CLAIMS THE 2009 RACE OF CHAMPIONS TITLE
WITH A VICTORY AT THE 21ST ANNUAL US OPEN
Matt Hirschman closed out the 2009 Race of Champions Dart Asphalt Modified
Tour schedule by winning the 21st Annual US Open 100 at Dunn Tire Raceway
Park. Hirschman, of Northampton, Pennsylvania, battled for the win with his
chief rival for the points honors, Jan Leaty of Williamson, New York. A pass
by Hirschman in the closing stages of the race earned him the title by a
scant two points in the 2009 Tour finale. The second generation racer
trailed by 8 points coming into the day and won a heat to gain 5 points and
his win gave him 5 more. It was just enough to carry on a family tradition
of championships begun by his father, Tony Hirschman, a five-time title
holder on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour.
“It was a great race for us today,” explained the happy
26-year-old. “Not only a great finish but to decide a championship with a
winning pass at the end. There is not better combination than that. That’s
good stuff. The hole opened up as we were closing on some lapped cars and I
made my move. I think Jan knew once I was in there I had position on him and
he had to let me go.
“Last year the roles were reversed. I had a comfortable point lead
and I went the safe route by not pitting and I gave the win to him at the
end because he pitted late and had a better car at the end. Today we both
pitted but we stopped a little bit later by a couple of laps and that made
the difference at the end of the race. To win I knew we had to pit to give
ourselves the opportunity to take the title and after that I hustled the car
from there. Everybody raced me clean.
“In the past I’ve won some races by not pitting at all and also
lost some with that strategy. I’ve won in a lot of different ways but
pitting late and then coming from behind is always the most exciting way.
Today I won driving my own stuff and I don’t have to answer to anybody at
the end of the day. If I make the wrong call I just put it in my memory bank
and it helps me make the right choice the next time. Today was all about
winning the race and the championship would take care of itself. And that’s
how it worked out.”
Hirschman came into the weekend trailing Leaty by eight points. A
win over his chief rival in Saturday’s first Modified heat closed the gap to
a scant two markers. It would all boil down to who finished better in
Starting from the pole, Tom McGrath took the early lead over Earl
Paules and Jim Storace, but Paules used the inside groove to take command as
the first lap was completed. The leader quickly opened a spread over his
chasers as DTRP legend Sege Fidanza moved into third while Storace was
fading quickly. After an early restart the ten-time track champion moved
past McGrath into the runner-up spot in the final race of his storied
career. Hirschman quickly joined the fray.
By lap 20 Fidanza was the leader as Paules slipped back to second
before pitting. Hirschman was steadily moving forward and was in the lead
just past the one-quarter mark over Fidanza with Leaty not far behind. By
the 35th circuit the two top point contenders were at the head of the field.
A caution caused by Billy Putney on lap 38 sent several cars into the pits
for service, including Leaty. Hirschman remained the leader followed by
Fidanza and McGrath.
Teenage sensation Erick Rudolph pitted early but was now closing
fast on the lead group. Under caution at the halfway mark several cars
pitted, including the two frontrunners, moving McGrath back into the lead.
But Rudolph was continuing his climb forward. Meanwhile Hirschman and Leaty
were leading the charge back through the field. On lap 77 Leaty drove by
leader T.J. Potrzebowski with Hirschman hot on his heels as Rudolph tried to
join the fray. Fidanza was fighting to come back through the pack.
Leaty was hanging on with Hirschman measuring his adversary as the
pair drove away from the field. It had become a two-car fight for supremacy
as the race moved into the final ten laps. With five laps remaining
Hirschman reclaimed the lead and held it to the checkered flag. Leaty
finished second followed by Potrzebowski, Rudolph and Fidanza. The runner-up
was philosophical about finishing second in both the race and the
“Somebody had to lose, I guess. He won a heat race and I didn’t and
I think that bothered me more than getting beat in the feature. The heats
are lined up out of a draw bucket, not something you earned, and with
everyone out there on four new tires there’s very little passing. It comes
down to a draw rather than competition. But I’m not complaining because it’s
the same for everybody.
“I thought I had enough to hold off Matt after we pitted. Our car
was really, really good. After our pit stop I didn’t even try to pass
anybody until after the next caution when he pitted. I just saved what I
had. After that I felt I had to run pretty hard to get by a few guys and I
used up some stuff more than I wanted to. His strategy of pitting later
looks like it was the better plan at this point. I had nothing left at the
end. I was out of tires and a lapped car showed my weakness. I was going to
just run around on the bottom and try to hold him off as long as I could and
it just didn’t work the way we planned.
“Somebody has to lose and today it was me. It was a gift to be
where I was coming into today anyway. Last week I was 35 points behind Matt
and by virtue of his bad luck he put me back in the race for the title. To
his credit, he stood up like a man and took it back.
“Now we’ve got winter to look forward to and we’ll be back again
next year. We’ve already talked about it as a team and we want to do it
again in 2010. Our sponsors are all coming back and we’ll have another good
year of racing, probably on the RoC Tour again. We’ll give it our best and
see what happens, hopefully as a family team again. I’m going to talk to my
son Mike a little bit about his plans for the future. He’s not sure what he
wants to do after not having a good end to the 2009 season, but a little
time to relax and think will heal that, I believe.”
Saturday heat wins were recorded by Hirschman, Rusty Smith and
Finish: 1. Matt Hirschman 2. Jan Leaty 3. T.J.
Potrzebowski 4. Erick Rudolph 5. Sege Fidanza 6. Rusty Smith 7. Tom McGrath
8. Karl Hehr 9. Jeff Hamman 10. Dave Wollaber 11. Bob Reis 12. Eric Beers
13. Mike Leaty 14. Billy Putney 15. Mark Tychoniewicz 16. Jim Storace 17.
Billy Burd 18. Rick Kluth 19. Earl Paules 20. Daryl Lewis, Jr. 21. Doug
Reaume 22. Jimmy Zacharias 23. Tom Weist 24. Daren Scherer 25. Terry
Source: Bruce Boucher