There are two big Modified races in the Empire State this weekend as the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour takes to New York’s Riverhead Raceway on Saturday night and the Race of Champions 200 from Oswego Speedway on Sunday afternoon. Two of Modified racing’s biggest stars will be at both.
Ryan Preece and Matt Hirschman are both doing the double and hoping to sweep the weekend. But both drivers acknowledge just how challenging that feat will be.
Hirschman is the two-time defending winner of the RoC 200. He has pretty much mastered the difficult Oswego Speedway. But aside from his third place finish at Riverhead this past June, Hirschman has always struggled at the Long
Island bullring and he isn’t really sure why.
“I think I’ve always done well on the short tracks,” Hirschman told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “But in the few starts I’ve had at Riverhead I’ve never really had a good run. Never really had a good day start to finish until that race earlier this year. We were third in the Riverhead June race which is by far the best run I’ve ever had there. Certainly a big boost for myself in terms of confidence going there in that we can have a good run and compete for the win there.”
Meanwhile Riverhead may be Preece’s best track. The driver from Berlin, CT has won four Riverhead WMT races, has an average finish of 3.2 and has finished on the lead lap in all nine of his Riverhead starts. Preece had a streak of three straight wins snapped this past June. He and Mike Ewanitsko are the only two drivers to ever win three straight WMT races at Riverhead.
“I feel like Riverhead is a track that I’ve excelled at pretty much my entire career,” said Preece. “This place just suits my style.”
In addition to his success at Riverhead on the WMT, Preece races there weekly for Bill Park. He’s scored three wins this season in Park’s orange No. 20 and sits third in points even with missing a few weeks due to scheduling conflicts.
“It’s always been a good track to me,” said Preece. “If your car is loose you can work to make it a little better. If you’re tight you can work to make it loose. (At) this place I can make it do what I need it to do.”
Preece has raced at Oswego in the RoC 200 in the past. He finished fifth in his first appearance at the 200 in 2006 when he was just 15 years old. He said he’s a fan of the race track, but he still said he doesn’t know what to expect on Sunday.
“I race Modifieds so often and I’ve been to Oswego before, (so) really I’m thinking about how I’m going to get around this place,” said Preece. “I’m thinking about strategy and what’s going to be getting you the lead and keeping you in the lead. From what I’ve heard it’s not very easy to pass right now with these tires. It’s like supposedly Oswego right now is a one-lane race track. Where when I raced it definitely had an outside groove.”
Hirschman said he doesn’t think that Preece will have any trouble adapting to the American Racer tires that the RoC uses. Hirschman would know. He races full time on the RoC circuit and has four wins this season in nine races on the American Racer tires. He also races full time on the WMT which runs the Hoosier tires that Preece is accustomed to.
“I don’t think there’s enough of a difference to really notice anything,” said Hirschman. “He’s not going to have an issue with it. They’re a little bit different but not enough to cause any type of learning curve or whatever.”
Both drivers know that there’s no guarantee that the weekend sweep will happen. But they’re certainly thinking about it.
“The potential is there for a big weekend,” said Hirschman. “Hopefully we can capitalize.”
– By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Regional Editor (Long Island, CT, NJ) – Twitter: @RobBlount. Photo credit: Speed51.com