CHAMPIONSHIP MEMORIES: A LOOK AT THE MODIFIED'S CLOSEST RACES
Current Title Chase Not The First Time It Has Come Down To The World
The 2008 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship will come down to
the final day of the season this Sunday, Oct. 19 at Thompson (Conn.)
International Speedway as Ted Christopher and Matt Hirschman vie for
the first title of their respective careers with just 35 points
separating them after 15 races. The following is a look back at a
handful of the closest title races in series history.
1995: Tony Hirschman, 3,022 – Steve Park, 3,019 (three points)
In the closest points race in the 23-year history of the NASCAR
Whelen Modified Tour prior to 2008, Tony Hirschman earned his first
series crown by the skin of his teeth. After leaving the World
Series on Oct. 15 with a 37-point lead against Steve Park, Hirschman
could clinch the title with a placing of seventh or better in the
season finale at Thompson on Oct. 29, a rescheduled date from Aug.
6. Park wound up in Victory Lane that day as he led 88 of the 150
laps, but Hirschman finished seventh and eked out the championship.
Had Hirschman finished eighth, Park would have come out ahead in the
points race by one.
1989: Mike Stefanik, 3,941 – Reggie Ruggiero, 3,935 (six points)
The fifth season of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour featured the
series’ first nail-biting points chase as Mike Stefanik and Reggie
Ruggiero duked it out through the course of a 26-race schedule. As
they left Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Oct. 29, Stefanik clung to
a seven-point lead against Ruggiero with only the World Series at
Thompson remaining on the slate, and Tony Hirschman was in the mix
at 40 points back. To earn his first title, Stefanik essentially had
to finish ahead of Ruggiero in the race while Hirschman had an
outside shot if the two leaders significantly faltered. When the
checkered flag dropped, Hirschman was the victor, but Stefanik
finished fourth and Ruggiero fifth. As a result, the first of seven
championship trophies went home with Stefanik.
1996: Tony Hirschman, 2,919 – Steve Park, 2,907 (12 points)
As if the drama of 1995 wasn’t enough, Hirschman and Park dueled
down-to-the-wire again the following year. After Park and Hirschman
finished 1-2 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with four races
remaining on the schedule, the pair stood together atop the season
standings for the first time since their historic finish the year
before. As they headed to Thompson for the World Series, Hirschman
held what was a semi-comfortable 65-point lead against Park and
needed to finish 15th or better to ensure a second title in a row.
In another eerily similar circumstance to the year before, Park once
again won the season finale, but Hirschman’s 12th-place finish was
enough to take home the trophy.
2005: Tony Hirschman, 2,749 – Ted Christopher, 2,731 (18 points)
Unlike his first four, Hirschman’s fifth and final NASCAR Whelen
Modified Tour championship was a come-from-behind effort on the last
day of the season. Despite a Hirschman win in the Stafford Fall
Final the race prior, Christopher had the upper hand as the series
went to Thompson to close out the season. Ahead by 36 points, a
finish of seventh or better would clinch Christopher his first
crown, regardless of where Hirschman placed. The championship
picture took a quick turn early on in the race as Christopher got
caught up in an accident which eventually dashed his title hopes.
With a 30th-place finish, Christopher gained only 73 points in the
race while Hirschman’s 12th place garnered 127 points and his fifth
championship in the last 11 years.
1994: Wayne Anderson, 3,139 – Reggie Ruggiero, 3,119 (20 points)
With two races remaining in the 1994 campaign, Ruggiero held a
38-point lead against Wayne Anderson in what was coming down to a
two-horse race for the title. Ruggiero, who had been the
championship runner-up five times previously in his career, had to
settle for a 20th-place finish in the Fall Final at Stafford (Conn.)
Motor Speedway while Anderson reached Victory Lane. Thus, the points
lead flip-flopped with only the World Series at Thompson left to go.
With a 39-point lead going into the race, Anderson could clinch his
first NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour title with a finish of eighth or
better. Jan Leaty took the checkered flag in the season finale and
Ruggiero came home third, but Anderson finished seventh and went
into the history books as the 1994 champion.
2008: Ted Christopher, 2,261 vs. Matt Hirschman, 2,226 (35
points entering last race)
In a strikingly similar scenario to 2005, Christopher will take a
35-point lead (36 in 2005) in the title chase against a Hirschman to
the last stop of the season, the Thompson World Series. In 2005
Christopher led all competitors with seven wins and 14 top 10s in 17
starts entering the finale while Tony Hirschman had five wins and 13
top 10s. In 2008 Christopher again paces the field with three wins
and 12 top 10s in 15 races compared to Tony’s son Matt’s two
victories and 11 top 10s. Like 2005, if Christopher finishes seventh
or better this Sunday, he will be assured of his first career NASCAR
Whelen Modified Tour championship regardless of where the younger
Hirschman places. If he is unable to cross the finish line that
high, there are numerous scenarios that would still allow
Christopher to earn the crown. Hirschman would have to place 20th or
better to have any hope of finishing ahead of Christopher in the