The check in victory lane at Caraway Speedway (NC) didn’t have a name on it. Not because someone didn’t have a pen, not because someone couldn’t spell the winner’s name; it was because nobody knew who was going to win until the final lap. That’s how Sunday’s 2021 SMART Modified Tour season opener will go into the record books as Matt Hirschman snuck past Burt Myers on a last-lap pass to win 99-lap event.
“I thought we were going to run out of time, but the cautions at the end did help put us in the right place,” said Hirschman who came from 14th in the final 20 laps to get the win. “It was a little crazy there on the last lap, but we are able to roll it on the trailer and to do it with a last-lap pass is pretty special.”
Hirschman led up until lap 70 when he dove into the pits for a fresh tire and an adjustment. The adjustment allowed a few cars to get past him, and it wasn’t until four laps remaining that he moved into the second spot behind Myers. The door opened when Myers drifted high off turn two on the final circuit, allowing the pair to drag race down the backstretch. Myers tried a crafty block on the low side, but Hirschman was too much. He made the pass as Myers slowed up and left Bobby Labonte spinning from the third spot in his second Modified race in the series.
The win marks the fourth victory for Hischman at Caraway in nine starts and his second win in the spring race at Caraway, his first coming in 2019.
“I’ve always run well down here from the first time we won a North-South Shootout down here,” added Hirschman. “This was everyone’s home track and he came and did it and that just got things rolling.”
Second-place finisher Burt Myers had to explain to his crew, who were upset at first with the defeat, that Hirschman didn’t do anything wrong on the final lap, but more of the fact they almost got locked up a bit heading into turn three.
“I got into turn two too hot trying to play defense and I gave him the bottom. It cost us,” Myers admitted. “I mean this one stings on my end because I know it was something I did that cost us a win. Right now I feel broken, but we likely had a 10th-place car and we got second and nothing is tore up.”
Myers days was a roller coaster with at least three pit stops before the last one when they added their right rear tire. At one point, he was riding and saving and just barely staying up with race pace.
“We kept trying to adjust our car and setup to fix the problem we were having,” said Myers. “We still don’t know what it is. We knew we couldn’t go with the same plan as everyone else so we tried something different. Hey, it almost worked.”
The lead of the race was traded some seven times among seven different drivers on Sunday at Caraway. Along the way, Hirschman led 34 laps to lead all drivers in that category, but it wasn’t an easy recovery after he pitted on lap 70. The shuffle of the pit cycle and getting off pit road left him 14th in line.
“It cost us a few spots, but it wasn’t a lot. The 1 (Myers) and the 83 (Tim Brown) were in front of us because they had pitted. The traffic was tough and yellows helped. We could have been third or fifth. That’s why you run the race.”
In a way, the win acted as a redemption victory from the 2020 North-South Shootout at Caraway where Hirschman had one of the strongest cars only to get tangled up on a restart with eight laps to go ending his night. This time the chips fell a little differently and the checkered flag and trophy are heading back to Pennsylvania.
“It makes up for that in a way,” Hirschman said. “I really like this southern tour because it’s going to give us the opportunity to go race at a track that we have not run at before and that is what we like to do. Caraway has been really good to us and we like coming here.”
John Smith had an up-and-down day and finished third with the scramble on the final lap. Chuck Hossfeld overcame a minor smoking problem to post fourth and Caleb Heady posted fifth in the Tommy Baldwin Racing Modified.
The SMART Tour heads to Florence Motor Speedway next Saturday for the second leg of the 2021 season. Race fans will be able to watch that race live on Speed51.TV with a monthly or yearly subscription.
-Story by: Elgin Traylor, Speed51 Southeast Correspondent – Twitter: @ElginTraylor
-Photo credit: Speed51