The Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series entered its inaugural appearance at Jennerstown Speedway Complex (PA) without a repeat winner in 2017, but Matt Hirschman put an end to that streak with a pass for the lead late in the 100-lap event.
Bath, Pennsylvania’s Zane Zeiner looked to be on his way to his first RoC victory since 2011; however, a yellow flag with less than 30 circuits remaining erased the margin he had built during a lengthy green flag run. Hirschman came from fourth on the final restart of the race and steadily navigated to second before getting by Zeiner.
“I ran a pretty consistent pace the whole time,” Hirschman told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “I didn’t want to over abuse the car. When the last caution came out it looked like (Zeiner) had abused the right front meaning he probably had a tighter car. I knew my car would turn well and rotate around the bottom so I kind of thought he would have a hard time holding it down. He did pretty good for a few laps but the longer it went I had a pretty good piece.”
As the field came back to green, it was evident that Zeiner was missing some speed that he had before. Despite salvaging a third-place finish, the culprit became clear when he parked his Modified on the frontstretch for post-race interviews following the checkered flag.
“When the car fired off on that last restart I knew something wasn’t right,” Zeiner, whose next scheduled event is the New England Short Track Showdown at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in a couple weeks, explained. “We had a right rear flat tire. I don’t know if we picked something up. We were running hard but I still had some left. I saved for Matt because I knew he was going to be coming, so I still had something left for him, but I think I got something on that last restart and the car just never fired off. The longer we went the worse it got. We’re pleased and got some confidence to come out this year with this car. We’re getting better.”
While a vast majority of competitors were seeing the ½-mile facility for the first time in their lives, Hirschman and Zeiner had an early advantage due to each having prior experience. Hirschman, who had two prior starts more than a decade ago when the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour last visited, was nearly a quarter of a second faster than the next closest competitor during the practice session in the early afternoon.
“I knew coming in here that I was possibly one of the very few that raced a Modified here,” Hirschman said. “At a track like this that goes a long way. It’s a very fast and very demanding track so I knew some of these guys were going to have quite a learning experience. “
Zeiner never previously raced a Modified at Jennerstown, but did finish fifth in a Late Model a short time ago when the track first reopened after being closed for a few years. Although there are extreme differences between the two types of vehicles, the prior track time was a major help for the experienced driver.
“I think so, especially (turns) one and two I learned a lot,” Zeiner commented. “I was good here with the Late Model and adapted quick with the Modified. Logging those laps and knowing what the track was going to do really helped us tonight I thought, as a driver and what to do with the car.”
George Skora III and Tommy Catalano, both searching for their first career RoC Modified victory, battled for the lead early on. In the end, they would round out the top five in that order.
Finishing between Hirschman and Zeiner in the final results was defending series track champion Patrick Emerling. The Orchard Park, New York driver ran near the tail of the top 10 for most of the race, but came down pit road during the final caution and found the problem. From there, he made a valiant climb to the front only to run out of laps to catch Hirschman.
“Something was really wrong with my car and I think we ended up with a flat tire,” Emerling noted, which was confirmed by RoC officials to be significantly low on pressure after being changed. “We ended up pretty decent toward the end. A couple more laps and I think we would have been in pretty good shape. This track is a lot of fun; definitely a lot different from what we’re used to. They just have an excellent facility and awesome track here.”
Hirschman echoed Emerling’s statements about how it can be refreshing to travel to a new location for the series.
“It really is an awesome track to watch the Modifieds or any kind of racing,” Hirschman commented. “You can really race all over this racetrack. We haven’t been here in eleven years and I couldn’t really tell. The facility is kept as nice as it was back then or even better. For a new group to come in and reopen this track and have it in the shape that it is they really should be proud. They have a first-class facility.”
It was also one in which he was proud to repeat an accomplishment his father Tony had done on a few occasions during his youth. Hirschman, who won the weekend before at Lake Erie Speedway (PA) which will be hosting the annual Race of Champions for the first time in late September, added the significance in supporting races like these and is optimistic for future appearances at such immaculate facilities.
“It’s something I looked forward to,” Hirschman said. “I knew I wasn’t running the full schedule, but I’m not going to miss a race at a facility that you get one chance to come to. I think the car count will increase and I really hope they have us back. I thank them for having us. I really had fun today.”
Race fans can find on-demand Trackside Now coverage of Saturday's race by clicking here.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/MoJo Photos
|4||3||65||George Skora III||100|
|16||15||72||David French Jr.||8|