed up,” Hirschman said. “There was a caution around Lap 97 that was a lengthy one. That’s where those 20 laps (on the tires) really showed up because prior to that it was pretty tough restarting from ninth to get up into the fourth and fifth range; it was pretty tough work to even do that. I wasn’t too confident at that point, but the last 20 laps it really showed up.”
Despite having four career victories in the race, Hirschman had not won the SBM race since 2017, a season in which he swept all four Tri-Track Open Modified Series races. Although that only gave him a two-year winless drought in the race, it was not something he was content with.
“I needed to go to work,” Hirschman said. “We had been trending the wrong direction in this race. We finished third two years ago and fourth last year and those were the finishes we deserved. It wasn’t like we had a winning car and things didn’t work out. We had a third to fifth-place car and that’s where we finished. After years of success at this race track, I won the very first time I ever came here and I have a career winning percentage here unlike any other race track I’ve been to. It’s probably my best. To go a couple years without a win here and not really feel like I gave myself a car that could win, I needed to go to work.”
A seventh-place finish in the season opener at Monadnock, a race he never became a factor in, provided another reminder that he needed to elevate his performance.
“That race at Monadnock was kind of the last straw for me, having a performance where we never crack the top five all day. I went to work after that and I think it showed in our results back in Pennyslvania, but I needed to win here today to really prove myself,” Hirschman stated.
“It’s the cycle of racing. Sometimes when you get where you feel like you’re on top or having something that work, you just roll with it. Everybody else is on the other end where they feel they need to get better if they’re going to beat the 60. They got better and I stayed the same and went backwards in results. That didn’t sit well with me. I almost needed that Monadnock performance to really kick me in the rear end and tell me it was time to go to work.”
In the search for his first Tour-type Modified victory, Swanson played the strategy game to lead a handful of laps before finishing second to Hirschman.
“The start of the race we started in the back and kind of just had to ride around the back to make sure we had something at the end. With these races, you can only put on one tire so you have to save the other three you start with. We waited around in the back, slowly picked our way through as we could and came in early before the cold caution there. The car really came to life after we put the tire on. I just had to calm myself down and make sure I wasn’t burning it off.
“To be racing with Matt Hirschman, one of the best guys in an Asphalt Modified, he’s won about everything there is to win in an Asphalt Modified, there’s no one I’d rather be racing against. To hop through all the hoops we did today and come out with a strong second-place finish, I’ll take it.”
Andy Jankowiak used a similar strategy to Swanson and ended the night with a strong third-place finish. Defending series champion Ronnie Williams and Long Island native Eric Goodale completed the top five.
Next up for the Tri-Track Open Modified Series will be a return to Monadnock Speedway on August 15.
-Story by: Brandon Paul, Speed51 Content Manager – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51 / Rick Ibsen
SBM 121 Unofficial Results
Star Speedway (NH) – July 25, 2020
|18||62||Les Rose, Jr.|
|25||50||Carl Medeiros, Jr.|