It wasn't the way Justin Bonsignore wanted to win the 13th Annual North-South Shootout, but at the end of the night, he was standing in victory lane at Concord Speedway (NC) with the $10,000 check. Bonsignore inherited the win after apparent race winner Matt Hirschman was disqualified for an unapproved adjustment during a red-flag period with nine laps to go in the 125-lap event.
"It's obviously not the way you want to get it, but what's right is right," Bonsignore told Speed51.com. "He (Hirschman) outran us today and it would have been totally different if they didn't do what they did. It sucks the way it happened. This is the second one this year that I've won in tech, but you take them any way you can, especially when it's something with John Blewett's name attached to it. That's a huge honor."
Hirschman was disqualified from the win for plugging a slow-leaking right front tire during a lap 116 red flag period. As of 9 p.m. ET Sunday night, Hirschman told Speed51.com that he had not been contacted directly by race director Tom Fox or any other official from the event.
"I've been honest and up front right through the whole process with the officials and everyone," Hirschman explained. "When we were under red flag on pit road and they said you were allowed to do tires, gas and windshields. We noticed our right front was soft. I wasn't sure what to do and when I looked down pit road and (saw) other people were jacking cars; they had stagger boards out and they were putting fuel in. I didn't know what to do.
"I had a right front leak and I found where it was leaking. We put a plug in it and we did it in front of an official. It was not done trying to hide it or sneak it by. We plugged the tire right in front of an official. The official called up to the tower and told them what we did. It was OK'd and it was not addressed by (race director) Tom Fox."
Race promoter Darren Hackett informed 51 late on Sunday evening that he and Hirschman talked about the penalty for nearly one-hour after the race and that Hirschman was amicable and honest through the entire ordeal. Hackett also said that the official penalty has not been declared due to the fact that race director Tom Fox was still on a flight en route to his home in New England.
"The stop-and-go official noticed that they were plugging the tire and tried to stop them," Hackett said. "They went and plugged it and she radioed it into the tower that they had done it. Tom never responded back. He went back to green and did not assess a penalty. Tom was also in a hurry to catch his flight home and had to leave with five to go. He had to leave and I had to finish it. Now we're at the point of what do we do to make it an even playing field for everyone involved?"
Hackett also told 51 that both Patrick Emerling and Bobby Santos will be receiving penalized for making unapproved adjustments that included jacking up the car and using stagger boards. Hackett admitted that Hirschman, as well as the others, should have been penalized at the time of the infraction.
"He should have been penalized (at that time)," Hackett stated. "There's two more cars as well, the 15 (Santos) and 07 (Emerling) were told they were going to be penalized and then they didn't get penalized. We've got three cars that didn't get a penalty that we're going to have to assess a penalty to and decide what to do because all three of them made changes to their cars at that time."
The exact penalty that Hirschman will receive is undetermined at this time due to Fox being unavailable as he travels home. An unofficial finish has also not been posted as of 10 p.m. ET.
"I'm not going to say something I shouldn't and I'm not going to say something that would make me stick my foot in my mouth later," said Hirschman. "Basically I've been honest about it through the whole process; I didn't hide anything and I told the officials after the race. Tom Fox was not available; he left on a plane before the race even concluded. It's a shame because it was an absolutely fantastic race despite the weather conditions that have sucked since we got here."
While standing in victory lane after being declared the official winner, Bonsignore stated that he noticed "a lot of nonsense" taking place on pit road during the red flag period.
"They had to make these calls," Bonsignore said. "It's unfortunate that they had to, but we played by the rules and what's right is right I feel. Doug Dunleavy puts up a lot of money ($10,000 to the winner) and he was pretty disappointed on how things were going. It is what it is really, there's no right thing to say right now."
Driving back home to Pennsylvania, Hirschman was still proud of his team and their performance despite the penalty. He said that the most frustrating part was having the flat tire and putting them in a position to have to plug it during the red flag period.
"Besides the flat tire, the team that earned the win was in victory lane," Hirschman said. "Unfortunately we had a flat tire and we had a red flag that allowed the air to leak out. If I was the 51 team or any other team, sure I'd take the win, but at the end of the day we performed best and it was just unfortunate I got a flat tire."
Speed51.com and the Speed51 Network will have more on this story and the finishing order on Monday.
-Speed51 Staff Report
-Photo credit: Daryl Canfield/Speed51.com photo