With passing at a premium on Saturday evening, Matt Hirschman kept himself in contention and ended a lengthy day at Oswego Speedway (NY) as the 66th Annual Race of Champions 250 race winner. It was the fourth time in the last five years in which the Northampton, Pennsylvania driver hoisted the Al Gerber Memorial Trophy.
“I knew coming in it was going to be tough,” Hirschman told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “Then when we got here and saw what the conditions were because of the rain this morning, it got even worse.”
After being rescheduled from mid-September to become the Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series season concluding date on this late October weekend, the weather Gods were not entirely smiling down on the 5/8-mile. Overcast weather caused track drying efforts to only gradually get accomplished throughout the early afternoon and also left a track surface that normally makes it difficult to advance positions even tougher.
Additionally, due to some potential concerns being presented, officials made some tweaks to the race format. Instituting single-file restarts as well as competition cautions rather than live pit stops in the still damp pit area were a couple adjustments that were made at the facility that hosted Super DIRT Week festivities a few weeks prior.
“Getting this show in was paramount and we had to make some changes to ensure safety,” RoC owner and promoter Joe Skotnicki explained. “We did the best we could with the conditions that were presented to us.”
Fast qualifier from the originally scheduled date, Chuck Hossfeld, set the initial pace, but was sidelined early when the motor began to expire. Points leader Patrick Emerling took the lead from there and looked to be easily on his way to his first ever Race of Champions event victory.
That would all change on lap 216 when the leaders approached a lapped car, allowing Hirschman to pounce on Emerling’s misfortune down the backstretch.
“(Hossfeld) had a mechanical issue and Patrick slipped up a little bit there in lapped traffic,” Hirschman documented. “It was going to take something like that for anybody to make anything happen. I didn’t give up and kept the pressure on and an opportunity came my way and I had to take it, and I know he would have done the same. You kind of rub your way through there and that’s kind of what happened.”
Ironically, it was Emerling who took advantage a month before in a Sportsman Modified race on the first night of Race of Champions weekend to get the win from teammate Mike Leaty. Both Hirschman and Leaty acknowledged that occurrence post-race.
“Some lapped cars just wouldn’t move out of the way and that was the one thing I was a little bit worried about moving forward,” Emerling commented. “I knew in my mind if it was a thousand lap race it was going to be bound to happen at some point so I was just hoping it wasn’t going to happen before 250. That’s just how it goes.”
Emerling tried to rebound, but again the lack of a second racing line prevented him from rallying back to put forth enough of a challenge in the closing laps.
“I was on the outside of him and my tires fell out of the groove and into the dust, and that sucked me way up the track,” the Orchard Park, New York second place finisher recalled. “That was the deciding factor for tonight, but we have a lot to be proud of. I can’t thank my guys enough.”
With Hossfeld’s engine failure, Emerling sealed the deal for the 2016 Race of Champions Asphalt Modified Series title. It was the first championship ever in his young career and was redemption from the previous season for the Leaty Autosport team.
“It’s definitely a good thing for us because we were a little bit pissed off last year,” Emerling said. “We had a couple issues toward the end of the season, which took us out of the hunt. We put our heads down, looked forward, and said we’re going to win the championship this year. That was our goal.”
Leaty, Andy Jankowiak, and Daren Scherer rounded out the top five. Jimmy Zacharias was a late addition to the field and was one of very few who was able to successfully advance multiple positions, climbing from 27th starting position to sixth.
Hirschman moves within one of tying for most of Race of Champions wins of all time with Dutch Hoag. The win also ties him in the record books with his father, Tony, and got it done with a favorite Modified of his that has brought many other big paychecks in addition to the $12,500 on Saturday.
“It’s an important part of Modified history and means a great deal to my family,” Hirschman, now a guaranteed starter for next weekend’s North-South Shootout at Concord Speedway (NC), said. “To now have four wins like my dad, that’s eight for the family. That’s incredible.
“It’s gotten tougher. Others have stepped up, and I need to step up a little bit myself. This car is old reliable. It’s not the fastest car on the racetrack anymore, but it never lets me down.”
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/MoJo Photos
66th Annual Race of Champions 250 Results
|18||4||65||George Skora III||174|
|23||8||10||Daryl Lewis Jr.||70|