It was a result that had been witnessed before, but as usual at the Mahoning Valley Speedway (PA) bullring the win did not come easy for Matt Hirschman.
Two-time Modified track champion Eric Beers drew the pole after winning his heat race for Octoberfast 2014, and easily looked to be the car to beat pulling ahead from the competition on each restart for the first 99 laps. Coming around to 30 laps to go things would drastically change.
After making a pit stop about 50 laps earlier, the first two Octoberfast winners Zane Zeiner and Matt Hirschman began marching through the field and closed on the back of Beers, an April 100-lap race winner at the track.
Wall Stadium Speedway (NJ) regular Shawna Ingraham ran up front for the early portion of the night after winning her heat race, but the car began to fade and began to slow immediately before lap 100. Although track officials had motioned the field to slow for a yellow, the reaction time needed between the leaders turned out to be too quick upon approaching Ingraham, setting off a chain reaction.
Beers would drift high to avoid her and slow for the caution, and contact ensued from Zeiner sending around the race’s only leader up until that point. In the process, Hirschman received damage due to running into the back of Zeiner as well as contact that occurred behind him. Since the caution was displayed prior to the incident the leaders were allowed to keep their positions; however, Beers was forced to pit with a flat tire. Despite climbing back to a third place finish, the 2013 track champion was not pleased about what happened.
“We were just riding and saving the tires, because I knew at the end Matt would be getting there,” Beers told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “(Ingraham) was on the bottom there. I moved up like four feet and Zane must have thought my car got tight, because he rolled over my left rear tire going into the corner. He just drove right into me and knocked my tire right off the rim.”
It was the end to a hard luck season that started off promising, but was filled with ups and downs.
“Every week your luck changes,” said Beers. “Last year we got through every wreck, we had no issues with anything, and it’s just one of those deals. It happens, but tonight it sucked because the race track didn’t beat us, none of the racers beat us. We just got taken out by a racer—if you can call him that.”
The good news is that unlike the end of last year when he was uncertain of his 2014 plans, the outlook for 2015 is almost set.
“It looks like we’re going to be back (at Mahoning) next year,” said Beers. “I have a good time racing here; David and Laura (DeLange) are the greatest car owners I’ve ever had. Great people, nice team here, plus both of my kids are going to be racing here next year.”
2013 Octoberfast winner Zeiner acknowledged the unfortunate contact, but claimed there was nothing else he could have done.
“I just see it as a racing incident,” explained Zeiner. “I was trying to make the move on Eric for the lead and everything happens so fast, especially here. I didn’t quite see (Ingraham) when we came off the turn. All I heard was (Race Director) Timmy (Santee) yelling ‘yellow, 66’ and by that time I was too late trying to jam on the brakes. Matt (Hirschman) didn’t know what was happening either and we all sort of went in and collided with Eric. Didn’t want to see that, but it happened.”
With still another 30 laps remaining to settle who would be hoisting the $5,000 big check, it became a duel between Zeiner and Hirschman. Zeiner would hold the lead until one minor error with 17 laps remaining when Hirschman would dive low and by the next circuit around would have sole possession of the lead on his way to another big win. Runner-up Zeiner still believed he had a better car at the end, but one wrong move ultimately was the difference between first and second.
“Believe it or not, I talked to Matt after the race and asked if he was playing with me but that’s all he had,” said Zeiner. “I screwed up and got free off of two and he saw that and took advantage of it and made a nice move. The longer we went it felt like our car got better and he just backed up. I was hoping for another chance to at least take a shot at him but it didn’t happen.”
For Hirschman it was another case of being in the right place at the right time and taking full advantage of it, and agreed that Zeiner had a slightly better car on the long run.
“I guess you could say Eric got the worst of it, but that could have went any way,” said Hirschman. “All three of us could have been done. That could have been a fourth or fifth place car at that time that could have won because of that. It’s just fortunate the way it worked out the way it did.
“It was one of them nights that I really didn’t feel too confident about winning until we took the lead, and even at that point I wasn’t sure if we were going to finish the deal.”
This may have also been the swan song for the J&J Motorsports No. 59 that has an exceptional track record in Mahoning events as well as the Tri Track Open Modified Series and more for nearly a decade.
“That’s what they say, and if it is I appreciate all the years and wins we had together,” said Hirschman. “I think we’ve been racing together since 06 or 07. I’ll believe it when next year comes around, but either way it was a great way to finish for them for the season and we’ll just see what the off-season brings.”
New Jersey drivers Anthony Sesely and Don Wagner rounded out the top five, and Zeiner rebounded from coming up short in the Modified race to win the 60-lap Late Model feature in convincing fashion over Mike Sweeney.
It was another night where the best car may not have won in a longer distance race, but the one that made the best out of what they had to work with did.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Correspondent. -Twitter: @Aaron_Creed
-Feature Photo Credit: Speed51.com.