The inaugural Tri-Track Open Modified Series Haunted Hundred at Seekonk Speedway (MA) had all the tricks and treats fans of Modified racing could want: hard driving, risky maneuvers, paint swapping and nerf bar banging. All of this was fueled by a guaranteed $6,000 to win, plus an extra $1,500 bounty on the line for any driver who could beat Matt Hirschman.
When all was said and done, it was Hirschman himself claiming the bounty placed on him and completing the 2017 Tri-Track sweep in an exciting finish. “Big Money Matt’ took home $7,500 in prize money for his win along with his winner’s trophy and 2017 championship trophy.
Unlike some of his previous Tri-Track wins this season, good draws and good luck had nothing to do with his win on Saturday. Hirschman fought tooth and nail over the final half of the 100 laps.
Hirschman’s first challenger came in the form of New Hampshire driver Russ Hersey, who celebrated his first two career wins in Modified Racing Series competition this season. Hersey showed his front-running swagger, keeping ahead of Hirschman on long runs while taking care of his tires.
As the laps wound down, the number of yellow flags went up, giving Hirschman opportunities on restarts. A yellow flag with 10 laps to go brought another challenger into the mix in the form Anthony Nocella, setting the stage for the first big turning point.
While Hersey was occupied with Hirschman up high, Nocella threw his nose in making it three-wide in turn two. Coming off the corner, Nocella’s right-front and Hersey’s left-rear came together, sending Hersey sliding into the grass. When the dust settled, it had put Hirschman in the lead and by that time he knew the complexion of the race had changed substantially.
“Coming in, the whole bounty thing, the extra money, I knew what it was probably going to do,” Hirschman told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “The racing up until I got up into second, everybody ran me clean, it was good racing all the way, but then I could tell when the 88 (Hersey) was leading, he was not going to give that up very easily. When the 92 (Nocella) came on there, I think he pitted earlier, I don’t know for sure. He was in the catbird’s seat, that restart there the door was going to be open and it just worked out that he filled it, they tangled, that got rid of (Hersey) and handed me the lead.”
For the final laps and after the race, Hersey was not happy, especially with Nocella.
“We came down into the corner, Matt and I drove into the middle and drove real aggressive down in, nothing dirty, bars on bars, we come back off and we both hit the gas. We were coming up the straightaway and the 92 got into the left-rear, once he had me hooked he just kept pushing, he didn’t release me enough to try and save it. He finished me off and down through the grass I went.”
Nocella was aware of the Hersey’s strong opinion, but he too had his own take on what happened and also had a strong opinion of Hersey’s restarts.
“I think he’s mad at me and Matt,” Nocella began. “The officials came down and said the exact same thing Matt and I said, ‘How do you keep screwing up the restarts like that?’ You brake check everyone, taking off, driving into him and he tried to run him up in the third groove there and have so much wheel in it to try and block me when I’m on the bottom. He was already loose coming to us, just like the officials said. When he caught my bumper he went around. You can’t expect to block two guys at the end of a $7,500-to-win race and not expect to get turned around.”
Even with Hersey out of the way, the show was far from over, with Nocella showing greater speed than Hersey and Hirschman on longer runs. After the final restart with 10 to go, Nocella settled in behind Hirschman, waiting for just the right time to make his move. With four laps to go, Nocella got some room, which meant with three to go, it was time to go.
Nocella muscled Hirschman off the inside groove in turn one and took over the lead with two laps to go. But this left time for a counterattack and Hirschman did just that the very next lap, at the same place and with the same move. Nocella was not as quick to recover, and despite keeping second it was too late to try again.
Afterwards, both drivers shared a conversation of great respect.
“Nocella was a good sport there. He gave it to me a little, I gave it back. I just crossed him over there. He tried to stop the car, block the bottom, but we were able to muscle up under there,” Hirschman stated. “I’m just glad neither of us got taken out of it. Whatever the order of finish, as long as we were one-two, I wouldn’t have a complaint. I would’ve hated to see, when you’re rubbing side by side and hopping wheels like that, the outcome could’ve been not so good for either one of us or both. Glad it worked out. We came out on top, it was sure exciting, that’s what people come to see.”
Despite finishing second, Nocella was still on the jovial side after the race.
“We were just kind of joking. I went in there to congratulate him, can’t be mad at him. I used him up first,” Nocella admitted. “We knew he was going to be tough, we were running the same lap times those last 15 laps, whoever got to the bottom first was going to get it I think. He got a little tight there when I leaned in, he slid up, my car was getting a little free so it rotated good. I got a wheel on him, it was my one shot with three to go, give him my best shot. I’m not going to lift, but I didn’t want to wreck him You’ve got to go in there somewhat under control, get him sideways, use him up like I did and let him get it caught up again.
“Right away you’re expecting the same thing back, you use him up, he’s going to come back and do the same thing, which he did. He drove into me, moved me up the same way. He lifted before he wrecked me too, so that’s all you can ask for. It’s good hard racing, you put up this much money that’s what is going to happen.”
While Hirschman is not one to be the center of attention, looking back on the day and week leading up to the event, the bounty fanfare was worth it in the end as it not only had given him extra money but plenty of people to race in front of.
“From the promotional side I didn’t mind, coming here today and seeing the crowd when I was over on the grandstand side, I could tell that it had an impact on bringing people in here. I was fine with that, it’s what’s best for the series,” Hirschman said. “As far as on the track, it was seeing how it played out. If somebody was going to beat me fair and square today, I’m all for it because it’s more money in the racer’s pocket, and I’m all for more money for the racers.”
Race fans can watch the full Haunted Hundred broadcast on-demand on Speed51.com by clicking here.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA, RI & Long Island Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com